Bible

The Book of Job and the Question of Suffering (Part 3)

The-Book-of-Job-Bible-Study
 
Today, we conclude our reflections on the book of Job.

What the book of Job CAN do for us: 
 
1.  It teaches us to be careful and compassionate in how we respond to people who are suffering. When people are suffering, they don’t need theological debates (“maybe this is an attack from the devil”), personal accusations (“maybe God is punishing you for sin in your life”) or advice for a ‘quick fix’ to their calamity (“if only you had more faith in God …”). They need our empathy, our support, and our friendship. In the end, Job’s friends became his enemies and ‘worthless physicians’ who crushed him with their words. Can we do better than Job’s friends?  
 
2. It shows us that the world does not operate by justice. This world is broken and incomplete. It still needs attention. Injustice is still part of the system as it is. This means that suffering should not lead us to look back on our behavior in search for a cause; rarely is there any identifiable one-to-one connection. The world, though under the control of God, is fallen, and as it awaits redemption it is often more chaotic than ordered and coherent. Like humanity, God’s world is a work in progress. Alleviating a measure of suffering, when and where we can, is part of our mandate to 'subdue and rule' the earth. God will eventually align all of Creation with his attributes and establish absolute order in the new heavens and new earth. Until then, we should expect continued manifestations of disorder, which include pain and suffering. 
 
3. It reminds us that God rules the world with a wisdom that is beyond our understanding. When we begin to blame him for our suffering or think that we could do a better job of running the world than him, we move into dangerous territory. God's wisdom is far beyond our ability to comprehend. 
 
4. It raises the question of 'why' we place our faith in God. Is our choice to believe in God only for reward and blessing, either in this life (prosperity) or the next (to gain heaven and avoid hell)? Is it for self-interest, as the Challenger believed it was for Job? Is our faith sustained when our desires are not fulfilled, when healing does not come, when broken homes are not restored, when the goals we pursue remain beyond our reach? Is Christianity merely a 'benefits system' of incentives that results in us losing motivation when there is nothing in it for us? Job shows us that true righteousness should have its desired end in a relationship with God not in gaining reward from God. That is a huge challenge in our consumer driven world. 
 
5. It teaches us to trust that God loves us even when we go through painful situations and we do not understand the reasons why. Like Job did, we can direct our confused questions and perplexing musings to him. During suffering, choose to trust God and believe that he is good and that he loves you ... even when you do not understand. Trust is the way through the struggles of life. 
 
Conclusion
Pain and suffering enter every one of our lives from time to time. I have only lived 55 years and yet I can look back at the death of family members (my own mother died of a sudden heart attack in 1990 and Nicole’s mother died quite suddenly from cancer in 2007), car accidents, personal sickness, mental and emotional challenges, stress and burnout, disappointment,  criticism, gossip, slander, conflict and many other challenges that have touched my life and our family. Of course, some other people suffer far worse and much more deeply. 
 
I still don't understand ‘why’ all of these things have happened. Yes, I have grown and they have developed character in me, as well as empathy for the struggles that other people go through. But I don't fully understand the reasons behind them nor God’s purposes through their occurrence. 
 
Like Job, I have many unanswered questions. Yet I choose to place my faith in God, regardless of my feelings or the perplexity in all this. It’s not easy but I truly believe that God is good, that he loves us and therefore I choose to trust him even when I do not understand. I feel just like the apostle Paul did …
 
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:12-13.  NLT
 
May you too be encouraged in your faith - in the good times and the bad. 
 
P.S. Read Part 1 if you missed it. 

The Book of Job and the Question of Suffering (Part 2)

The-Book-of-Job-Bible-Study
 
Today, we continue our reflections on the book of Job.
 
What the book of Job does NOT do for us: 
 
1. It does not answer the question as to 'why' there is suffering in the world today. Theodicy (the search for the origin and nature of suffering and evil) remains an unsolved mystery. Suffering is not merely a theological or philosophical problem, it is a human problem that no one is immune to, though some people suffer more than others. Yes, God does intend our good (Romans 8:28) but that doesn't mean that we will always figure out how our experiences benefit us (Ecclesiastes 6:12) and our "good" cannot be always defined by our comfort or our success.
 
C.S. Lewis once said, "Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." True, suffering and pain can serve to draw our attention to God, to rely on him and perhaps to engage in self-evaluation. However, we should be cautious to suggest that suffering is always to be viewed as God's instrument for accomplishing any of those goals. We cannot know or assume that there are reasons for our suffering though God does have purposes, though we may never know them fully. 
 
2. It does not validate the long-held ‘retribution principle’ which states that the righteous will always prosper and the wicked will always suffer. In Israelite theology, this principle was integral to the belief in God's justice. Since God is just, they believed that he would always uphold this principle. This also led to the belief that if a person prospered, they must be righteous (i.e. favored by God) and those who suffer must be wicked (i.e. experiencing the judgment of God). However, the retribution principle is too simplistic. Yes, it serves as the basis for general trends in human experience (as presented in the biblical books of Deuteronomy, Psalms and Proverbs) but there are no guarantees and there are always exceptions (Job being a prime example). A person’s sinfulness cannot be inferred when one is suffering nor can a person’s goodness be inferred when one is prospering.  
 
Jesus confronted the retribution principle on two specific occasions. A man born blind was seen by the disciples as caused by sin (John 9:1-3). Jesus shifted their focus from causes (actions in the past) to purpose (God's ongoing plan), offering an expanded theology. As in the book of Job, no explanation for the suffering was given, possible or necessary. More important is the need to trust God's wisdom and to seek out his purpose.  
 
In Luke 13:1-5, the issue concerns whether those who have died in recent tragedies should be considered to have deserved their death. Again, Jesus turns the attention away from the cause and even states that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between sin and punishment. As an alternative, Jesus tells his audience to view the incident as a warning. Once again, as in John 9, he refuses to engage the question of cause and concentrates instead on purpose.  
 
3. Job is not a perfect model of how to respond to suffering. Yes, he never cursed God and he persevered through his trials (James 5:11). He also had a more accurate understanding of God than his friends but he did not have a totally clear perspective on his situation nor a full understanding of the nature of God and his ways, any more than we do today.
 
4. Although God is the central subject of this book (not Job, his friends or the Challenger), it does not fully explain how God is involved in his world. We have to continually maintain the tension of believing that God is not distant (as in deism) nor does he micromanage everything that occurs in our daily lives. There really is no language adequate enough to describe God’s involvement or lack of involvement and simplistic generalisations can lead to flawed theology. John Walton uses the example of gravity: it was created by God from the beginning through his wisdom but each expression of gravity is not necessarily 'caused' by God though it does not operate without him. In the same way, God’s activity is beyond our comprehension and powers of explanation. 
 
 

The Book of Job and the Question of Suffering (Part 1)

The-Book-of-Job-Bible-Study
 
Over the last few months, I have been slowly reading through the book of Job in The Message Bible translation, reflecting on it, and also reading John Walton's excellent commentary on Job in the NIV Application Commentary series, as well as Tremper Longman III's book on Job in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms.  
 
The book of Job is a 'classic' in ancient literature and one of the most intriguing books in the Bible. It outlines the story of a man named Job who was one of the wealthiest people in the ancient Near East. Suddenly, a series of tragedies flood into his life, resulting in the loss of his herds and flocks, the death of all of his children, and finally a severe skin disease of some sort afflicts Job himself.
 
The prologue to the story (Job 1-2) shows us some behind the scenes dialogue between God and his divine council, one of whom is called 'the Satan', or better 'the Challenger' (though he does nothing evil in this particular story). God's policies for running the world are under debate and the Challenger states that Job only serves God because of the blessing he has experienced. God disagrees and so the challenge begins.  
 
Job is unaware of any of this dialogue and responds to his tragedies with appropriate grief and mourning (Job 3, 29-31). Three of his friends soon gather and they mourn with him in silence for seven days. Finally, they begin to speak and so begins the dialogues and debates that make up most of the book (Job 4-27). Each of the friends draws upon a variety of sources, including reason (logic), life experience, tradition and spiritual experiences, to try to solve Job’s problem of suffering. After an intriguing poem or hymn about wisdom (Job 28), another friend, Elihu, appears and adds his two cents worth to the dialogue (Job 32-37). He is a raging, young man, directing his passionate speech towards Job because of his apparent self-righteous attitude and towards the friends for their philosophical incompetence. He defends God's justice and views himself as speaking on behalf of God. 
 
Despite the suggestion from his friends that his suffering is a result of his sin and arrogance, Job continues to declare his innocence (not that he is sinless) and wants a response from God. As in a court of law, if Job is guilty, he expects God himself to show up and prove this.  
 
Finally, God does show up (Job 38-41). Speaking from the midst of a storm, he rebukes the friends for their flawed thinking about God and how he runs his world. But he doesn't answer any of Job’s questions. Instead, he declares his power and the wisdom of his creation. Job's response to God's first speech is one of awed silence (Job 40:3-5). God speaks again, highlighting two unfathomable creatures - Behemoth and Leviathan. Job's response to God's second speech is one of humility and repentance (Job 42:1-6). He distinguishes between a second-hand experience of God ("my ears had heard") and first-hand experience ("now my eyes have seen"). As a result, he is ashamed of his presumption in challenging God's ways and he regrets his previous statements, his distorted characterization of God, his presumptuous belief in his own understanding, and his arrogant challenges.  
 
The epilogue then details the repentance of Job’s friends (42:7-9) and the restoration of Job to a place of prosperity (Job 42:10-16). 
 
We don't know the author of Job (literary works in the ancient world were often anonymous) or it's date of composition. Most likely it is from the patriarchal period, due to the absence of any reference to covenant or law (although this is understandable as Job was not an Israelite; he was from the land of Uz - 1:1). We also don't know whether the book is based on historical events (a real person named Job) or whether it is purely a literary construction - a 'thought experiment'. This does not affect our interpretation of the book, nor its authority and inspiration as sacred text. Most scholars believe that Job was a real historical person who was righteous and suffered greatly. The story of Job still speaks to us today in profound ways.  
 

The Greatest Love Song of All Time (Pt.2)

SA
 
Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to read through the Song of Songs - an extraordinary love poem.
 
How can we apply the insights from this love poem to our own lives today?
  1. What efforts are you making to keep the romance of your love relationship alive? What things can you do to cultivate a greater desire for the one who you love?
  2. In what ways can you further affirm the value and dignity of the opposite sex/gender?
  3. Wisdom calls us to loving and exclusive commitment, not to a rampant promiscuity which turns sex into a mere commodity. Read Proverbs 5:15-19 and reflect on the impact of more readily available pornography on genuine love. 
  4. In the beginning, men and women were made as equal partners in life and vocation, both being given involvement in the reproduction and dominion mandates (Genesis 1:26-28). What steps can you take to work against the embedded hierarchy and patriarchy that still dominates our culture, including within the Christian church? 
  5. Society today often demeans sex from it's God given purpose while the church often suppresses open conversation about sexuality. How can we contribute to a more healthy openness about sex and love, in our families and communities?

The Greatest Love Song of All Time (Pt.1)

SA
 
Everyone likes love songs. They fill the radio waves throughout the day. I can still remember enjoying the crooning voice of Lionel Richie singing "Hello, is it me you're looking for?" in my late teens. There is something deeply profound about the desire and yearning of one person for another. We call it love. 
 
The Bible contains many diverse types of literature, including poems, prophecies, narratives and of course, songs. The book of Psalms is literally a psalter, or collection of songs, expressing the full range of emotions of the human heart. But then we have that small little book at the end of the Wisdom Literature section called Song of Songs. That title means it is being declared as the best song of all. It's a bit like the phrase "holy of holies", which means the holiest of all holy places. This is the greatest song of all songs - and it's a love song, a sensual and erotic one at that!
 
That's pretty remarkable. This book is also unusual in the Bible in that it mentions God indirectly perhaps once (8:6), and most likely not at all. It also does not refer to the main Israelite traditions of the Exodus, the Torah (law), the covenants or the ancestors. Its central concern is about sexual love. It joyfully celebrates physical love and a couple's committed relationship. That should serve as a rebuke to Christians who find no place for love and sex in their Christian thinking and living. 
 
Of course, conservative interpreters throughout the centuries found all of this a bit too embarrassing so resorted to an allegorical approach, rather than a literal one, declaring this as a love story between God and his people. One interpreter even declared the woman's breasts as representing the Old and New Testaments! Now there is some creative, mental gymnastics. 
 
Before you start reading Song of Songs, maybe for the first time, here are a few pointers:
 
  1. The date of composition is uncertain and the author of this song in unknown. Solomon has been thought to be the author by some but the inclusion of his name (most references are in the 3rd person and he never speaks in the text) could refer more to sponsorship or dedication. His reputation for womanising does not harmonise with the apparently exclusive devotion of the lovers in this text. Some have even proposed a female author, but it remains impossible to prove.
  2. There are two main characters in the text - one man and one woman. There is no narrator intruding into the conversations. These persons are in love and the dialogue is charged with emotional content. 
  3. This is love poetry. The sequence of lyric poems form a series of episodes with some plot and theme development, but S1there are some abrupt shifts of scene and audience, which can be confusing and yet engaging at the same time. Poetic images abound - with heaps of simile and metaphor (many of them mixed!). There is much imaginative activity here. And the language can seem quite foreign to Western ears. There is military language (bodily parts being likened to towers, troops, banners, shields and warriors), architectural imagery (a house and a wall), family images, natural and agricultural imagery, wild animal images (the gazelle, stag, lion and leopard), specific geographical imagery (places as diverse as Kedar, Mount Gilead, Lebanon, En Gedi, Damascus, Hernon and Jerusalem), landscape elements (mountain, valley, garden, vineyard, orchard, pools and fountain), spices and incense, metals and gems, and frequent references to wine, suggesting the intoxicating nature of this love relationship. The regular blurring of a distinction between image and association (for example, shifting between an actual landscape and the landscape of the human body) only heighten the growing emotion of this love poem. 
  4. This book promotes a positive view of human sexuality, as a normal part of God's "very good" creation. These lovers express their desire for each other and speak of delight in each other's presence. Together or apart, each admires the other's body. As originally portrayed in the garden of Eden, they are "naked and unashamed" before God and each other (Genesis 2:25). They issue repeated invitations to each other. They are single-minded in their devotion to each other and their relationship. Most remarkable is the fact that there is no mention of procreation, showing that child-bearing is not the only legitimate aim of sexual relations.
  5. There is a mutuality in this love relationship. In fact, this book is also unusual in the biblical library, in that it gives S2 the central place to a woman's voice unmediated by a narrator. She is the speaker in the majority of verses and has the first and last words. There is no hint of hierarchy or patriarchy here. The man and woman are equals - in value and personhood. In fact, there is an interesting reversal to the Eden statement "your desire shall be for your husband" (Genesis 3:16) with the woman's declaration, "I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me" (7:10). [It is disappointing that some English translations have chosen the words "Lover" and "Beloved" to represent the male and female characters in this love poem since this implies male initiative and female passivity, which is exactly the opposite of what this love poem portrays.]
  6. There is a time for love to awaken. The woman in this love poem speaks to "the daughters of Jerusalem" several times, repeating this advice/warning: "Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires" (2:7; 3:5; 5:8; 8:4). Love requires restraint at times, saying 'no' to the immediate in order to say 'yes' to what may be even better in the longer term. Yes, waiting and delayed gratification are part of a maturing love. Don't be too hasty in love. 
  7. Human love is a picture of the love God has for his people. The apostle Paul likens marriage to the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Therefore, we can include allegorical readings with literal readings of the Song of Songs, though it is not the sole purpose of the book. 
Enjoy your reading! I love the Message Bible translation.
 
Part 2 tomorrow ...

The Quest for Life's Meaning (3)

Ecclesiastes-background-001
 
Ecclesiastes is a controversial book - is it a positive affirmation of the joy of life or a deeply pessimistic view of the world? Either way, it resonates deeply with the existential struggles of people today. The book takes us on a roller-coaster ride as the main character sets out to explore the meaning of life. We too are to wrestle actively with the difficult questions and real issues of life.

Throughout the Quester’s journey, there is a constant tension between the 'utterly enigmatic' nature of life as he discovers it under the sun and the call to 'seize the day', eating and drinking and enjoying what God has given to us. These can be referred to as the carpe diem passages (which increase in emphasis throughout the book’s journey), such as the following:
 
Ecclesiastes 5:18-20. Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past. NLT
 
Here is a transforming vision of eating and drinking, of enjoying one's work and one’s wealth, and of sustaining joy. This is to be seen as a gift from God (see also 2:24-26; 9:7-10 and how the apostle Paul picks this theme in Colossians 3:17) who created all things for his pleasure (Revelation 4:11). As Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” This involves joy even in the midst of the contradictions and enigmas we experience in life (see 1 Peter 1:8).
 
All of this is a mystery that needs to be held in tension, being difficult to resolve. Like chasing the wind, we know that the wind is real but it is impossible to grasp. So life has meaning but it can be hard to get a handle on. The resolution to the paradox is found in "the fear of God" which enables one to rejoice and apply oneself positively to life in the midst of all that one does not understand, including especially death. It is a call to rejoice and remember our Creator by enjoying his good gifts and obeying his laws (see 11:7-12:7). We can wrestle with reality at its darkest points and still testify to the joy of God. Like the Quester, we can affirm joy over despair while still struggling with how to relate the two. As Craig Bartholomew writes, “His autonomous epistemology takes him toward skepticism but his Jewish background and faith provide him with an undeniable shalomic perspective on life” (p.355). Enigma remains but it is enveloped with meaning. It’s a meaning that comes from refusing to forget the God who created everything. Despite the difficulties, paradoxes, unanswered questions and mysteries of life, life can be lived on a firm foundation of faith and trust. 
 
Here’s the narrator’s conclusion:
 
Ecclesiastes 12:8-14. Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly. The words of the wise are like cattle prods — painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep. But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out. That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. NLT
 
Anything we pursue on this earth in order to find meaning and satisfaction from tends to disappoint, as least in the long run. But when we discover a peace and a joy in a connection with the God who transcends yet pervades this world, we are able to express and experience that joy even in the daily aspects and routines of our life. We live more content, we are more attentive to all that is talking place around us, and we understand that everything belongs and everything is a gift.
 
Ultimately, it is Jesus who redeems us from the futility of life and ushers in the great feast of the kingdom of God. Yes, all of creation continues to groan but with a hope that death is not the end and that the story of redemption is yet to be finished. In the meantime, like Jesus, we can celebrate the life that God has given us and feast in joy, living fully present in each moment of our day. After all, Jesus literally ate his way through the Gospels, bringing joy and hope to whoever he encountered along the way. 
 
May we do the same.

The Quest for Life's Meaning (Pt.2)

Ecclesiastes-background-001
 
The book of Ecclesiastes is a fine piece of inspired literary work, carefully crafted to convey an important message about the quest for the meaning of life. There is a Narrator who frames this royal story (1:1-11 and 12:8-14), a story which is made up of the actual words and thoughts of someone we will refer to as the Quester (1:12 - 12:7). The Quester is also called the Preacher, the Teacher, the Wise Man or Qohelet (Hebrew for 'preacher’).
 
Solomon is the stated identity of the Quester (1:1) but some biblical scholars now choose a later date and see this as royal Solomonic fiction, though based on actual historical experiences. See Craig G. Bartholomew's excellent commentary on Ecclesiastes in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms series (Tremper Longman III, Editor) for more background detail.
 
The theme of the book is stated loud and clear right up front (1:2) - "Utterly enigmatic, utterly enigmatic, everything is enigmatic.” This Hebrew word hebel is used 38 times in the book and can be translated as vanity, absurdity, futility, transience, uselessness, vapor/breath, chasing the wind, and meaninglessness. Enigmatic or 'chasing after the wind' are alternative translations. 
 
This provocative summary of the Quester's search for meaning (his epistemology) is shocking coming from the ruler of God's people (1:1), but anticipates the journey he will embark on and the conclusions he will come to. He is talking about human life and experience (anthropology), not God and or the universe in general (cosmology). This summary statement does not close the debate but rather opens it - the shock of the statement engages the reader in the Quester's own struggle as they begin to wrestle with how a wise person akin to Solomon could make this sort of statement. 
 
After stating the theme of the book, the key question being pursued is presented (1:3) - "What is the benefit for humankind in all one's labor at which one labors under the sun?"
 
The word translated “benefit” is used 10 times in the book and refers to advantage, profit, benefit, additional edge, or meaning for our labor (work). The word “humankind” is used 49 times and shows how the pursuit is about fundamental questions about the nature of human existence. The phrase “under the sun” is used 29 times, showing the Quester’s concern with the whole range of the human experience. The word “labor” is used 22 times and "to labor" 13 times, referring to work, toil, labor, struggle and pain - all sorts of human endeavor.
 
Although this is the main question being pursued, there are actually 32 questions in the book of Ecclesiastes. That’s 12% of the book’s entire content! Questions drive the intellectual challenge, inviting the reader to participate in the struggle to find the meaning of life. Never be afraid to question. 
 
The Quester considers all of life under the sun. Here is a brief overview of his quest:
  • Pleasure and the good life (2:1-11) - abandoning himself to the pleasures of wine, extensive building projects, gardens and parks, the accumulation of wealth and treasures, music, sex, and so on.
  • The problem of death and one's legacy (2:12-23) - the repetitiveness of history, the end of life for all in death, and one's lack of control over one's legacy,
  • The mystery of time (3:1-15) - the limits of human life, namely birth and death, and the range of activities that make up human culture, including agriculture, war, reconciliation, medicine, grief, celebration, and so on.
  • The problem of injustice and death (3:16-22) - if death is just the end, then humans are no better than animals, and there will never be a time for judgment,
  • Four problems - oppression, rivalry as the motivation for work, isolation in work and life, and the problem of government (4:1-16).
  • Public worship (5:1-7).
  • Oppression and profit, along with its dangers (5:8-17).
  • The problem of riches and wealth (6:1-12).
  • Knowing what is good for one (7:1-13) - the nature of the good life.
  • Moderation in folly and wisdom (7:14-22).
  • The enigma of political rule (8:1-9).
  • The problem of delayed judgment (8:10-17) - including the lack of observable justice and the longevity of people favoring evil.
  • The fate of death and the gift of life (9:1-12).
  • The example of a city (9:13-18).
  • Wisdom, folly and rulers (10:1-20).
  • Living with the uncertainties of God's providence (11:1-6). 
There is no sacred/secular dualism here. It is a comprehensive survey of the variety of areas of human life and experience. 

The Quest for Life's Meaning (Pt.1)

Ecclesiastes-background-001
 
Every since I was a kid, I have loved books. Whether it was visiting the local library, hanging out in my dad’s office, or sitting reading encyclopaedias while my parents were visiting with friends, books were a doorway to a world of experience, information and knowledge. Books awakened in me a passion for learning and discovering new ideas about anything and everything. 
 
My fascination for books drew me to the Bible. The Bible is an amazing book, or more accurately, a collection of stories, writings, songs, poems and prophecies. Like a huge library, the diversity throughout the various books of the Bible is quite extraordinary. I have my favourite parts of the Bible but I have enjoyed venturing to some of the less travelled sections too. As a pastor once said when I was younger, “If you want to know God’s will for your life, read all the verses you haven’t underlined!” There’s some truth in that. 
 
One of my favourite sections of the Bible is what is referred to as the Wisdom Writings found in the Old Testament - Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.
  • The book of Psalms is a poetic and literary sanctuary where humans share their joys and struggles with brutal honesty in God's presence.
  • The book of Proverbs describes wisdom, which is the ability to see life from God’s perspective and translate that into daily skills for living. As a teenager, I often read a proverb a day and found much practical guidance from this sacred text. The sages often sought to motivate wise behaviour by linking it to reward, but in reality, bad things happen to good people, and as a result, the wise are not always rewarded as they expect. This raises the question of the justice of God.
  • Both Job and Ecclesiastes struggle with the apparent disconnect between God's justice and our actual experience of life as it happens.
  • Finally, the Song of Songs is a passionate love poem that reminds us that God is interested in more than just our brains and our spirits; he wants us to enjoy our bodies and our sexuality is part of us as humans being created in the image of God. As a teenager, I must admit wandering inquisitively to the pages of this book during many a boring sermon! 
Just over a month ago, I gave my last sermon as Senior Minister of a large church in Melbourne. In that message, I shared some reflections on the meaning of life from my current vantage point. What has meaning for us changes over time and as you grow older, this question of what really matters seems to increase its volume in our heads and hearts.
 
As an overflow of this, I have recently been reading slowly through the books of Ecclesiastes, a book that I think everyone should read at least once a year. In this unsettling book, the main character outlines his quest to find meaning and satisfaction in life as he continually turns to consider, know, search out and seek. The reader is drawn along the quester’s journey as he recalls a series of dead ends that he pursued. Like meandering through a complex maze or labyrinth, meaning in life is sought through an extended variety of avenues. It is a long journey and one of doubt, questioning, uncertainty and ambiguity. At times there is hope, while at other times there is only despair at the paradoxes that life brings. The book calls the reader to engage with the excruciating tension of this journey and enter the conversation it evokes. 
 

Jesus: I AM the Vine

I AM 1080

John 15:1-6. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” NIV

These are some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples. He has spoken about his departure and assured them of his return (John 14). Now his focus is on his disciples remaining or keeping connected to him as they live in the world following his departure. Jesus was probably walking through a vineyard with his disciples when he gave this teaching. He often drew analogies from the culture around him and from ancient Jewish traditions, infusing them with fresh spiritual meaning. The vine and the vineyard were old and sacred images in Judaism. The vine represented Israel: God’s covenant people who were meant to bear fruit (see Psalm 80:7-9. Isaiah 5:3-5). Jesus boldly declares, “I am the true vine” (his seventh and final “I AM” statement in this Gospel). He has taken the place of Israel as God’s true planting, the one on whom God’s purposes are now resting. His Father is the gardener and we as his disciples are the branches.

A Challenge

God wants his children to live an abundantly fruitful life. That’s why he put us on this earth (see Psalm 1:3. John 15:8. Titus 3:14). Fruit represents ‘good works’ - a thought, attitude, or action of ours that God values because it glorifies him. The fruit from our life is how we bring honor to God on earth. We bear inner fruit when we allow God to nurture in us a new, Christ-like quality: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).” We bear outer fruit when we allow God to work through us to bring him glory. That includes sharing our faith but also serving others in love. Fruit-bearing flowing out of an intimate relationship with Jesus is why he chose us (John 15:16. Ephesians 2:10).

Jesus describes four different levels of fruitfulness in this teaching (see vs.2, 5): (1) “no fruit”, (2) “fruit”, (3) “more fruit”, and (4) “much fruit”. The Father wants more fruit from us so much that he actively tends to our lives so we will keep growing - from a barren to a productive branch. We were created to bear fruit, more fruit and much fruit! Of course, the fruit of our good works does not refer to things we do in order to earn God’s grace but are simply an overflow of the life of Jesus in us. Jesus calls us to do more of our life with him not just more for him. If you were accused of being a follower of Jesus, is there enough evidence to convict you? How’s your fruit?

An Application

Any vine or bush left to itself will become straggly and tangled, and grow in on itself. It will produce quite a lot of not-so-good fruit (or flowers) rather than a smaller number of splendid ones. It will, quite literally, get in its own light. So you prune it to stop it wasting its energy and being unproductive. You cut out, particularly, the parts of the plant that are growing inwards and getting tangled up. You encourage the shoots that are growing outwards, toward the light. You prune, in other words, to help the plant be its true self – to focus its energy on producing good quality fruit, rather than lots of second rate ones. That’s why any good gardener knows the value of pruning. Through pruning, growth that is dead or dying is removed, adequate sunlight is allowed to get to all the fruit-bearing branches, the size and quality of the fruit is improved, and new fruit is encouraged to develop.

Pruning, like loving discipline, is painful at the time, but it results in the potential of more fruit (vs.2). Sometimes ‘less is more’ and through removing certain things in our lives or hearts, we make room for more. Is God doing some pruning in your life right now? Is there some pruning you need to do – of certain commitments, or possessions, or lesser priorities?

An Insight

The key to fruitfulness is that we as Jesus’ disciples abide (or remain connected, attached) in him, as he is our life source. Apart from him we can really do nothing of lasting value. Connected to him, we can bear much fruit. Discipleship is not a matter of merely acknowledging who Jesus is (a set of doctrinal beliefs); it is having Jesus spiritually connected to our inner lives (a way of life characterized by love).

Abiding in Christ is a command for all disciples, not a suggestion or a request. But how do we do so practically? Throughout history, followers of Christ have connected closely with Christ in different ways – what we could call ‘abiding styles’. Here are five of them:

  1. Contemplative – people who love creation, quiet, solitude, meditation and reflection.
  2. Intellectual – people who love mentally stimulating material and studying the Bible.
  3. Serving – people who love putting action in their faith by helping others and using their gifts.
  4. Relational – people who love doing things with other people, including prayer and serving.
  5. Charismatic – people who love spontaneity, the unexpected and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Consider when you feel closest to God and most alive in Christ then lean into your primary style. Of course, it’s important to accept others who are different. Most importantly, develop an appreciation for all the styles so you don’t develop an imbalance. Each style taken to an extreme has weaknesses. Jesus balanced all five of these styles to keep connected to the Father. He is our model for abiding, which is the key to fruitfulness. When we develop the ‘Mary’ aspect of our life (a depth of intimacy and spirituality) then the ‘Martha’ aspect will be more effective (fruitfulness and productivity). If we separate these, it leads to frustration. Abiding in Christ is much like a tree producing its fruit – it is a natural outflow that occurs quite effortlessly.

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. As these are some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples, why do you think this matter of fruitfulness and abiding in Christ were so important to him?
  2. How do we practically measure the fruitfulness of our lives?
  3. How can we avoid the Christian life degenerating into a long list of things we DO for God and others but without the joy and life of Jesus flowing through us?
  4. Can you describe a time in your life where you felt you were experiencing some ‘pruning’? What was it like and what was the end result?
  5. Today there is a growing social movement towards simplicity, down-sizing, essentialism and minimalism. What can we learn from this trend in our society? What could God be saying to us through it?
  6. What is your personal abiding style? How could you lean more into it?
  7. Finish by praying for a greater intimacy with Jesus resulting in a greater fruitfulness in your life.

Jesus: I AM the Way

I AM 1080

John 14:1-7. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” 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. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” NIV

Trusting God in Troubled Times (vs.1)

Difficult days lie ahead for the disciples, filled with uncertainty and confusion. Jesus senses their fear and their worry. He challenges them to not allow their hearts to be troubled but instead to place their trust in Him, just as they trust God. Jesus himself knew what it was to be troubled (see John 12:27; 13:21) yet he takes time to offer his disciples emotional and spiritual support, teaching them the importance of shifting their focus from the fear of intense circumstances to active faith and trust in God. After all, life is not ruled by luck, fate or chance. God is sovereign in the events of this world and Providence will rule the day.

Much of our world today is ruled by fear and this often causes troubled (worried and anxious) hearts. How apt are Jesus’ words for us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” You can choose to shift your focus from fear to faith.

An Eternal Home (vs.2-4)

Jesus is going away and his disciples are naturally anxious about where he is going and whether they will be able to follow him. So Jesus speaks of his “Father’s house” and hints of a new world - heaven and earth meeting together as God renews the whole world. At that time there will be room for everyone. Through this promise, Jesus is assuring his disciples that though he’s going away, it will be for their benefit; he won't forget them, he won’t abandon them. Jesus’ words reach out his first disciples and encourage us. These words are often used at funerals and we can understand why. We can’t see the way ahead and we need to know not only that there is indeed a way into the unknown future, but that we will be able to find it.

Heaven is a reality - another world, another place, where God lives. His home and our future home too. It is a place where God’s will is done and where there is no pain, no crying, and no sickness or death. Jesus’ emphasis is not the lavishness of the house or its rooms (“a mansion over the hilltop!”) but the fact that we will be with him – together, forever.

Jesus also promises to come back and take his followers to be with him (vs.3). His second coming will complete all that his first coming began. We know that there are various promises yet to be fulfilled before Jesus returns, then many things to happen at his return and also after his return. The challenge for us today is to live expectantly and ready should he return in our lifetime, yet with the wisdom and foresight that he may not return in our generation.

I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life (vs.5-7)

Thomas often had his doubts yet we can admire him for his desire for clarity from Jesus. He always wanted to be sure. He wanted the facts. Amazingly, his question (vs.5), “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” prompted one of Jesus’ greatest statements (vs.6): “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the way to God the Father. He is the truth about the Father, being the ultimate representation of what God is like – “the Word made flesh (in human form)” (John 1:14). He is also the life of God.

As the way, Jesus does not offer us a map or a set of instructions of how to get to God. He offers us himself, as our personal guide to the Father. Through him we can come to the Father and become children of God.

As the truth, Jesus is the clearest illustration of what God is like. It is so easy to develop distortions of what God is like based on religion and the opinions of others. We need to constantly have a fresh look at Jesus, as revealed in the Gospels, to see him as he is.

As the life, Jesus is the purest example of life as God intended it to be lived. A life full of love, joy and peace. Earlier, Jesus had declared that he had come to give his followers life, and life to the full (John 10:10).

This statement by Jesus has been critiqued by some, because of its apparent exclusiveness – “No one can come to the Father but through me (vs.6).” After all, Jesus is not declaring himself as one god among many, but as the way to the true and living God. However, we must understand that Jesus did not come to exclude anyone but to include everyone. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” God is a hopeful universalist in that he desires everyone to be saved, not just a few (see also 1 Timothy 2:1-6. 2 Peter 3:8-9). However, people do have a free will, so their own choices in response to the grace of God will determine their future destiny. We have to believe that God is actively pursuing people with his love and that each person will be judged on the degree of knowledge or light they have received. In the end, God will do what is right with each person (Genesis 18:25). Our role is to pray and to reach out and join God in his mission towards each individual in the world. 

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the impact of fear in our culture today. What feeds fear and how does it affect us? What are the primary worries and concerns that you hear people talk about? How can we apply Jesus’ words and shift our focus from fear to faith (active trust in God)?
  2. Reflect on heaven. What do we know about it? How much should it fill our minds today? How can we avoid being “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good” yet also living with the realization that this world is not our ultimate home?
  3. Reflect on the second coming of Jesus Where is the balance between living with the readiness for Jesus to come at any moment yet also with the wisdom to keep preaching the Gospel and expanding his kingdom until that time?
  4. Consider the idea of the Christian life being a relationship with a Trinitarian God – Father, Son and Spirit – characterized by love. We come to the Father, through Jesus, by the Spirit.
  5. What are some distorted views or pictures of Jesus that we need to avoid today, that a reading of the Gospels provides a corrective for?
  6. Paul describes the fruit or evidence of the life of Christ in the believer as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Gal.5:22-25). Why are these qualities sometimes missing from the lives of Christians? What are some keys to living the life Jesus intended for us on a daily basis?

Money Talks (Part 3)

MoneyIt may take time … but having and working a financial plan is the path to financial freedom and God’s blessing whatever your situation. Notice the plan is not the 80-10-10 plan. The order is important. Put God first in your finances. Then change ratios over time as you’re able - 15-15-70, etc. This is pretty simple: a 10-year old can do it. Every person’s financial situation is unique. What is right for you may not be relevant for someone else, but these principles can work for just about everyone.

My motive in sharing this message is to help you personally – because a lot of people live under tremendous financial pressure and all of us need to learn principles of wise financial management. It is not because the church is desperate for more money. We are healthy financially. Yes, we can always use more, so don’t stop giving, but that is not the primary purpose of this teaching. Notice that our focus is not just on giving, because, as important as giving is, it is only one part of the wise financial management.

If you’re doing well financially, well done. Be a blessing and help to others around you. If you’re not doing that well, begin making some changes right away. If you’re under financial pressure or if you have a lot of debt, obtain some financial advice and help to work your way out of your current situation.

There are many things in life more important than money. You can have an enjoyable and fulfilling life without having a lot of money. There is more to life than money and possessions including pleasing God by living right (Prov.11:4; 16:8; 28:6), enjoying quality relationships (1Cor.13:13), as well as experiencing inner peace and contentment (Prov.15:16; 23:4-5. Phil.4:11-13. 1 Tim.6:6-10).

Reflection Questions

  1. The Bible talks a lot about money. How do you feel about it being talked about in church?
  2. Reflect on the dangers and the benefits of wealth.
  3. Read Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14:28-30 about considering the cost of discipleship and discuss what relevance it has to wise financial management.
  4. Read Paul’s comments on work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 and consider its application to today.
  5. In what situations is it appropriate not to be working and be dependent on someone else for income?
  6. What are some principles of promotion in the work place? How do Paul’s comments in Colossians 3:23-25 relate to this?
  7. Reflect on the problem of gambling in Australia. What are some of its causes and consequences?
  8. What are the benefits of managing resources wisely? What are the consequences of not doing so?
  9. How can the church community provide a place where each person is encouraged and helped to be blessed financially?
  10. Why do you think some Christians struggle with the concept of ‘tithing’ (giving 10% of their income to the church)?
  11. What testimonies do you have that illustrate how giving can release God’s blessing in your life.
  12. What are some things you would like to do in the future that will require money?
  13. Why is saving so hard for most people?
  14. What are some lessons about financial investment you have learned (including both successes and failures) that may be helpful to others?
  15. What are some questions we can ask ourselves before buying a particular item (‘shopping tips’)?
  16. What are some ways we can reduce our expenses so we are living within our means?
  17. Finish by praying for financial blessing for your life as you honour God with your  finances.

Money Talks (Part 2)

MoneyEstablish and Live by a Budget

If you don't take control of your money it will take control of you and your life. Money is a great servant but is a cruel taskmaster. A budget is the most important and effective tool for getting your finances under control. A budget is simply a plan for earning and spending money. It provides limits and boundaries, which give security. There are many Scriptures on planning (Proverbs 15:22; 20:18; 21:5; 27:23-24. Jerermiah 29:11. Luke 14:28-30).

INCOME - How to Acquire Money

Human labour is the means by which we earn money. It is the key to the earning side of the financial equation. God is a worker. He worked for six days (on His creation project), then rested from his work on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). We were created to work (Genesis 2:5, 15). The primary means of acquiring income is through work. Work was not a result of sin. It is part of God’s plan for our lives. He works and he wants us to work too. We are created to make a contribution and to add value to the world. In return we receive finances for our efforts.

A Plan for Financial Freedom

Most people will earn millions of dollars in their working lifetime. However, what we do with that money is what is most critical. That brings us to the second part of our budget which is our expenses. We need a plan for doing three things with our money - Spending, Saving and Giving. Most people only do one thing with their money - spend it. In fact, a lot of people spend more than their income and as a result they’re drowning in an ever-enlarging pool of debt. Consider starting with something like the 10-10-80 plan.

1. GIVE - first, give at least 10% to God. God gives us our very breath and the power to acquire wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18) All that we have comes from him and therefore belongs to him (1 Chronicles 29:14-16). Giving God the first part of our income is a regular reminder to us of this reality. In doing so, we honour him as our Lord and as the source and owner of all of our resources. In Old Testament times, ‘tithing’ (giving 10%) was a law for all Israelites. In the New Testament, the emphasis moves toward generous giving. Followers of Christ are instructed to give to God’s work - proportionately, generously, sacrificially, willingly, regularly, cheerfully, and wisely, excelling in the art of giving (see Matthew 6:1-4, 19-24. Mark 12:41-44. Luke 19:8. Acts 2:41-47; 4:36-37; 11:27-30; 20:35. Romans 15:25-27. 1 Corinthians 9:11-12; 16:1-4. 2 Corinthians 8-9. Philippians 4:18. 1 Timothy 5:17-18. 2 John 5-8). Giving 10% (‘tithing’) of our income to the work of God is an excellent principle of good financial management (not a law).

Abraham tithed 430 years before the law and Jesus affirmed the principle of tithing (Matthew 23:23. Luke 11:42). The new covenant of grace brings us to a higher law - a place where we give not because we have to but because we want to.

The subject of giving can be approached from two different perspectives - human wisdom or the wisdom of God. The natural mind says, “Giving means I make a loss.” The truth is when you give or invest in the God’s work it is not a loss but it is actually a deposit in your heavenly account. God records it and there will be return for you (Matthew 6:19-21. Luke 6:38. Philippians 4:10-19). God can make your 90% go further than you can make your 100% go without his help and blessing. Secondly, the natural mind easily says, “I can’t afford to give” or “I’ll give when I’ve got some surplus.” However, God challenges us that when we give in faith even when we are in a time of need, his miraculous provision begins to come our way. He only asks us to give of what we already have, not what we don’t have, and as we go first, in faith and obedience, we release his blessing into our life (see 1 Kings 17 and Mark 12:41-44).

2. SAVE - secondly, take at least another 10% and pay yourself by putting this in a savings or investment account. Prepare for the future by adopting a savings and investment plan (Proverbs 21:20). Savings creates freedom, reduces pressure, enhances joy, is a powerful witness and enables you to give. Make a decision to become a saver and get a plan to make it a reality (Proverbs 13:11; 21:5). Spend less than you earn, then save and invest the difference over a long period of time. Ants have small bodies and small brains but they are very smart (Proverbs 6:6-11)! They store up (save) for the winter months. We humans have bigger bodies and bigger brains but sometimes we’re pretty foolish. We have nothing saved up for the future. Growth financially takes time and continued effort. If we are faithful with what we have, God will give us more (Matthew 25:21).

Investing is about getting your hard-earned money to work for you. There are a lot of ‘shonky’ investment schemes out there that promise you a fast track to wealth (Eccesiastes 5:13-14). If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, there are many investments that can yield good returns. Do your research, obtain good advice and learn about different investment types - both their potential returns and risks.

3. SPEND - use the remaining 80% or less to pay everyone and everything else. This is for the rest of your normal living expenses – food, clothing, housing, transportation, debt reduction, entertainment, holiday, extra giving, etc. You’ve already honoured God and paid yourself. You can now enjoy life a little because you’re on plan. You’re living wisely.

Beware of the major “budget busters”, especially “impulse buying”, which refers to unplanned expenditures based on emotion. Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean you should buy it. If you buy something on sale, you are not saving, you are spending. Advertising motivates us to buy things we often don’t need and seeks to make us dissatisfied with what we have now. Material things always oversell themselves and rarely deliver on their promises over the long term. Avoid situations that encourage you to spend. Be satisfied with what you have. Focus on what you have not on what you don’t have.

Use debt strategically (to increase assets) not destructively because debt puts you in bondage (Proverbs 22:7), it puts you under pressure (Proverbs 23:4), it can sabotage your peace and joy (Ecclesiastes 4:6), it can damage your Christian witness and it hinders you from being able to give (Luke 10:25-37). If you are in debt, make a decision to get out of debt, get a plan, get some help and don’t give up (Proverbs 3:27-28. Romans 13:6-8).

If you can’t live on 80% of your income you have to make some changes: Either earn some more income – find a higher paying job (upgrade your skills, if necessary, to make yourself more qualified), work extra hours or start an extra job (possibly part time). These are all possible options but consider the ramifications of each choice. The other option is to reduce your expenses, which may require you to ‘down-size’ your living standards (see Eccesiastes 4:6). If your standard of living is creating great pressure and stress in your life and relationships, why not lower it. Right-size your living expenses to match your income.

Most people think that the solution to their financial problems is to earn more. However, it’s not what you earn that matters - it’s how much you spend. If you consistently spend less than you earn, and save or invest the rest, you will gain financial freedom. It has nothing to do with how much you earn. Overspend just a few dollars a day and you can be thousands of dollars in debt in a number of years. On the other hand, put aside a few dollars a day into savings and you’ll save thousands of dollars in a number of years.

[Part 3]


Money Talks (Part 1)

MoneyJesus and Money

In Luke 16:1-13, we have an example of Jesus’ teaching about money. There’s a difference of opinion as to what exactly Jesus is commending about the manager in the story but the application of the parable is very clear: (1) all of us will be called to give an account of how we have served him and what we have done with our resources; (2) preparation for that day of account should involve wise use of our resources, especially in the area of finances; and (3) wise use of resources, demonstrating a life of true discipleship, will be rewarded with eternal life and joy. Jesus then added a few other lessons after he finished the story: (1) How we handle small things is an indicator of how we will handle larger things (vs.10); (2) God looks at how we manage the financial resources (‘worldly wealth’) he puts in our hands to determine how much spiritual responsibility (‘true riches’) he will give us (vs.11). Money is a test of spiritual maturity. It reveals our heart and the quality of our character; (3) How we handle or manage other people’s things is a test of our character and maturity (vs.12). If we can’t do well with what belongs to another person, we probably won’t be given our own; (4) Finally, Jesus observes that you can’t serve God and money, in the sense of making an ultimate commitment to both at the same time. Obviously, Jesus is saying that a real test of our discipleship is our attitude towards and our management of our finances. You can tell a lot about a person by how they spend their money. It’s more than just numbers. It reflects values. As part of another teaching on money, Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” In other words, your money follows the desires and values of your heart.

Jesus talked about money and possessions in 16 out of 38 parables and 1 out of every 10 verses in the gospels refer to this topic. He talked more about possessions and money than about heaven and hell combined. He did this because how we handle our money matters.

Your Personal Money Makeover

We live in one of the richest countries in the world. Over half of the world’s population lives on just a few dollars a day. Every one of us is ‘rich’ in comparison. Yet despite that fact, many Australians, including many Christians, are under financial pressure. When we experience financial difficulties, every area of our life is affected. Thankfully, there are biblical principles to help us achieve financial freedom and for living wisely on the resources we have.  

On the negative side, the Bible teaches us that money can become like a monster that rules our life if we allow it to. Money can be addictive (Ecc.5:10), deceptive (Mt.13:22) and destructive (1 Tim.6:9-11), and it’s only temporal (Lk.12:16-21). Money can be difficult to master and that’s why the Bible says that the “love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim.6:10). If you don’t control your money, it will control you and it has the potential to destroy you. Riches can be a threat to your relationship with God. That’s why the Bible has many warnings about the dangers of wealth. You don’t have to have money to love it. Both poor people and rich people can be lovers of money. So, should we all be poor? Not at all. God doesn’t mind us having money as long as our money doesn’t have us. Money is not the problem; it’s our attitude towards it. Money is essential for survival and the expansion of God’s kingdom. It depends on our motives, our priorities and our values.

On the positive side, the Bible teaches us that if we serve God, money can become a blessing in our life. The Bible shows us that God desires to bless his people. God prospers us for a purpose. Money can meet our basic needs (Dt.8:10-20), provide for our enjoyment (Ecc.5:19) and enable us to meet the needs of others (1 Tim. 6:17, 18) and resource God’s work on the earth.

A Financial Assessment

About 10 years ago, we shared a series of messages focused on a personal money makeover. It’s worth looking at this again. A money makeover starts with an assessment of where you are at right now financially. You will benefit from a very simple financial check-up. This is what you need to know about your finances:

  1. What you own – your This includes cash, house, car, furnishings, tools, investments, money you.
  2. What you owe – your liabilities. This is what you owe – a personal or bank loan, or credit card debt.
  3. What you earn – your income. This includes wages, investment returns, gifts, government support, royalties, etc.
  4. What you spend – your expenses. Expenses include all your living expenses, loan or debt repayments, etc.

#1 and 2 are referred to as your Balance Sheet. Hopefully, you have some ‘equity’ or a positive ‘net worth’. The percentages and proportions are more important than the actual amounts.

#3 and 4 are referred to as your Profit and Loss Statement. Hopefully, there is a ‘profit’, because you are spending less than you are earning. The percentages and proportions are more important than actual amounts.

Doing an assessment such as this takes time but it is worth it. Get some help if you need to. Make use of a simple computer program, consider taking a basic accounting course or purchase a basic book on financial management. Remember Jesus said how we manage your financial resources is very important.

A Balance Sheet statement is very important as it is a snapshot of your current financial position. However, it is simply a result of what we do on a day-to-day basis with our finances, which is shown by our Profit and Loss Statement. If you’d like your assets to increase and your debts to decrease over time, then you need to ensure that your income is exceeding your expenses on a regular basis then apply the resulting profit to those goals.

[Part 2]


Living a Life of Gratitude

Living-a-life-of-gratitude

Prayer and Praise

When our kids were little, we used to drive the whole family north from Melbourne up to Queensland in the summer holidays to visit their grandparents. It was a multiple day trip and one of the things I hated to do was stop for petrol. After all, all those trucks, caravans and slow pokes I had been passing throughout the day, would now be passing me. My wife, Nicole always fills up for petrol with about 1/4 tank remaining. I tend to see how far I can go on a tank of petrol. I’ll never forget one night, as it was getting dark, looking at the red ‘empty’ fuel night wondering if we would make it to the next petrol station (while Nicole was saying, “I told you so!”). I remember telling all the kids in the back seat, “Pray!” Yes, we all prayed for what seemed like an eternity. Thankfully, God had mercy and a petrol station appeared just in time and I said out loud, “Thank you, God!”. After filling up, we headed off again and as we drove on in the silence of the night, I was challenged. I realised that the intensity of our praise did not match the intensity of our prayer! Have you ever experienced something similar? Ingratitude is not that uncommon.

Ten Lepers Healed

In Luke 17:11-19, we have the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee, two places where the people had strong hatred and animosity towards each other. Ten lepers stood at a distance from Jesus as he entered into a village. Biblical leprosy differed somewhat from today’s various skin conditions, but it was a highly contagious disease that required the person to be isolated from other people. Jews viewed leprosy as a punishment for sin or a mark of God’s displeasure. These lepers must have heard of Jesus healing one of the worst lepers in Galilee a few months earlier (see Luke 5:12-16). In desperation, they cried out for mercy. Without a miracle, their situation would remain hopeless.

They knew that Jesus was approachable and when Jesus saw them he did so through eyes of mercy and compassion. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, as the law required (See Leviticus 14-15). The priest would examine them and then issue a certificate of clearance if they were healed. This was a test of their faith and obedience (much like Naaman of old – see 2 Kings 5). As they went they were healed. Dry scales fell from them, white spots disappeared, a healthy colour returned to their flesh, their disfigured members were restored, and the thrill of new life filled their whole being with incredible joy. They could now return to normal life with their families and friends. Each one of them must have been ecstatic with excitement and gratitude to Jesus.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan (vs.15-16). When this man saw that he was healed, instead of going on to see the priest (to be declared clean), he turned back towards Jesus to express his thanks and praise. He lifted his voice in praise as he had done in prayer (vs.13) before going on his way to enjoy his healing. He was the least likely person to come back but he had an attitude of gratitude.

Jesus responded by asking, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner (vs.17-18)?” Feel Jesus’ surprise, disappointment and possibly sadness. Ten had received a blessing but only one took time to stop, break from the group, and return to give thanks to Jesus. The other nine hurried on to be with their families and friends. Jesus said to this one man, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well (or “saved you” - vs.19)." While all ten were “healed”, only one was “saved”, experiencing spiritual healing and wholeness. Nine were healed in their bodies, restored to society but not cleansed of the sin of ingratitude. Only one was cleansed completely.

Lessons for Today

There are so many different and unique applications of this story for us today. Here are a few:

  1. Take time daily to express thanks to God. A ‘quiet time’ of some sort is a terrific way to start each day. Read God’s Word, talk to God and share your requests, but be sure to take time to praise and thank God for his goodness. Make this your pattern for prayer. This is especially important during times of pressure and difficulty when we so easily forget what God has done for us in the past.
  2. Have your guard up against negativity. It is so easy to focus on what is not going well rather than what is. Before long, we can find ourselves grumbling, complaining and whinging. Our words and attitudes affect the atmosphere around us and push away our joy and peace. Stick a thermometer in your mouth and catch yourself when negativity settles in.
  3. Approach gathering together with others to worship God as a priority. Church services are a meeting with God. The singing and worship times aren’t for us. They are an opportunity for us to express our thanks and praise to God as a church family.
  4. Never limit who God might use you to bless. This Samaritan leper was a person living on the margins, away from the general public. Yet Jesus reached out to him in love and compassion. Remember no one is too far from the grace of God. Faith can show up in surprising places, including across common social and racial boundaries.
  5. Keep an attitude of gratitude in all your relationships. Express appreciation to people regularly, say “thank you” and choose not to take anything for granted. Each day is a gift. Any success we may attain is always aided by the help and support of others. Humility acknowledges that God and others contribute to the achievements of our life.

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the aspects of prayer (asking God for assistance) and praise (thanking God for his help). Which do you think we are better at or do more of?
  2. What two specific things they are most thankful to God for?
  3. In what ways does gratitude affect the atmosphere our our mind and our world?
  4. What could lack of punctuality to church services say about our attitude to the times we have of praise and worship together? Have we made the preaching more valuable to us?
  5. Jesus healed these ten lepers out of compassion. He is still able and willing to heal today. Take time to pray for someone in your world who is unwell.
  6. Jesus also ‘saved’ this man, bringing spiritual wholeness to his life. Take time to pray for friends and family members, that they will experience Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

Jesus and His Mother

MaryAs Jesus was dying on the cross, he was not completely alone. There were a small group of people who loved him dearly, right there until his last breath (John 19:25-27). They demonstrated great courage just to even be there. One of them was Mary - Jesus’ mother. I am sure Mary did not always understand her Son, Jesus (what he was up to and why he did what he did) but she always loved him. Her presence there was the most natural thing in the world for a mother. Jesus might be a criminal in the eyes of the Roman government, but he was her son. Imagine the anguish of watching your own son die. The undying love of a mother was on full display at the cross - through the heart of Mary.

Despite the agony he was experiencing with the entire salvation of the world hanging in the balance, Jesus saw his mother Mary and thought of her well-being in the days ahead. He could not entrust her to his brothers, as they did not yet believe in him (John 7:5) and Joseph had most likely passed away. Here was his mother, a widow, alone. He was her eldest son. Would she be okay? Who would look after her? There was John - his beloved disciple but also his cousin (Salome’s, Mary’s sister’s, son). So Jesus committed Mary to the care of John and John to the care of Mary, that these two would comfort each other’s loneliness when He was gone.

Notice Jesus’ care and respect for his mother. It was not uncommon for a crucified person to make a pronouncement or distribute their estate from the cross. Jesus had nothing - no home or possessions … but he had a mother - Mary. The Gospels record important words of Jesus from the cross, such as “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”, “It is finished!” and “Into your hands I commit my spirit” - all sacred and treasured. But I think these are some of the most moving words Jesus spoke from that cross - demonstrating the love and care of a Son for his mother. Jesus, in his own pain, said, “Please, look after my mother!” One of the last things Jesus did was to ensure that the woman who birthed him, who taught him, and who loved him would have no lack.

Mary herself is an example of a devoted disciple and an exemplary mother. She was favoured by God (Luke 1:26-38), she had a responsive heart to God’s unexpected intentions for her life, she endured great hardship (Luke 2:34-35), and yet she treasured deeply all of the events of her life (Luke 2:19, 51). Not only was she at the cross when Jesus died, she saw him risen from the dead and she was in the upper room praying on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14), when they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).

No wonder Mary was called “blessed among all women.”

See also: Mother's Day 2016


Showdown in the Desert (pt.2)

Desert

Lessons from Jesus’ Temptation

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus' showdown in the dessert. Today, let's glean a few lessons for our own lives from this story.  

1. We are in a spiritual war.

We live in a spiritual battle zone between God and Satan, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. There is no neutral ground. We will either overcome or be overcome. The battle will intensify as history proceeds from this time until the return of Jesus. 

Before the world was created, a number of theologians believe that one of God's archangels was cast out of heaven and thrown to earth because of rebellion. This being became 'Satan' or the devil. In the Garden of Eden, Satan in the form of a serpent, deceived Adam and Eve, leading them to sin and forfeit their inheritance of dominion over the earth (Genesis 3:15-16). All through the Old Testament we see conflict between the “seed of the woman” (the godly line) and the “seed of the serpent” (the ungodly line). 

At the time of Jesus’ birth, King Herod attacked the new-born babies. When Jesus’ ministry begins, he is led into the wilderness where Satan tempts him personally. Throughout Jesus ministry Satan tries to trick him, even through one of his disciples, Peter. On the cross we have the ultimate battle against darkness.

Jesus was revealed to destroy the works of the evil one (1 John 3:8. Acts 10:38). On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Jesus prayed that the Father would “keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15) and told his disciples to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13).”

The early church portrays a community of people advancing into the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Satan attacks and persecutes but does not overcome (Matthew 16:18-19. Romans 16:20).

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul speaks of the struggle (literally a wrestling match) we experience in life against the “schemes (methods or tricks) of the devil” in the spiritual realm. We enter God’s kingdom through much tribulation - pressure and hardships (Acts 14:22).

Revelation 12:1-20 gives us a prophetic picture of a pregnant woman about to give birth to new life - a son who will rule the nations. There is also an enormous dragon representing the devil or Satan. He is standing in front of the woman about to give birth so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. Then there is war in heaven as Michael and his angels fight against the Dragon and his angels. On earth again, we see the dragon pursuing the woman who is taken into the desert ... out of the serpent’s reach. Satan is enraged ... waged war against the rest of the woman’s offspring.

God has a plan and the devil has a plan. We are in the midst of this cosmic battle.

God is always seen as “birthing” something into the world. He is the creator. He is moving forward, taking ground for the kingdom and freeing those oppressed by the devil. God’s kingdom is forcefully advancing - offensive activity (Matthew 11:12). Satan is always seen as seeking to deceive or destroy and to hinder God’s work. Like a thief, he comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

2. Satan will attack us.

Because we are in a spiritual warfare, we will know what it is to be tempted, tested and come under the attack of the devil. Satan is real and he hates God’s work in our lives. Again, it’s important to realise that not everything bad that happens to us is the devil at work. Sometimes our own sin or foolishness is the cause of our pain. At others times other people can cause us difficulty. Don’t blame everything on the devil! 

Luke 22:31-32. "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." NIV

2 Corinthians 2:10-11. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven - if there was anything to forgive - I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

Ephesians 4:26-27. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. NIV

Ephesians 6:11. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. NIV

James 4:7. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

1 Peter 5:8-9. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. NIV 

We are in a spiritual war and we will be attacked, so we need to be alert and on guard. Satan may not tempt us in exactly the same way as he did Jesus, because as we are not the unique Son of God. However, he tries to trip us up and offer us shortcuts that hinder our walk with God.

Tests or temptations are not bad. In fact, they may be sent by God (James 1:2-4). If we are to grow spiritually, we can expect trials. The main issue is our response to the test. Do we look to God to guide us through? Do we trust him or do we reassert our control?  Sometimes opting for comfort means selling our soul to the prince of this world. Our work, our status, our possessions, our family or even our ministry can stand in the way of knowing God. Satan always offers us an easy path without suffering or difficulty. When we lack trust in God, we try to force him to act on our behalf. At times we can attempt to control God rather than follow his leading.

Satan attacks all believers and especially leaders, seeking to destroy them. We must defend ourselves and conquer him in order to be effective ministers. We know that Satan seeks to blind the minds of unbelievers to keep them from hearing or understanding the gospel. He binds them in fear and hopelessness. Satan seeks to attack individual Christians through temptation, doubts, fear, deceit, sin habits and other strongholds. He seeks to hinder them from living in victory and especially from becoming active ambassadors for God’s kingdom. He will use anything from attacks on the mind to demonic spirits, sickness, curses (generational) or emotional wounds (bitterness, inferiority, fear, etc). This is a spiritual war, not fought with physical weapons or in the material plane. The battleground is within us. He is subtle and deceptive.

3. Our enemy targets our weakness.

Our spiritual enemy knows where we are vulnerable and targets his attack there. Satan has “schemes” which he uses to try to outwit us. He prowls around looking for a foothold or for an opportunity to take advantage of us.

Pray about your vulnerable or weak areas. It’s easy to gradually drift and Satan often uses subtle shifts or distractions to trap us. Imagine you’re the devil (just for a moment) or a head demon. Devise a strategy to defeat you! When are you most vulnerable? Build defences in these areas. Strengthen what is weak. Who’s praying for your weakness?

Deception is Satan’s only power over us. He comes as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He uses the philosophies of the world, sin, riches, pride, idolatry, wrong desires or whatever he can. His plan is to deceive the whole world. He is a liar and the father of all lies and falsehood (gives birth to, sustains, source, author, begins). The lie began in heaven with Satan - he deceived himself (Isaiah 14:12-15). He is the Deceiver (Revelation 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3,8,10. 2 John 7). He is the enemy of the truth. He hates it and there is no truth in him (2 Thessalonians 2:9. 1 John 2:21,22. Acts 5:3,4).

4. We can overcome!

Jesus has already defeated Satan at the cross. We have His authority and His power so we can defeat all the works of the enemy. Jesus Christ in us is greater than he who is in the world. The Second Adam did what the First Adam failed to do. He conquered temptation. He now lives in us and gives us the power to overcome, to escape and to resist the devil.

Jesus overcame the world, Satan and sin even though he was tempted just like us. We overcome by faith - trust and dependence upon Jesus, not our own strength. Christ in you. Let Him live (overcome) through you. As we watch and pray we can overcome temptation.

Mark 14:38. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (NIV)

Luke 21:36. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." (NIV)

Use your weapons and your authority (2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Ephesians 6. Romans 12:1-2) – prayer, the Word, forgiveness and the name of Jesus.

Resist the devil! Flee, stand and fight.

5. Personal victory precedes public victory.

Jesus faces his temptation alone and we only know about it because he must have told his disciples what happened. In order to plunder Satan’s kingdom, Jesus would have to defeat him (Mark 3:22-27) and resisting temptation was the first of Satan’s defeats.

Jesus’ ministry was described like this. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and … he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (Acts 10:38 NIV).” Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). 

Like David, we must defeat the “lions” and “bears” in our own lives (personal problems and bad habits) before we can take on the Goliath’s on behalf of a whole nation (1 Samuel 17:32- ). He learned to use his weapons. Jesus overcame Satan then the world.

As we deal with our own personal battles, we gain confidence and strength to help others overcome. By faith we must enter into this victory and storm the gates of hell. People need to be set free from the power of Satan.

Paul’s ministry was much like that of Jesus. God said to him, “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:17-18 NIV).”

Jesus wants to help us overcome and be part of his army of warriors who, despite the overwhelming odds, will free many from the clutches of the enemy through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What are your private giants? Are you conquering them? Or do you need help (counsel, accountability, etc)? Have you given in to the lie that you will never overcome?

Conclusion

  1. Are you awake and alert to the spiritual battle we are engaged in?
  1. Are you aware of your weak or vulnerable areas? 
  1. Are you taking steps to guard yourself against the devil so that you can overcome him? 
  1. Do you see the importance of overcoming the enemy? You need it and so do others.

Prayer Points

  1. Pray that followers of Christ will have a fresh awareness and understanding of the spiritual battle that we are in as believers so that we are more awake and alert spiritually. 
  1. Pray that we will have our eyes open to the ways the devil attacks us personally. 
  1. Pray that we will become aware of their own weak and vulnerable areas. 
  1. Pray that we will take practical steps to guard ourselves against the devil in those areas. 
  1. Pray that we will see and believe that we can overcome every attack, temptation and test of the devil. 
  1. Pray that we will see the importance of personal victory so that God can use them to help set others free.

Showdown in the Desert (Pt.1)

Desert

Jesus has prepared well for impacting his world through total surrender, a strong relationship with his Father and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

The final aspect of his preparation is a showdown with the devil himself.

Immediately after the “mountain-top” experience at his water baptism, Luke describes Jesus as “full of the Spirit”. The Spirit then “led” Jesus into the desert or wilderness (in comparison to the garden paradise where Adam and Eve were tempted). Jesus fasted (ate no food) for 40 days. During these 40 days he was also tempted or tested by the devil. The three specific temptations recounted by Matthew and Luke seem to have occurred at the close of this period - when Jesus hunger was the greatest and his resistance the lowest.

As Christians, we sometimes face our greatest struggles right after conversion or some act of recommitment, rather than before. This should not surprise us.

God in his sovereignty initiates this time of testing. However, he allows no temptation except which furthers his ultimate purposes. Yet he never directly tempts anyone (James 1:13) and is wholly disassociated from evil. Because the Holy Spirit initiated these temptations, they should be understood not as a defensive struggle but as an offensive attack on the rule of Satan. The kingdom of God had come and the rule of this evil age was now challenged.

This test is similar to the 40 years period that God led Israel through the wilderness to humble them and test them in order to know what was in their heart, whether or not they would keep his commands (Deuteronomy 8:1-5). Also, 40 days and nights recalls the experiences of Moses (Exodus 24:18; 34:18) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).

Whereas Adam failed the great test and plunged the whole race into rebellion against God (Genesis 3), Jesus was faithful and demonstrated his qualification to become the Saviour. Jesus shows his moral qualifications as messiah by relying on God and his word, rather than like Adam, reaching for the power that Satan tempts him to take. What Adam as son of God was not, Jesus is. He is ready to minister on behalf of all humanity.

Jesus was also tempted as we are so that he could become our “merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17) and therefore be “able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:15; 4:15-16). He becomes a model for us. These were real temptations. Jesus was tempted in every way just like us, yet without sin. Satan tempts Jesus. Jesus resists Satan.

The three temptations are somewhat unusual, in that they don’t appear to be a temptation to real “evil”. In each case, Satan uses a selfish tactic in justifying the action he wants Jesus to take. It was a temptation toward independence.

There are fascinating parallels between these three temptations of Jesus, the three temptations in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6) and the three kinds of temptation 1 John 2:16 lists to summarise “everything in the world.”

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17).

1. First Temptation (Luke 4:3-4)

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Man does not live on bread alone’”. 

Satan questioned Jesus’ identity by saying, “If you are the Son of God …”

The devil tempts the Son of God to use his supernatural powers for his own ends. This seemed attractive, as Jesus was very hungry. He tried to get Jesus to use his power and authority to fulfil his own natural desires or appetites. However, Jesus didn’t use his miraculous power for personal benefit. Satan questions God’s provision and care and lures Jesus to act independently of the Father.

“Surely you should feed yourself, Jesus.”

It was not a temptation to a crime or sin in the traditional sense. It is a test as to what kind of Messiah will Jesus be – one who uses his power for his own ends or one who lives in dependence and trust in the Father to provide his needs.

On the cross, Jesus would have the same temptation to use his own powers to “save himself”. A criminal scoffed, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Spectators took up the cry: “Let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him .” But even with 12 legions of angels at his disposal, he would not call on them (Matthew 26:53). He would trust instead on the providential care of the Father. For Jesus to save others, he could not save himself. There was no easy, painless path.

This was the “lust of the flesh” and compares to “the tree was good for food.”

Yes, there is nothing wrong with feeding yourself, but when it conflicts with what God has ordained, it is sin.

Jesus conquered Satan’s attack with the “sword of the spirit”, which is the Word of God. Jesus knew the Word of God. It was in His heart and mind. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Ps.119:11). He didn’t discuss, contemplate or reason with the tempter. He gave a decisive “No!”

Jesus relied on his Father for food, not his own miraculous power. Jesus understands that life is more than food and is to be lived in obedience to God. For Jesus, the spirit ruled. His spirit was strong through feeding on God’s Word even though His body was weak through lack of food.

2. Second Temptation (Luke 4:5-8)

The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. He said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’”.

The kingdoms of the world and their splendour were offered to Jesus if He would bow down and worship the tempter. This was a temptation to power, prominence, fame, fortune, and glory. Satan, as the “prince of this world” and the “ruler of this present age”, had the power to do this. Jesus did not challenge his ability to make such an offer. This is not an attempted deception by Satan to give what he could not.

This was the “lust of the eyes” (appealing to the ego or self) and compared to the fruit being “pleasing to the eye”.

The devil was tempting Jesus to avoid the sufferings of the cross. The temptation offered an easy shortcut to world dominion. It was a “cross-less solution” to the world’s problems. However, Jesus rejected all political concepts of messiahship. The world needed a saviour that would provide forgiveness, reconciliation with God and salvation from future judgement.

“Surely the Father wants you to have authority, so just give me your allegiance.”

Jesus answered emphatically: “Away from me, Satan! (Matthew 4:10)” Resist the devil and he will flee from you! (James 4:7). 

God must be first and only. Love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Let Him be your treasure, your desire and your focus in life. Jesus’ entire focus was on pleasing His Father through worship (relationship) and service (ministry).  His eyes were not on material rewards whatsoever. Jesus’ drive was to do the will of God - obedience to the Father’s commands. His priorities were to worship (love) and to serve (obey) God.

3. Third Temptation (Luke 4:9-12)

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God”, he said, “Throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’”.

This may have been a vision-like experience. The temple in Jerusalem had a Royal Porch on the Southeast corner, which loomed over a cliff and the Kidron Valley some 450 feet below. Josephus mentions that just looking over the edge made people dizzy. To cast oneself down from such a height and survive would take divine intervention.

Satan was testing Jesus to test God’s faithfulness. This time Satan quoted Scripture, those he misused or misapplied Psalm 91:11-12. He twists its meaning and uses it for his own purpose. This was a test of presumption - putting God to the “test” (Deuteronomy 6:16). Surely God would care for his own and not let Jesus suffer pain.

“Surely God will protect his Son, so why not try him out?” It is a dare on Jesus’ part to make God rescue him.

This was the “pride of life” and is similar to Satan saying that the fruit was “desirable for gaining wisdom (so as not to die).”

Jesus answered with Scripture as he had on the other two temptations, quoting Deuteronomy. We should marvel at Jesus’ restraint. Why didn’t he just blast Satan away!?

Jesus overcame all three temptations. He was totally dedicated to God’s will and call. He will take only the road God asks him to follow and refuses to take any shortcuts.

Result:

  • The devil left Jesus until an “opportune time”. Satan continues with his testing throughout Jesus’ ministry (see Mark 8:33), culminating in the supreme test at Gethsemane. Jesus is also about to confront demons very shortly (Luke 4:31-44).
  • Angels came and ministered to Him (Matthew 4:11).
  • Jesus then returned to Galilee in the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) and his public ministry began.

Tomorrow: Lessons from Jesus' Temptation 


Jesus' Empowerment by the Spirit

During Jesus' baptism in water, the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove (Luke 3:22). This implies a sort of “anointing” for ministry. Jesus was “filled with the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) and was then “led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) into the wilderness where he overcame the devil and returned in the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).

Jesus lived his life by the Spirit’s power. We too need the power of the Spirit to help us live a life of purpose and impact, an abundant joyful and victorious life.

The disciples separated themselves to God, developed a relationship with the father and also received the power of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The evidence of this empowering was “spiritual language” (speaking in tongues) and a boldness to witness for Jesus (Acts 2).

Spirit-Powered Living

We have all experienced the frustration of trying to live a good life in our own strength. After all, we all have weaknesses, sinful tendencies, bad habits, wrong desires and good intentions we don’t follow through on. We desperately need the help of the Holy Spirit.

The foundations of the Christian life are seen in Peter's first sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39).

1. Repentance – a decision to make. This is about new life (conversion) through faith and a relationship with the Father God.

2. Water Baptism – a command to obey.

3. The Holy Spirit – a gift to receive.

The Christian life begins with repentance and faith that results in an inner transformation (salvation, eternal life, being 'born again'). The next step is to be baptised in water, an outward declaration of our allegiance to Jesus Christ. We are also to be filled with the Holy Spirit. These three steps are just the beginning and form a firm foundation for a strong Christian life.

There is now a new life to be lived “in the Spirit”. We are to be filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit. We are to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit - God's nature and character. We are to be empowered by the Spirit both to overcome the enemy and be witnesses to the life that is in Jesus Christ. So there is much to learn as we begin to grow from “babies” to become mature “sons and daughters of God.”

In the first century, at times people experienced all these things simultaneously. In other cases, these things happened at different times. God deals with each of us in different ways and we all respond differently to His work in our lives.

How are your spiritual foundations?

Further Reading:


Jesus' Relationship with His Father

As Jesus was being baptised, Luke notes that he was praying or talking to his heavenly Father (Luke 3:21). Throughout his gospel, Luke makes a special emphasis on Jesus’ life of prayer – one of close relationship with his Father (Luke 6:12; 9:18, 29; 11:1; 22:41).

After being baptised, the Father spoke to him Jesus and said, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

This is probably a private and personal experience between Jesus and the Father. The voice speaks directly to Jesus. Luke does not record any reaction or response from the crowd, as in other cases when such events occur more publicly (e.g. Acts 9).

Jesus has developed a close relationship with his heavenly Father beginning as a child (age 12).  Jesus was obedient and he did those things that pleased his Father.

This statement by the Father indicated that Jesus had:

  1. Identity - “my Son”.
  2. Acceptance - “whom I love”.
  3. Approval - “well pleased”.

This endorsement of the Father is like a personal commissioning of Jesus, not making him something he wasn’t before but recognising that the much loved Son will launch out into actively exercising the authority he possesses.

Jesus’ relationship with his Father was the source of his strength and the foundation of his life. This enabled him to stand firm even when his identity was attacked by others (“If you are the Son of God ...”) and or when others did not accept or approve of him. Jesus was not shaken because he was not dependent on nor did he base his life on the opinions of other people. Jesus' relationship with his Father is the source of his confidence and direction for his ministry.

The relationship that Jesus had with the Father is not for him alone. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called into the same intimacy and security of the Father’s love.

1. Identity – we are the children of God, his sons and daughters. He is our Father and that makes us special, important and significant ... simply because we are his. We are not slaves or simply servants of God. We are sons, daughters and heirs of the promises.

2. Acceptance – God’s love for us is not based on our goodness or our performance. It is a love given as a free gift, even though it is undeserved. This is the power of grace.

3. Approval – as we obey God and follow his ways, we can also know his pleasure and approval. Obedience pleases God. However, obedience isn’t to be done out of self-effort to try earn God’s love but rather as a response to the grace he already has shown us.

Following Jesus Christ and living God’s way will put us in situations where people may not accept us or give us their approval. They may laugh and even mock us. Unless our roots are deep and strong in the Father’s love, we will falter at those times, compromise our faith and lose our potential impact. May your life be rooted and grounded in the Father’s love (Ephesians 3:14-19), not rejection, insecurity, inferiority or fear.

How?

  • See who you are – a son/daughter not a slave.
  • Believe what God says about you.
  • Take captive every contrary thought and bring it under submission to Christ.
  • Live with this truth as your daily foundation.

Jesus' Preparation for Ministry

Bap

At the age of 30 (Luke 3:23), Jesus began turning his attention towards his ministry to the people His Father had sent him to. Jesus’ preparation for ministry included his baptism in water (Luke 3:21-23), his relationship with his Father, the empowerment of the Spirit (Luke 4:1-2), and his defeat of the devil and his temptations (Luke 4:3-13).

Jesus prepared for 30 years for 3½ years of significant ministry. It has been said, that people today go to Bible College for 3½ years to prepare for 30 years of ministry.

Proper preparation is essential.

Anything significant is preceded by intensive and thorough preparation (often behind the scenes). Things just don't happen. In fact, the quality of the preparation determines the quality and success of events.

  • A delicious meal requires hours in the kitchen when no one else is around.
  • An enjoyable musical performance requires hours of practice and preparation.
  • A superb sports performance demands hours of training and preparation.
  • A doctor spends years studying before he or she ever take the tools and begins to operate (aren’t you glad!).
  • A significant ministry of high impact also requires the same intensity of preparation. God often takes his time.

The better the preparation, the more significant and lasting the impact. So in the spiritual. God prepares by His Spirit and we also must prepare. 

God sent John the Baptist to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 1:11-17, 76-80; 3:1-6) He was God's prophetic messenger sent before the coming of Messiah “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:27).”

Every significant event in the purposes of God is preceded by a time of intense preparation.

Common Misunderstandings about Ministry:

1. “Ministry is only for people who work on staff at the church”.

This viewpoint misses the fact that every believer is in “full time ministry” wherever they may be – in church, in the marketplace, at school, in the neighbourhood or at home.

2. “Significant ministry just happens.”

This perspective misses the process that God uses to develop us over time and through many life experiences.

3. “You can’t minister until you’re perfect.”

This attitude causes you to keep putting things off until “one day” and this can lead to you missing the opportunities for God to use you today. God doesn’t want you in “school” forever. Yes, we keep learning and growing, but we have to get out there and begin “doing” what we’ve been taught.

What has God been preparing you for?


Jesus as a Child

Jesus

Luke gives us some interesting insight into Jesus' self-perception ... as a 12 year old.

Luke 2:41-52. Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. NIV

We don’t know a lot about Jesus’ childhood or his life before the age of 30 when he began his ministry. We do know that he grew up in a family with other brothers and sisters and he became a carpenter, a trade he learned from Joseph. It appears that sometime between the age of 12 and the beginning of his ministry, Joseph died, as he is never again mentioned with the other members of Jesus’ family. Jesus’ childhood appears to have been very normal like any other Jewish boy of the time.

Jesus at twelve years of age is one year away from accountability as a Jewish boy. At the age of twelve, the instruction of boys became more intensive in preparation for the recognition of adulthood. The Bar Mitzvah of modern times, however, post-dates the time of Jesus by 500 years.

What can we learn from this narrative about Jesus?

1. Children can know God personally.

Jesus at the age of twelve already had a relationship with God to the depth of knowing that God was his Father. This reference to his Father infers an close, personal relationship to God that is foundational to his life (c.f. Luke 10:21-22). This also implies a sense of personal intimacy, identify and significance for Jesus, even as a child.

2. Children can understand spiritual things.

Jesus is among the teachers of the temple – listening, asking questions and giving replies. Even at a young age, he has an amazing knowledge of and ability to engage in spiritual things. Already, he values the pursuit of knowing God and his ways in the world. Children love to laugh, play and have fun but don’t under-estimate their capacity to know and experience God also.

3. Children can know their life purpose.

At the age of twelve, Jesus knew that his life was to be about “his Father’s business”, that he would one day give his whole time and energy to the Father’s work on earth. Yes, he would have to wait for God’s timing and prepare for 18 more years, but this sense of destiny was already there. 

Early on, Jesus understands that he is called to do his Father’s work. Jesus explains his call in his own words and it reflects his self-understanding. He is always about the things of the Father, then and now. In his humanity, he resisted the urge to selfishness and focused on carrying out God’s will for his life.

However, Jesus' ministry has its proper timing and Jesus will wait to launch what he is destined to do. He is not impatient about starting his ministry and will wait until the time is right. He must, of course, wait until the forerunner comes, John the Baptist, before beginning his own task. 

The above description of Jesus didn’t just happen but was a result of his childhood years, which would have included input from family and friends, along with his own personal development.

May we as a community (comprised of parents, churches, community organisations and schools) seek to help kids come to know God personally, to understand spiritual things (God’s perspective on life), and to know their life purpose.


Stories Around the Cross - The Denial

Rembrandt-01

The Denial (Mark 14:27-31, 66-72)

The theme of abandonment overshadows many of the Stories Around the Cross. Jesus was abandoned by betrayal (Judas), by indifference (the disciples sleeping three times in Gethsemane), and by denial and desertion (Peter and the Twelve). When Jesus needed them the most, his friends left him alone. They all participated in the supper (Mark 14:23), they all confessed their allegiance (Mark 14:31), and yet they all deserted Jesus (Mark 14:50).

Peter is as impetuous as ever – opening his mouth first and thinking afterwards. But he is hard to condemn and impossible to dislike. He has demonstrated nothing but reckless courage to this point - drawing his sword in the garden prepared to take on the whole mob and staying near the courtyard in a quiet boldness. We should be amazed at his courage not just shocked at his fall. Every person has their breaking point.

Peter is not surprised by the thought of the defection of the other disciples. Perhaps he even expects it of them. He does not defend their cause but strongly defends his own cause, “I will not! (vs.29)” He sees himself as the exception to the rule; where others fall, he will stand. There’s more than a little self-confidence and pride here. Jesus interrupts his bravado and says, “Today … yes tonight … before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times (vs.30).” Peter does not back down. He insists emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you (vs.31).” Notice that “all the others said the same.”

Peter follows Jesus “at a distance” (vs.54) and eventually there is an escalation of three charges and three denials (vs.66-72). After the rooster crowed the second time, suddenly Jesus’ words flooded through Peter’s mind … and “He broke down and wept.” Humiliated, Peter is overwhelmed with guilt and shame, most likely morphing into sorrow and repentance (unlike Judas who was remorseful but not repentant).

Failure

Have you ever fallen flat on your face? Have you ever disappointed yourself, others or God? Maybe it was a sin, a mistake or a personal failure. Like Peter, you didn't live up to your own expectations or promises. We have all experienced this, at one time or another. Sometimes, over-confidence, arrogance and pride are catalysts. At others times, they are not.

When personal failure occurs, we experience guilt, embarrassment and at times shame. Guilt is the result of a convicted conscience. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us and it is always specific and aimed at response – remorse (genuine sorrow) and repentance (change – turning away from sin). Shame is from the enemy and moves us from “I did something wrong” to “I am a bad person”. It involves an ongoing feeling of condemnation and self-loathing, with a general sense of not being good enough. Shame is very harmful and engenders a feeling of unworthiness. This often leads to destructive and negative behaviours.

The Restoration of Peter

In John’s Gospel, we learn some more details about how Jesus took time to restore Peter (John 21:1-19). By a charcoal fire on the beach, bringing back memories of Peter’s denial by a charcoal fire in the courtyard (John 18:18), like a good shepherd, Jesus’ heals the wound of Peter’s denial and failure. Gently, Jesus brings this memory to the surface and heals it with love and forgiveness. Jesus gives Peter a chance to profess his love for Jesus, to affirm everything he has denied – three times. Old failings, old sores, old wounds are healed. Jesus not only forgives Peter but commissions him. It's time for him to be a shepherd, to feed lambs and sheep, to look after them. Jesus is trusting Peter to get back to fruitful work. Jesus is sharing his own ministry with Peter. Jesus is after all the “good shepherd” (John 10).

This is the foundation of all ministry – despite our faults and failures, Jesus forgives us and gives us an opportunity to join him in his work on earth. These are not things we do to earn our forgiveness. It’s all grace from start to finish. They are things we do out of the joy of being forgiven.

The Power of Vulnerability

It speaks volumes both for the accuracy of the Gospels and the humility of the leaders of the early church that Peter’s story of denying Jesus three times, in all its graphic detail, remains there starkly in all four gospels - the same man who confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:29). Peter himself is most likely the source of this story. It served as a warning to other Christians who themselves would face persecution that even if the prince of the apostles denied Jesus they might do so also if they were not prepared. Even the best of us can slip and fall, as our human weakness falls prey to strong temptations. Not even the best leader is immune to failure. Nor beyond the promise of grace! We can be honest about our sin … because God’s grace is even greater.

Jesus did not give up on Peter … and he does not give up on us. Who would have thought that Peter’s negative example would have given courage to young and innocent Christians for years afterwards to stand up to questioning, persecution, torture and death rather than deny Jesus. Some even faced lions in the amphitheatre and did not deny their Lord.

Authenticity takes courage and compassion. Everyone around you has the same issues and struggles you do. Perfectionism is often driven by a fear of shame. All this is emotionally unhealthy. It makes your self-worth dependent on the approval or acceptance of others. Vulnerability is the cure for shame. It is the willingness to openly admit failures and weaknesses. It helps you build up resilience to shame and to feel happier about who you are in Christ and what you do have. In fact, the moments we feel most connected to others are usually those in which we have opened up to someone and experienced their empathy. We've all experienced the relief of opening up to others, our problems melting away as we begin to feel understood. This is a truly powerful weapon against shame.

Like Peter, may you know the joy of forgiveness from all sin and failure, of standing unashamed, and of being commissioned to join Jesus in his work on earth. 

Reflection Questions

  1. Think of a a time when you failed or did something that humiliated or embarrassed you. What did it feel like and what have been the affects since that incident?
  2. Compare the difference between guilt and shame. How do we know the difference?
  3. Why are qualities such as openness and authenticity so difficult for us as humans?
  4. What’s the impact of vulnerability? Why is it so powerful? Why do some see it as weakness?
  5. How does being vulnerable help us overcome feelings of shame?
  6. Listen to Brene Brown's TED talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame. What did you learn?
  7. What can leaders (whether parents, teachers, pastors or managers) learn from Jesus in how to create an environment where people can be open and honest about themselves, rather than building a toxic, shame-based culture?
  8. What are some indicators that we have made God's grace the foundation of our life and ministry?
  9. Pray and ask God for complete freedom … from guilt and shame.

[Picture - Rembrandt's Peter Denying Christ]


The Supper

Passover-unleavened-bread-and-wine

As we move towards Easter, let's take a look at the supper from Mark 14:12-26.

Part of our God-given humanity is the instinct to celebrate significant moments with significant meals (e.g. Christmas, birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries). Sharing a meal bonds a family, a group of friends, a team, a collection of colleagues together. The meal says more than words - about who we are, how we feel about one another, and the hopes and joys we share together. It’s not just about the food; the meal says something, it does something. We become a people who shared that meal together, with all that it meant to us.

The Jewish Passover celebration was such a meal, linking together generations of families around the story that told them who they were - God's people rescued from Egypt. Jesus takes this story and infuses it with new meaning, changing the script to point it towards the work he would do through his death and resurrection. He instituted a new meal - a new supper - for us to connect deeply with him and each other. 

This sacred meal is known by a number of terms including breaking bread, the table of the Lord, communion, and the Eucharist (which means thanksgiving).  Jesus instituted this practice when eating with his disciples just before his death (see Matt.26:26-29. Mark 14:22-25. Luke 22:15-20). Luke shows how the first disciples carried out the instructions of Jesus as they broke bread together regularly (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11. Luke 24:19, 30). This practice was originally associated with a meal (Luke 22:20. 1 Cor.11:25) but later became a separate celebration. Paul also commented on the Lord’s Supper when writing to the church at Corinth (1 Cor.11:23-26).

Six Dimensions of the Sacred Meal

Partaking in communion is not merely a religious exercise or tradition. It is intended to be a meaningful experience of God and His will for our lives, both personally and as a community of Christ-followers. We must not allow the routine of partaking of communion regularly turn it into a ritual rather than the significant celebration that Jesus intended for it to be. One helpful way to ensure that we retain the meaning of this sacred meal is to explore the breadth of its meaning. As we partake, we should look in at least six directions.

1. Look Backward. In the Lord’s Supper we look backwards to the redemptive work that Jesus accomplished through his death on the cross. His death was not an accident or that of a martyr. His death was a substitutionary one in that he took our place and paid the price for our sins once and for all so that we could be forgiven. This was a complete act of grace and not because of any goodness or merit on our behalf. We can now rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross knowing that he has done everything that needs to be done for us to be right with God. He suffered for us. His body was broken and His blood was split for our salvation. Communion is a powerful reminder of this foundation of our faith, which is in the finished work of the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is central to the Christian faith (Gal.6:14. Col.1:20). It may seem foolishness to those who do not believe but may it never be foolishness to the contemporary church (1 Cor.1:18). May we never forget the sacrificial gift of Christ’s life for us!

2. Look Forward. Communion is much more than a morbid recalling of the passion.  Believers “proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes (1 Cor.11:26).” In the Lord’s Supper we look forward to the time when the kingdom will come in full and we will enjoy personal fellowship with Jesus in a celebration meal together. We look forward with confidence each day knowing that our future is secure, whether we live or die. We look forward with joy at his return to earth to right all wrongs and to deliver us from sin and death. We also understand that there will be a day of account where we will be rewarded for the works we have done in this life. Finally, we look forward to a new heavens and a new earth – whether there will be no more sorrow, crying, pain or death (Rev.21:1-4). This accounts for the joy and gladness of heart in which the communion was celebrated (Acts 2:46).

3. Look Inward. Paul reminds us that the celebration of communion is also an important time of self-examination. Those who live in blatant sin when approaching the table are guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor.11:27-28). Communion times can be important occasions of looking inward at one’s heart and holding oneself personally accountable before God. The original Lord’s Supper was partaken of in the context of betrayal and denial. This should serve as a warning to us and a sober reminder to take heed lest we fall. Paul says that some become weak, sick and even die because of not handling this dimension of communion properly (1 Cor.11: 29-30). No doubt, Jesus’ teaching about reconciliation applies here (Matt.5:23-24).

4. Look Upward. The Lord’s Supper also looks upward as we remember that Jesus’ death on the cross and burial in the tomb was not the end of the story. His resurrection seals the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and that his death accomplished our full salvation. We now look up with conviction and joy knowing that the Savior lives and that He is seated at the right hand with the Father interceding for us (Heb.7:25). Jesus is alive! His resurrection is the foundation of our faith and the assurance that we too have been raised from the dead with him to walk in the power of a new life. We are citizens of a new kingdom. We seek for his will to be done and for his kingdom to come in all its fullness.

5. Look Around. Communion is also a time to reinforce the communal nature of this sacred meal. In John’s description of this time in Jesus’ life he includes the well-known story of Jesus taking on the role of a servant by washing the disciples feet (John 13:3-16). It was a powerful reminder of the calling we have to serve one another (Matt.20:20-28). That same evening Peter boastfully declared that he would never deny Jesus, even if the others did. This self-deceptive pride set him up for certain failure. Without others we can so easily fall away. We need each other’s friendship, encouragement, and accountability to stay faithful as we follow Jesus together. Communion is a time to look around and remind ourselves that we need each other. We are one body in Christ, regardless of differences.

6. Look Outward. Finally, there is an outward dimension to the Lord’s Supper. As Paul reflects on the communion, he reminds us that as we partake we “proclaim the Lord’s death” until he comes (1 Cor.11:26). We live in a world where people need to know the good news that Jesus has provided salvation from our sins through his death on the cross. Communion is a time to remind ourselves of those who haven’t heard or responded to this message. As we go from the table, we go with renewed commitment to pray, to love, and to share the good news of Jesus with others as we have opportunity.

As we can see, there is rich and deep meaning to this ancient practice. At communion we are to look backward (to Christ’s death), look forward (to Christ’s return), look inward (in self-examination), look upward (fellowship with God), look around (fellowship with each other), and look outward (to proclaim God’s word to others). May we all experience more and more of God’s amazing love for us as we celebrate communion together.

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. Which direction do you find most meaningful or easiest to look when taking communion?
  2. Which direction is new to you or something you haven’t thought much about?
  3. Discuss the symbolic meaning of the bread and the cup in communion.
  4. In the Old Testament, the entire family partook of the Passover meal together, including the children. What implication does this have for whether children should partake of communion or not today?
  5. Share with your family, friends or small group about what communion means to you. Pray for each other and then partake of communion together. 

The God Who Pays Attention

Hairs-on-headJesus tells us that we have a Father who pays attention to our lives - down to the very details.

Matthew 10:29-30. God cares what happens to it (a small canary) even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail — even numbering the hairs on your head.

Numbering the hairs on our head (an easier task for some of us than others!) is not a statement of God's mathematical prowess but rather of his caring attention to even the minute details of our life.

The priestly blessing says this:

Numbers 6:24-26. The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

What would it look like to realise that every moment of every day, God is looking at you - with full attention. And that he is doing so with a smile on his face - shining on you, as it were. Well, it's true!

May you live with that awareness today and may it release amazing love, joy and peace into your heart. So much so, that is overflows onto others around you.


Devotional Bible Reading

Bible-Reading

Every year, we encourage our church to read through the Bible. There are a variety of reading programs available online. This year we will read through the New Testament, as well as the books of Psalms and Proverbs. 

There is a great benefit in using a devotional format for Bible reading aimed at hearing from God daily and responding to his leading. The goal is not to just ‘get through’ your Bible reading but to allow God’s Word to ‘get in’ to your heart and life, bringing about personal growth and positive change.

As you do your daily reading, consider using the following devotional format:

Scripture – write out a verse or two that speak specifically to you today.

Observation – make a note of what you observe in the text. What was happening back 'there and then'?

Application – write out how God’s Word applies to your life. What does this mean to you 'here and now'?

Prayer – write out a prayer of response to what God has said to you.

You can do this by yourself, with your family, with some friends or as part of your Life Group. As you make your time with God and his Word the priority of your day, you will experience a tangible ‘washing of the Word’ in your heart and life.


Living in the End Times

1peterThe apostle Peter wrote this back in the first century:

1 Peter 4:7-11. The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

The anticipation of the end and of Jesus Christ’s return should impact our attitudes, actions and relationships.

How should we live in the “end times”?

  1. Be clear minded. We are to be wise and have a clearly defined sense of purpose. Don’t allow confusion or fuzziness into your mind. Know what’s important and focus on it. Know what’s not important and avoid it.
  2. Be self-controlled. 
  3. Pray.
  4. Love others deeply. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love forgives again and again.
  5. Be hospitable ... and not just because you have to.
  6. Use your gifts (given you by God’s grace) to serve others.
  7. Serve with all your heart. Do your very best so that God may be praised and receive glory through you.

Now that's not just good advice; it's essential living for followers of Jesus Christ.


They Sailed On

Sailing

Each time I read the Gospels, I never fail to see something new about Jesus and the way he brought transformation to people who he came in contact with.

After Jesus calmed the storm, he said to his disciples, "Why can't you trust me?" (Luke 8:25. Message Bible) That's a good question to consider after God brings you through a tough time. 

Luke goes on to say:

Luke 8:26-27. They sailed on to the country of the Gerasenes, directly opposite Galilee. As he stepped out onto land, a madman from town met him; he was a victim of demons. He hadn't worn clothes for a long time, nor lived at home; he lived in the cemetery. Message Bible

I started to move on to the next story but felt to slow down and have a closer reflection on those simple three words - "They sailed on ..."

"They". This speaks to me of team, of community, of friendship, and of partnership. Life and ministry are not to be done alone but with other people. Jesus and others are in your boat. 

"Sailed". There are two main ways to get across a lake - rowing or sailing. Rowing is through our own strength while sailing is a different approach altogether. It's about catching the wind. It requires dependence, proper positioning, sensitivity and discernment. We are to be Spirit-driven people.

"On". We haven't arrived yet. There is more to come - experiences, transformations, miracles and challenges. Although there are times when we need to pause, to rest and to reflect, God's purposes are about moving forward - not backward or staying where we are.

Response:

1. Take time today to encourage three people in your 'boat', expressing gratitude for what they mean to you.

2. Pray for an increase of the Holy Spirit's work and power (wind) in your life.

3. See yourself as moving forward together - with your family, your friends, your small group and your church community.

"They sailed on."


Proverbs 28

Proverbs-Series

Today we glean some more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 28.

Vs.1. The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions. 

When you live a righteous life you have nothing to be afraid of.

Vs.2. When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But with wise and knowledgeable leaders, there is stability. 

Everything rises and falls on leadership. Good leadership (wise and godly) produces stability.

Vs.4. To reject the law is to praise the wicked; to obey the law is to fight them. 

Keeping the law is a way to stand for righteousness.

Vs.6. It is better to be poor and honest than rich and crooked. 

Righteousness is more important than wealth.

Vs.7. Young people who obey the law are wise; those who seek out worthless companions bring shame to their parents. 

Be careful who you hang around.

Vs.9. The prayers of a person who ignores the law are despised. 

God hears the prayers of the righteous.

Vs.13. People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy. 

We all make mistakes. The key is to admit them and then not to keep repeating them. If we cover them up we will not succeed in life.

Vs.14. Blessed are those who have a tender conscience, but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble. 

Maintain a sensitive conscience – it will do you good.

Vs.16. Only a stupid prince will oppress his people, but a king will have a long reign if he hates dishonesty and bribes. 

As a leader, do good to you people, ruling with honesty and uprightness.

Vs.18. The honest will be rescued from harm, but those who are crooked will be destroyed. 

Honesty and integrity protect you from harm.

Vs.19. Hard workers have plenty of food; playing around brings poverty. 

When you are diligent and hard working, you’ll reap ‘plenty’. If you play around you will end in poverty.

Vs.20. The trustworthy will get a rich reward. But the person who wants to get rich quick will only get into trouble. 

Watch out for ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes.

Vs.21. Showing partiality is never good, yet some will do wrong for something as small as a piece of bread. 

Treat people fairly and justly.

Vs.23. In the end, people appreciate frankness more than flattery. 

Speak the truth in a loving way. Don’t be a flatterer who only says nice things.

Vs.26. Trusting oneself is foolish, but those who walk in wisdom are safe. 

Don’t trust yourself – the heart is deceitful. Set up safe guards against your own sinfulness. That is wisdom.

Vs.27. Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing. But a curse will come upon those who close their eyes to poverty. 

Give generously to the poor. Don’t close your eyes to their need.


Proverbs 21

Proverbs-Series

Today we glean some more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 21.

Vs.1. The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he turns it wherever he pleases. 

God is sovereign and overrules all – even the heart of those in authority.

Vs.2. People may think they are doing what is right, but the LORD examines the heart. 

God evaluates our inner world.

Vs.3. The LORD is more pleased when we do what is just and right than when we give him sacrifices. 

Obedience is the ultimate pleasure to the Lord not worship. In fact, obedience demonstrates love.

Vs.4. Haughty eyes, a proud heart, and evil actions are all sin. 

Even pride in our heart is sin.

Vs.5. Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty. 

Prosperity results from good planning and hard work. Don’t try to take short cuts!

Vs.7. Because the wicked refuse to do what is just, their violence boomerangs and destroys them. 

We reap what we sow – for better or worse.

Vs.9. It is better to live alone in the corner of an attic than with a contentious wife in a lovely home. 

Good relationships are more valuable than opulent living.

Vs.13. Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need. 

Give to the poor and needy. Don’t ignore them or you will be ignored in your time of need.

Vs.16. The person who strays from common sense will end up in the company of the dead.  

Don’t be foolish in how you live. Follow good common sense.

Vs.17. Those who love pleasure become poor; wine and luxury are not the way to riches. 

An obsession with pleasure and luxury usually result in poverty. Learn to be frugal with your resources rather than spend them impulsively. 

Vs.20. The wise have wealth and luxury, but fools spend whatever they get. 

Wisdom results in wealth and luxury because wise people use their resources with prudence rather than spending whatever they earn.

Don’t devour all you have. Here are 4 things you should not devour:

  1. The tithe – it’s the Lord’s.
  2. An offering – seed to sow.
  3. Emergency funds – for the unexpected.
  4. Savings – investment for the future.

Learn to live on 80% of your income. If you can’t, you either need to generate more income or reduce your expenses.

Vs.23. If you keep your mouth shut, you will stay out of trouble. 

Don’t speak too much. Let your words be few.

Vs.25. The desires of lazy people will be their ruin, for their hands refuse to work. 26 They are always greedy for more, while the godly love to give! 

Desire must be accompanied by diligent action. You have to put in hard work to make your dreams a reality.

Vs.30. Human plans, no matter how wise or well advised, cannot stand against the LORD. 

Again, planning is good but ultimately God’s purpose prevails.

Vs.31. The horses are prepared for battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD. 

Preparation is also good but the outcome is from the Lord. 


Proverbs 14

Proverbs-Series

Today we glean some more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 14 in the Message Bible.

 Vs.1. A wise woman builds her house; a foolish woman tears hers down with her own hands. 

If you are wise you will build something solid, strong and lasting. A fool tears down whatever they end up building. This is a good leadership challenge. Am I a wise or a foolish leader?

Vs.2. Those who follow the right path fear the LORD; those who take the wrong path despise him. 

When you do what is right you show that you fear God. When you choose to do what is wrong you are despising God – thinking lightly of him or mocking his judgment. No wonder the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (see vs.26-27).

He whose walk is upright fears the LORD, but he whose ways are devious despises him.

Have a healthy fear of God by avoiding evil and walking in integrity. The fear of the Lord provides security, safety and life.

Vs.3. The talk of fools is a rod for their backs, but the words of the wise keep them out of trouble. 

Your mouth will either get you in trouble or keep you from it. Be slow to speak!

Vs.4. An empty stable stays clean, but no income comes from an empty stable. 

Where there is productivity there will be messes to clean up. You can’t have it both ways (no problems/messes and productivity).

Vs.6. A mocker seeks wisdom and never finds it, but knowledge comes easily to those with understanding. 

Your attitude often determines how much wisdom you will acquire.

Vs.8. The wise look ahead to see what is coming, but fools deceive themselves. 

Wise people think and look ahead. They don’t just live for the moment. Anticipate the future before it comes. Fools don’t and often end up being trapped or deceived by their short-sightedness.

Vs.9. Fools make fun of guilt, but the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation. 

Wise people listen to their conscience and respond to guilt appropriately. Fools ignore this important emotion.

Vs.10. Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy. 

Only you alone know the full extent of what’s happening inside of you – whether it is bitterness or joy. 

Vs.11. The house of the wicked will perish, but the tent of the godly will flourish. 

In the longer term, the godly will flourish and the wicked will be destroyed.

Vs.12. There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. 

The right path isn’t always the obvious one. Often it is the path ‘less travelled’ by others. Take the high road, the narrow road and the road less travelled. In the end it will make all the difference in the world! What path are you on – the easy path? Our own heart is deceptive. What often seems right to the natural mind can lead to death.

Vs.15-16. Only simpletons believe everything they are told! The prudent carefully consider their steps. The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with great confidence. 

Don’t be so gullible! Not everything you are told is true or right. Carefully consider everything you hear and think about each step you take. Wise people are cautious. They don’t plunge ahead foolishly. Give thought - careful planning, consideration and contemplation - to everything you do and every direction you take. This is wisdom and prudence.

Vs.17. Those who are short-tempered do foolish things, and schemers are hated. 

Be slow to become angry and you’ll avoid doing foolish things. 

A wise man fears the LORD and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless. A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated.

Anger and foolishness go together.

Vs.21. It is sin to despise one's neighbors; blessed are those who help the poor. 

Be someone who helps the poor and needy. Reach out and do them good.

Vs.22. If you plot evil, you will be lost; but if you plan good, you will be granted unfailing love and faithfulness. 

Makes plans to do good! You will receive unfailing love and faithfulness.

Vs.23. Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty! 

Be a diligent worker not a busy talker! Don't just talk or think about it. Do it. Hard work brings profit and reward.

Vs.26-27. Those who fear the LORD are secure; he will be a place of refuge for their children. Fear of the LORD is a life-giving fountain; it offers escape from the snares of death. 

Fear God. It will be to you a life-giving fountain (giving you true and satisfying ‘life’) and help you escape from the snares of death (the allurements of sin).

Vs.28. A growing population is a king's glory; a dwindling nation is his doom. 

Here is a good leadership proverb – the glory of a leader is a growing group of followers. In contrast, if they are dwindling, it becomes his doom. Leaders are measured by fruitfulness not just faithfulness.

Vs.29. Those who control their anger have great understanding; those with a hasty temper will make mistakes. 

Here it is again – be slow to become angry (see vs.17)!

Vs.30. A relaxed attitude lengthens life; jealousy rots it away. 

Relax and don’t be so uptight. Chill! It does your life good. Don’t be so intense.

Vs.31. Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who help the poor honour him. 

When we help the poor and needy we honour God. 

Vs.34. Godliness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. 

Influence your nation to become godly. Don’t allow it to become a disgrace.