Thursday, May 2, 2019

I Stand In Awe.


I stand in awe of the goodness of God.
Everything good comes from heaven above,
Pardoning grace, mercy and love
flow from the throne of our wonderful God.

Though I was fallen you lifted me up,
all my unworthiness washed in the blood.
Once I was lost, you sought me out,
now I am safe in the arms of our Lord.

Every eye will see, every heart will know
the glorious truth.
When the heavens burst from beneath the feet
of our Saviour, the King,
All will cry, “Lord!”

Sing, O my soul, of the goodness of God
All that I’ve needed, so free from above
Pardoning grace, mercy and love,
Gifts from the throne of our wonderful God

Friday, April 19, 2019

The cup Jesus drank-Good Friday 2019


John 18:11 "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"

Jesus mind and attitude were firmly made up. He would accept the cup.

What was this cup?

When Jesus prayed in the Garden, in Luke, he asks, Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done.

Most agree that “the cup” referred to the suffering and death he was to experience.

Once his prayer was completed, Jesus was able to complete his mission, and drink this cup.

An when we as Christians dink from the cup at communion, we are also identifying ourselves as Jesus disciples, submitting to God’s will in our lives, recognizing Jesus great sacrifice.

So Jesus knew what was going to happen, he knew the time had arrived, and he was willing to face it, even without the support of his friends and family.

No-one really understood the absolute need for Jesus to be tried and executed.

Certainly Judas was willing to betray him. Peter wanted Jesus to win an earthly victory with his great abilities, wisdom and influence. He was even willing to resort to violence. And when this was rejected by Jesus, Peter rejected him.

His mother Mary and his aunty, the other Mary’s and John looked helplessly on at the cross. Probably confused as well as distraught. Surely he took his faith too far?

What of that young man that decided to go onto Sentinel island?

What of Israel Falau?

Surely these people are taking their faith too far?

What of Jesus, who showed so much promise, so much understanding, who gained so much of a following, and was able to do such amazing miracles, what a waste of a life, and at such a young age.

You see no one was planning on grace, on full forgiveness, on a resurrection. No one.

And what of us

Would we have had any moral power to hold back from anger, disappointment, offence, shame, and hurt?

Would we do any better than the religious leaders? The political leaders? The criminals crucified with him? Those watching him die? The disciples?

The answer is clearly no. We would be no better.

But what actually happened on that cross?

Yes, an innocent man was condemned to death. An innocent and good man.
But was this not the cross of all history?
Is this not the black hole of the universe that sucks in all sin into a gravitational force that no sin, once within its realm can escape?

Not only sin, but sinners are dragged into this powerful irresistible vortex, destroying us and all our plans for self aggrandisement.

We are drawn in with our enemies and friends. People we hate, and who hate us, and the vortex forces us to face each other and our consciences, and confess that we are despicable in our pretences.

The super tsunami of pure wrath-love falls from that cross destroying us, and all of our plans for greatness, security, success. We are left crippled, disabled, with a desperate need for righteousness, a hunger for holiness, a place to rest from our continual painful failures.

The cross emits an aroma, one that God our Father breathes in with deep satisfaction, because he planned it and sent his dearest Son, who shared his deep longing to redeem the lost.

The cross is the place where we are washed, sanctified, justified. Transformed.

The rebel is disarmed. The robber repents, the soldier yields, the sinner confesses, the proud-religious are silenced, and the guilty-condemned find peace.

The full price for all sin, for all time is completely wiped out.
It’s not like the millions of dollars offered by billionaires to help restore a priceless work of history to its former glory,
It is a mountain range of gold offered for the mean two-dollar shop of Satan.

We are not worthy to be part of what God has done, but God has come to us and deliberately drawn us into his loving family.

When Jesus drank this cup he did it for Peter, for his mother, for Pilate, for Nicodemus, for the high priest, and for us. But he also did it in loving obedience to his Father, because he longed to serve his Father like no other son has ever served any other father before or since.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Becoming

Difficult people are not hard to find. At school, at work, at the shopping centre, at church, and most often, in the mirror. The problem is our personal bias tends to only see the good in ones self, (except when we go the opposite way and abhor ourselves.) The command to love your neighbour as yourself was not at all a command to self love, new age religion turned it into that. We are very good at self love, no matter our flaws.
We are experts at it. I would even suggest that when we are self abhorent, we are still seeking to soothe our conscience.

But back to the issue of difficult people, in particular, ourselves. What does God do with difficult people? Does he tolerate them? Does he love them? Does he expect major changes in response to his love? Does he grow impatient with us if we are slow to transform?

Saul, of the old testatment is an interesting example. In contrast to David, who was a man after his own heart, Saul was a loveable rebel. All that he did wrong, he seemed to do almost accidentally, or with some good intentions. But David, on the other hand, when he sinned, he really did it badly, and deliberately.

Yet God had mercy on them both, in various ways.

God's mercy to Saul seemed to come to him through David, who was never willing to strike "the Lord's annointed". God's mercy to David, came through Nathan the prophet, who opened his eyes to the deliberate killing of Uriah and his adultery with Bathsheba, yet the second child to that union was Solomon.

Before I make any conclusions, I want to look at how we deal with difficult people.

I myself have a tendancy to avoid, or try to expedite my dealings with difficult people. I don't expect them to change, and see them as a necessary but less enjoyable part of life. I certainly don't wish to live with these people. Sadly some people would say they are married to them.

In other words, my love is not as strong for difficult people as it is for "nice" people.

Is this Godly?

How strong is God's love for difficult people?

The answer to this question is very important when we realise that we are the difficult ones.

Were the 12 disciples somehow more gifted than the rest of israel at the time of Jesus ministry?

Surely if Jesus were to hand pick his followers, he would have included John the Baptist ?

But Jesus did hand pick his followers, and it included Judas Iscariot who betrayed him, and Peter who dissowned him.

When I meditate on mself being a difficult person, and God choosing me as a child and follower of Jesus, I consider that God's love for me must be independent of my personality and character.

And I do not think that God just chooses the ugly ducklings because he loves imperfection.

He truly loves all of us, and loves us through and through, and is also frank with us regarding our shortcomings. Our shortcomings must be dealt with, but they are dealt with by him, by his transforming grace, not by our self improvement efforts.

Yes St Paul tells us that he presses on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of him.

And that pressing on, is to gain a better understanding of the grace that God so freely lavishes upon us.

There will be a great transformation, and that will occur when Jesus appears, as he will suddenly transform our lowly bodies ( and personality and character) to be like his.


He is able to do that. He will do that.
Soon.


And in the meantime, we are willing to submit ourselves to his wonderful plan for our lives, which includes loving one another.

And when we aren't looking, we very occasionally get glimpses of the person we are going to become.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Jesus at 12. (Luke 2:41-52)


This passage in Luke chapter 2, is the only glimpse the new testament gives to the child Jesus. Yes there are other accounts outside the gospels which, because of my trust in the canon of scripture, I choose to ignore.

We know he grew up in Nazareth.

We know he was the son of a carpenter.

We really know nothing of his character as a child and youth., but we can draw some conclusions, though these conclusions must be clearly understood as ideas and not fact.

From this passage we note that he was listening to the teachers.  2:45  "they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions."

I will suggest that listening reflects both humility and obedience. When a child is being taught, the most important activity for that child is to listen. The willingness to listen implies that the listener values what is being said. Proper listening gives dignity to the speaker.
Listening with the right attitude does not try to predict the content of what is being said, but is patient to hear both the content and the way in which the information is being given. There is patience as well as trust. Trust that there will be value in what is being said. Proper discussion involves listening, and then patience in being given the opportunity to ask for clarification. Sometimes that opportunity is not given.
Asking questions should not be motivated by a desire to show your own cleverness or expertise in a field, but rather to clarify an honest concern.
This is particularly true when you are listening from a point of submission.
A 12 year old boy would certainly be in a position of submission amongst a group of jewish rabbis, assuming they were adults.
So it is interesting that Luke first points out that Jesus was listening.
He was also asking questions as well as answering others questions. Luke states that all were amazed at his answers and understanding.
Again I will suggest that this shows Jesus to be extremely intelligent. I will go further to suggest his intelligence was enough to allow him to pursue any area of intellect he chose to an extremely high level. In today’s world, the sky would be the limit. Not just theology but any area of science or humanities, or arts, or even business.

Going back to the detail of everyone being amazed, I want to say that today, the media being what it is, regularly we see young people highlighted because of talents they seem to have acquired prematurely. Whether it be sporting, singing, other musical ability or amazing high IQs allowing a child to progress to university level training years before the average, we have all seen many examples of amazing children. Though the television segment might only last a few minutes, we often gain a strong impression of where that child is heading and the likely benefit to society from their special gifts.
I do wonder if in that passage of Luke, what those who were amazed were thinking Jesus future held?
Was he to be a great theologian?, a scholar?, a prophet like Samuel?
And being intelligent, as he was, how valuable was he to his father Joseph in the carpenters workshop. Did Jesus solve carpentry problems in new and clever ways? Could he have made the business more successful than ever? Or was he too self absorbed, and wistful to be of any use as a carpenter?

Unlike the modern depiction of a bookwormish child, I believe that Jesus would have been an excellent carpenter, applying himself diligently in all aspects of his work with his father Joseph, and succeeding in every way. Hence the people’s assertion in Mark 3 "isn’t this the carpenter?" He was not only a carpenter but, I would guess, the best in the region.

A further point I would suggest is that Jesus was likely thin and, dare I say it, athletic.

I bring this up, as my mind could not help but ask how this 12 year old was sustained during those 3 or 4 days away from his family.

These are only ideas, biased by my high regard for our Saviour, but firstly I would suggest that even at 12, Jesus was more absorbed by the scriptures and being in his Father’s house, than by food, and his next meal. Yes, he would give thanks for every meal, but he was not governed by meals, or meal time.
Just as he was able to endure 40 days in the desert, and then turn aside Satan's temptation of turning rocks to bread so, at this age, he would have gladly eaten anything that was offered graciously at  mealtime, but just as likely he would have uncomplainingly tightened his belt.
I expect that in Jerusalem, at Passover time, the generous heart of people would be to share with strangers and sojourners, but either way, Jesus was able to adapt to his Holy environment with security, peace and joy. He also patiently trusted his parents would soon find him.

As an aside I wish to point out, that our faith in Jesus, as Christians, is that he was born without sin, and that he led a perfectly sinless life, including his childhood. He would have walked by the Spirit and expressed the fruit, even as a child. I would go so far as to say that even the romantic line in the carol "Away in a Manger" might not be so far fetched ("no crying he makes"). And let me add that though he stood out in so many ways, his abilities did not cause him to be self inflated, as happens so easily in talented young people (and old- though we hide it better). I believe, Jesus as a child was humble, but not shy, willing to speak the truth, and also express his needs when necessary (I thirst).

Finally I wish to look at that short exchange between he and his parents when they finally , with great relief, found him amongst the teachers in the temple courts.

Did he deliberately disobey his parents?
That is not stated. Nor is it implied. It would be out of character for our Saviour, even as a child, to disobey his parents. I suspect that Jesus was not told that the company was departing, they possibly left earlier than they had in previous years, the main festival was over, but the meetings with religious teachers obviously had not. The fact that they did not notice he was missing for a day, implies the size of the company was large. Maybe there were many such groups of pilgrims, maybe most of the festival time was spent at the temple, or nearby. Clearly between Jesus and his Parents, there was more assumption of communication that actual communication, and Jesus was so absorbed in the teaching and worship, that he was submerged in his element and unwilling to leave without a direct request from his parents. While others his age may have been more interested in kicking the football at a nearby field, so to speak, he was much more interested in the faith related activities. This is all simply speculation.

I do not believe that he deliberately disobeyed his parents.

Mary, his mother accused him of mistreating them. As though he deliberately hid from them.

I can certainly understand their concern at not finding him for three or four days, in todays climate, you would certainly think a 12 year old would have come to grief in that time.
Added to this is the perplexing message she had received from Simeon 12 years before when the baby Jesus was presented at the temple “a sword will also pierce your own heart”. Was Mary thinking that Jesus' fate as the lamb of God had already arrived at this tender age of 12? Clearly they were in a panic, and they checked all the places where every other 12 year old boy had been frequenting during the Passover celebration (? Shopping malls, arcades, sporting fields, hobby shops, or whatever was their equivalent at that time in Jerusalem), and finally they found him in the the last palce they looked (smile emoji) in the temple courts.

Her question included the painful point “your father and I have been anxiously searching for you”.

Jesus' answer may seem proud, arrogant, or even smart-alecky, but I suggest it was simply an honest answer: didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house? The same word for father is used.

In terms of submission and authority, a jewish boy is certainly subject to his father.
Is there anything more proper than for a son to be found in his father’s house? Is there anything more secure, or justified?

Jesus at that point in his life knew, by faith, that God was truly his father. He probably knew (by faith) that he was the true Passover Lamb. He expected (incorrectly) that his earthly parents also knew that God was his Father. This was a new theological concept to the people of that time. It was truly a grand revelation. He understood it, but his parents did not.

The passage ends by stating that he was obedient to his parenst as they returned to Nazareth. And in my opinion it could have added, as he had been all of his life.
It also says that he grew in stature and in wisdom and in favor with God and man.

A final point I wish to make is this.

I believe that Jesus was particularly sensitive to the scriptures. Added to his high intelligence, I believe he was like a sponge, absorbing the scriptures easily , willingly and joyfully, at every opportunity in his life.
Unlike today, I do not believe the scriptures were freely available. He would have had to acquire them through regular attendance to Sabbath day gatherings where they were read. He may have had access to read the scrolls himself, I don’t know. But I do not believe he was simply programmed with them from birth. I believe he learnt them and committed them to memory as any of us do today, through deliberate study, albeit with greater abilty and motivation.

I believe that all he did , he did as a man, by faith. His prayers, miracles, understanding of peoples hearts, and ability to resist temptation all were achieved through faith and by self-disciplined prayer, meditation and learning. I suspect that the times he heard the Father speak audibly were few, and possibly limited to those recorded in scripture, eg at his baptism and at the transfiguration. At his most desperate time, in the garden at gethsemany, his prayers were not audibly answered, as far as we can tell, yet by faith he knew the Father had heard him, and his decision to follow through was clearly made.

He could have taken any path in life had he chosen, (hence his temptation by Satan in the desert) but instead he chose to obey his heavenly Father and pursue the ministry of the true Lamb of God, to become the true sacrifice and propitiation for us sinners. And we who put our faith in him, can truly trust that he is able to present us before the throne on that great and glorious day.






Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Our Father

I wonder why, if, and how God would spend time listening to the prayers of people like me.
After all there are countless millions of people in more serious and dire situations. People close to death from disaster and malnutrition. War torn nations with children exposed and lacking the most basic needs. Adults young and old, as well as children being exploited through forced labour and worse. The poor, missing meals and lacking sanitation. And even in my own country, so many in need of basic love and support.

How does Jesus even hear these countless needs, and how does he prioritise them. Surely there are prayers that he can simply ignore and others that he simply must act on.

Surely, in a disaster, his power to heal and save are much more crucial than in my comfortable and privileged situation.

Surely my concerns, involving debates on theology and orthodoxy, as well as more frivolous desires are of minimal interest to the Holy God who can see those who are truly suffering.

Surely my prayers would be more valuable if they were directed outwardly and laterally. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine, help those without enough food, help those who need shelter and safety, help the children who are helpless and in danger. Give wisdom and strength to those in leadership in places that need important decisions to be made, that make a difference to the future of people that are truly disadvantaged... maybe my prayers could be used to add weight to the more important prayers, the prayers of genuine need, the prayers of those in desperate situations.

Or maybe my prayer should be, “tell me how I can help those who need my help the most”, 
Which is also asking God to show us where and what he wants us to do.
Which is another way of saying
“God, if you want to, give me a job, I’m
 ready to serve you.”

But are we really ready to serve God?

Or are we even worthy?

Are we even worthy to approach the unapproachable holy God in prayer?

Why would God be even willing to listen to us when everything we do, continually, is simply self serving, self centred, self glorifying, selfishly greedy, self, self, self,
self.

And once we realise that we are in this terrible self-centred condition, can we actually do anything to, 1. change, and 2. make up for it?

Who is to say that, lets say, 5 years of selfless serving of others in a third world country would have any value in restoring a broken relationship with God.

If for example, we are guilty of stealing from a particular store. In spite of paying back what we owe for our crime, no matter the circumstances or genuineness of our gesture, the store may ban us from ever entering the premises again. And they would be within their rights.

If that is true for our broken society, surely God does not have to forgive our selfishness, even if we are sorry. Even if we try to make up for it. God does not have to be a forgiving God.

Having our own rules about how to be right with God is useless if we have no communication from God himself.

God goes by his own rules. He has the advantage, morally, legally, historically, financially, and in any and every other way.

Propitiation is the action of not only atoning but also “de-offending”.

In the case of theft, propitiation pays fully for the crime as well as reconciling the relationship between the criminal and the victim, so much so that, the original relationship is not only restored but strengthened.

Propitiation has the power to transform and rehabilitate the criminal so that he/or she can take up a trusted role in the society or family where they belong.

Propitiation costs dearly, preciously. It involves  blood, and not just any blood. The suffering death and resurrection of the holy, spotless, pure lamb of God. God himself, out of his own good and perfect will, provides the Lamb, his Son. His only begotten and beloved Son.

Unless we are propitiated, we have no place in God’s agenda, his plan for humanity, his action in the world, his goal for all history, his kingdom.

But if we are propitiated, then we can pray.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done.”

And if we are willing, God is willing to answer that request to serve him.








Friday, December 21, 2018

Multiple choice question

The actual purpose of Christianity is
A. To make people feel at peace within themselves
B. To improve society
C. To avoid hell and to warn others to avoid hell
D. To keep the churches financially viable.
E. No more and no less than what any other religion or philosophy can do, if taken seriously.
F. To have a true relationship with the only true God. 
G. to help find success and comfort in this life and the next.
H. To get people into churches.
I. To break down barriers
J To rehabilitate people from almost any bad habit
K. To provide a crutch to lean on
L. Cheap music concerts for the masses
M. To give people something to believe in.
N. To give old people, old fashioned people and misfits somewhere to belong.
O. Nothing logical or scientific
P. Like a social club but less exciting/.practical
Q. Like a social club but with stronger morals
R. To get people to donate their money.
S. To teach the 10 commandments.
T. To teach Sunday school to children.
U. To preserve a historically significant era.
V. To convert others to Christianity.
W. To baptize as many people as possible
X. To proclaim the sovereign Lordship of Jesus.
Y. To propagate the Bible
Z. All of the above


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Our lose-lose situation.

I am writing to try and put in some sort of order, my thoughts and understanding of the Uniting Church decision regarding the definition of marriage, and how that affects me and how I think it affects our local congregation.

I am an elder in our congregation.

The decision and it's lead up, on 13th July 2018, has caused personal internal turmoil in me and many other members of the Uniting Church across Australia. It is a dividing issue.


Our congregation numbers between 20 to 50 on any given Sunday, we are mostly over 50 in age, with many above 70. Our young families are a minority.

A significant number in the congregation have family members who identify as homosexual. As far as I know, no one within our usual congregation identifies as homosexual.

The denominational and theological background of our congregation is diverse, some being in the church since Union occured in the 70s, others joining the congregation by default or through frindship and conversion.

As far as I know, our congregation has never experienced a revival, and we certainly experienced a significant division when item 84 was passed in 2003. (Allowing homosexual people to be ordained and hold positions of leadership in our denomination)

I was very close to leaving at that point in time, but my spiritual searching at the time led me and my wife to remain as active members, despite the fact that many close friends left the congregation.

On our front sign, at the bottom, there is the statement "We are a Bible based church". This is a remnant of the congregation pre-item-84-split, but I am glad it is there.

I myself was born Roman catholic, practicing as a child and teenager, later drifting from christian faith, but experiencing a heart felt return to christian faith through friends at University, via the Anglican movement "Evangelical Union". Later I was deeply influenced and theologically taught via a group called "New Creation Ministry" under the headship of Geoffrey Bingham. I hold to reformed theology, the centrality of the cross, salvation by grace alone, and the expectation of a bodily return of Christ and a bodily resurrection. I believe in heaven and hell.

As someone living often in rural areas, I was naturally drawn to Baptist churches, which is the denomination where I met my wife and where we were married. But on arriving to our current home of 25 years, it seemed the Baptsit Church had closed. It was actually on temporary recession at the time, it did close several years later, and some of that congregation joined the Uniting Church.

As a congregation, our theological level of understading remains in many ways, limited, it's not really a subject of conversation, being somewhat dependant on the leadership of a minister, and over all, very willing to abide by the decisions and direction of the Uniting Church as a body.

After the split we experienced in 2003,  our congregation briefly considered joining the Assembly of Confessing Churches. The move was overwhelmingly defeated, and at the time, though sad, I was in no way surprised, and willing to continue on in my role at the church.

Now with the new Assembly decision to redifine marriage, I am personally no longer comfortable with the theological framework of our denomination.

My initial response was to speak out, whenever I had the opportunity, however, this has not been received well. I am now realizing that some in our congregation are strongly in favour of the decision to redefine marriage, others are willing to accept what seems to be a very reasonable approach by the Uniting Church, "allowing" Ministers to choose whether or not they wish to conduct same sex marriages themselves.

Many of those others do not wish to upset or offend members of the congregation who have homosexual loved ones.

 I myself, do not wish to offend our congregation, but I do want to hold to my understanding of what Jesus teaches. Though I am willing to accept varying views on creation, the role of women in leadership, the many styles of communion, and many other more peripheral Christian teachings, to me, "marriage" is not on the list of peripheral, less important theology.
This is particularly beause of my understanding that human marriage is a gift, sign, and witness of thedeep and mysterious truth of Christ's own relationship with thewhole ofchriistendom, the Church representing the bride, and Jesus being the head and the groom.

Apart from all of this, the idea of becoming somewhat "rogue" (my own term), by joining a dissenting group, is not at all palatable to many in the congregation, particularly if therer is a threat to the ACC leaving the UCA.

And what of scripture?

To many in the congregation, the interpretation and application of the Bible passages is best left to those in authority, who are, by and large, trusted. It would not be considered a general need for individuals to know and understand the more detailed theology of Christianity, after all it can be a minefield, and a source of division, which is, of course, opposite to the goal of the"Uniting" church.

Harmony, compliance, and service would be more highly considered within our congregation than proclaimation and theological understanding.

Of course this leaves us vulnerable to false teaching, and more willing to accept dogma from the heads of the church than Catholics from the Pope. In an ideal world, our leaders would be theologically undefiled, and the risk to congregations such as ours, minimal.
 But in saying this, I am not absolving our congregation from our obligation to search out and apply the Holy Scriptures for ourselves.

The decision of the general assembly to add a new definition of marriage, complying with Australia's "Yes vote" to same sex marriage, to many seems a moral victory.

To others, like me, shock has led to grief and confusion, as clearly, my understanding of the deep and mysterious purpose of marriage in the teachings of Jesus, appears defiled.

It feels like a cancer has taken root, one that will slowly invade and destroy the church.

Apostacy and false teaching are strong words, but, in my view, apply to the Uniting Churches understanding of sexuality in the context of Christian faith and expression.

But, my strong views can be taken as unnecessary scare mongering, and deliberate undermining of an otherwise loving and harmonious congregation.

It was with shock, that I heard the words said, that I am out to destroy our church.

After a sleepless night considering these words seriously, I know in my heart that that is furthest from my mind and heart. But, sadly, I sense that my days within our congregation are soon to close.

My prayer is that revival would occur, that many in our congregation would be stirred by God, the Holy Spirit, to a new understanding of what a great salvation we have received from our Lord Jesus, and that His Word, sweeter than honey and more precious than gold, would be honoured above all else.