Thursday, 24 December 2015

Do You Speak Gift?

Gifts are, according to Dr. Gary Chapman (the author of The Five Love Languages) a "love language". I suspect though that the best-selling author may have misrepresented the linguistic power of gifts as only capable of expressing degrees of the warmest aspects of a person's affection for another. Take it from me, gifts not only speak the dialect of affection, they also speak volumes about what a person feels generally - and who this giver really is.

And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD.Second Samuel 23:15-16

Every gift narrates a story. When David's mighty men brought their Commander a cup of cold water from the well of Bethlehem, they weren't just giving him water. This gift in a cup told a story that introduced three loyal and devoted generals who were prepared to risk their lives to bring delight to their king. This well-water spoke the language of war and told of night skirmishes, breaching through enemy ranks in the dead of the night - just to get a cup of Bethlehem well water. This cup of water spoke volumes about their unquestioned willingness to obey David. Little wonder then that David, who was fluent in the language of Gift, recognised that such use of this language by these mighty generals was not merely the vocabulary of devotion but was in fact: worship (the highest form of love), which is why he poured it out on the ground to the Lord as a gift to God.

One of the most embarrassing experiences Kim and I have ever had with gift giving happened at a time when we were particularly struggling financially. We had been given a very beautiful under-glass torsion-pendulum clock. It was still in its original box. We thought it would make a great Christmas gift for my brother and his wife. When my brother rang to thank me for this most generous gift, his first statement was: "That church you served at in Melbourne must have really loved you guys!"

 "They sure did!" I replied.

 "Yeah, I could tell by what they engraved on the brass base of the clock you just gave me!"

No matter how much I pleaded with my brother to let me redeem my embarrassment, he was adamant there was no way he was going to give this back - or let me ever live it down! We had made a terrible mistake with the language of gifts. We had given a gift that had cost us nothing.

Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood.  All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.”  But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.Second Samuel 24:22-24
King David didn't make my embarrassing gift-giving mistake. As the above Scripture passage tells, he refused to give God any gift that cost him nothing. He could not give a gift that didn't speak the language of the best gifts fluently. Neither would he give God second best gifts. He taught his son Solomon the language of gift-giving-

¶     Honor the LORD with your wealth  
       and with the firstfruits of all your produce; 
    then your barns will be filled with plenty,
         and your vats will be bursting with wine.  
      Proverbs 3:9-10


To be a Christian requires speaking the language the gifts. It starts with the gift of our lives to God in response to His gift of His life to us.  This is why the Apostle Paul in his epistle explaining what it means to be a Christian (the Epistle to the Romans) says that living as a Christian starts by-
 
          ¶ I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, 
which is your spiritual worship.
  Romans 12:1

And as the Apostle concludes his Epistle to the Romans, the language of Gifts becomes even clearer
as describes the gifts God has given each one of us to give to others (Romans 12:4-6) and then how we are to live as a local church by giving not just our gifts but ourselves to our church family (Romans 12:9-21).

It is my hope that we can each learn the language of Gifts by discovering God's great gift of His Son to us, the various gifts He has given to us to share with His other great gift to us - our spiritual family, our local church. As we learn the language of Gifts we learn that why we give is a direct reflection of what we give. This is why Jesus commended the poor woman who gave two small copper coins as being more generous than the wealthy who gave much much more but only gave to be seen and impress others (Mark 12:42).


Christ deserves our best - not our leftovers

For all that Christ has given us, let us give Him our best - our best effort, our best talents, our best attention, our best gifts, so that more people will come to receive His best gift for them.

See you in "the Gift Centre" (church) this weekend.


Ps. Andrew

Friday, 11 December 2015

A COMMANDING LOVE

WHEN COMMANDING IS AN ADJECTIVE NOT JUST A VERB

Jesus was asked, "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?" (Matthew 22.36)  There's many things He could have said, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, defend the rights of the oppressed, and while all of these are commandments in the Law of Christ, none of them are the greatest

'And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ Mark 12:30
What I find fascinating about the New Testament documents is that for all the difficulties that the apostles of Christ faced toward the end of the first century, doctrinal heresies, declining church attendance, sexual misconduct within the churches, increasing moral decadence outside the church, increased persecution from the State, and a rise in evangelistic apathy among believers, all of them appealed to this greatest commandment in their closing letters. 


WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LOVE GOD?

Love comes in a variety of forms and even though in English we really only have the one word which can apply for all forms, there is quite a distinction between them. We love a good cup of tea. We love it when our team wins. We love our mothers. We love our brothers and sisters. We love our children. We love our sweetheart to whom we are married. We love God. I have deliberately attempted to progress up the scale of love with these examples of how in English we use the one word ("love") to describe these various delights. Corresponding to this upward scale is another upward scale going from "Virtually involuntary" to "I chose to, because I benefit" all the way up to "A voluntary choice even when I do not benefit and it actually costs me". 



This correspondence highlights that the deeper and higher the form of love, the greater and more costly the commitment required. It also shows that the greatest love is not based on whimsical involuntary things such as how I feel at the time, after all, who doesn't love a good cup of tea or coffee? My love for a nice cup of coffee requires very little effort or commitment from me. Unlike the greatest form of love, this kind of almost involuntary love requires very little from me whereas the highest form of love is not determined or maintained merely by how I feel. This is why: 


Decisions create Actions and Actions create Feelings.

If you want to feel love for someone, then you must first decide to, then secondly, do loving acts for that person. 

The who has been redeemed by God has received a complete change of heart and mind. Their will has been healed from the ravages of sin's evil lurings. They now chose to love the One who has redeemed them.


"Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:47

When it comes to the highest love, loving God, it requires the most important decision, the highest commitment, and the most devoted action. It was the Apostle John who outlived all the other apostles. He witnessed the persecution of Christians across the empire. He saw many believers forsake Christ for the love of the world. He wrote one of his last letters on behalf of Christ to the church at Ephesus with supreme pastoral tenderness and reminded them of the essence of what it means to call oneself a "Christian" -
"But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first."
 Revelation 2:4
John had previously written to the Ephesian believers and told them plainly how to love God. What he said sounded uncannily like the second part of Christ's answer to His questioner. 
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
 Mark 12:30-31
John put legs on this command of Christ by explaining how believers were to show their love for God - 
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
¶ For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

 First John 3:10-11
John used the word brother to speak of the believers brothers and sisters in Christ. While the believer is called to love all people, we are called to especially love our fellow brothers and sisters.
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
 Galatians 6:10
 And this is why followers of Christ are told how to love God by the anonymous author to the Hebrews, especially as the pressure from the world increased - 
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Hebrews 10:24-25
Understanding that the deepest, highest form of love is a totally voluntary, completely devoted to, and selfless serving act, it is then possible to see how God can command it. For the believer, God's commands are not a burden (1John 5:3), rather, they are a means of grace. That is, there is power within the Word of God for the believer to obey the Word of God. The love of God which Christ calls His followers to is a commanding love. Thus, Christ is commanding love. In this sense, it is a verb (something He is doing). But it also describes the kind of love that God calls for. In this sense it is an adjective (a description, and a quality).

To help His followers to keep this great two-part command, Christ said, "I will build My Church!" (Matthew 16:18) This is why attending the House of God each weekend is not merely about being religious, or even traditional - no - and a thousand times "No!" It is about loving Jesus! When we all gather on the Lord's Day to worship God together, to share in Communion together, to receive instruction from God's Word together, and to pray for one another together - we are loving Jesus! When Saul the Pharisee was waging persecution against the Church he was struck from his horse on the Road to Damascus and questioned by Christ, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" (Acts 9:4) To love Christ is to love His Church and especially the local church of fellow brothers and sisters where He has placed you in His body. This is why it is for the love of Christ that I go to church this Sunday, and I invite you to fall in love with Jesus afresh this weekend in His church, your church, as well.


Pastor Andrew.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Dash Well

WHAT WILL YOUR DASH BE?

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
-The Apostle Paul,
Second Timothy 4:7
(The Bible reference is wrong.)
The dash on a tombstone represents the lifetime of the person.
We will all have a dash. Some will be long. Some will be too short. Some will be honoured. Some will be filled with regret. A few will have one that will cause many to be deeply and eternally thankful. On every tombstone there appears a birth date, a dash, and a life-on-earth end date.
¶ Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us
Hebrews 12:1
Many people waste their dash. Fear, hurt, or laziness can each be the cause a person's dash being wasted. But God created us to be courageousfree, and powerfully creative. He has placed within deep longings that actually require courage. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Doing something for the first time takes a bit of courage and often trust. A Daddy smiles at his two-year old, claps his hands, and tells his child to jump from the 'great height' into his waiting arms. Almost without exception the child responds with a shrill of delight and a leap! But as we get older, our ability to take more leaps becomes more difficult for us. We fear. But we probably fear because we've been hurt. "I'll never try that again!" is phrase we should probably be a little more careful with because sometimes hurtmakes us stronger, wiser, better, and therefore more likely to succeed if we will but try again! Take courage and make your dash a courageous dash!
For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Second Timothy 1:7
I think there's a powerful spiritual application here. Too many people regard their Christianity as something they did rather than who they are. Too many people regard Church as a place they go rather than who they are part of. You don't go to church on Sunday - the church comes together on Sunday! And by so doing, we realign our lives toward God through worship, we reimagine the grandeur of God through celebration of the ordinance of the Lord's Table, we refresh our spirits through the shared gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we renovate our minds through the teaching of God's Word. All of this means that when the church comes together every individual has their dash significantly enhanced.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
First Peter 4:10
Our dash is seriously enhanced by deepening our spiritual life. After all, when we take courage and seek God for a closer relationship with Him so that we can move on past our hurts and receive the strength to rise up to life's challenges, the immediate result is that others benefit. When we consider Jesus, the spiritually deepest person who has ever walked the earth, we notice that His dash was infinitely profound as measured by His impact on others. The deeper we become spiritually - when we prioritise time with God in His Word, take the time to pray for ourselves and others, give of our time/talent/treasure to bless others, the more others benefit.
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ...And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.Galatians 6:2, 9 

YOUR LIFE IS YOUR "DASH"

The purpose of your life is not holidays, renovating your house, fishing, sleeping in, watching a screen, or even eating. You were designed by God to leave a great dash. It is God's will for your life to flourish, prosper, and find great fulfilment. When we let God have His way in our lives and cooperate with His Spirit to grow as a deeper follower of Christ, we are setting our lives up to leave behind a great dash.
¶ Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
3John 2
Being a spiritually deep person doesn't mean that our dash is difficult, boring, and religious. On the contrary, and by all means, we should live life to the full. Travel, explore, learn, love, build, play, taste, and meet as much as you can. But all the while, help others in the process. The more your life blesses others the more your dash will one day be seen by others with great fondness, appreciation, and thankfulness. I suspect this is why the Apostle Paul could look back over his 65 years or so of life just before he was executed and tell his younger protégé Timothy -
¶ For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Second Timothy 4:6-8
Paul left behind a remarkable dash. I am an eternally grateful beneficiary of his dash. It is my pastoral desire to help you however I can to leave the best dash behind that you can. I've said it many times that my job as a pastor is to help people to die well and the best way we can achieve that is to live well. I pray that your life will one be a great dash!
Amen.

Ps. Andrew

Monday, 23 November 2015

Portends, iPads, Spines, & Sovereignty


The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 
First Corinthians 15:46

The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians 'first comes the natural then the spiritual'. This is the essence of a portend. This brief explanation is of course unnecessary for those familiar with Lord of The Rings. The word, 'Portend' was used several times in The Hobbit and each time it was used it added an eerie unease about what was about to happen. I recently experienced a portend and it involved my trusty iPad.

I was packing up my things from my office to head home and uncustomarily I had my iPad under my arm with some Board document folders for a meeting I was off to later that night. (I generally insert my iPad into a special compartment in my backpack. But not this time.) As I reached to turn off the lights in my office the iPad slipped from under my arm and landed on the carpet of my office. "No harm" I thought as I checked it fearing the worse. It turned on and seemed fine and importantly there was no damage to the screen. But then over the coming days my iPad began turning itself off randomly and performing woefully slowly. This was my portend.

I'm not the only pastor who finds it emotionally difficult to take holidays. But I mustered up the where-with-all to request the month of November off. As I approached the first day off my leave I began to notice that two weeks before it kicked in I was stiffening up and my pesky back spasms were flaring up, my sore knees were sorer and my occasional leg cramps were intensifying both in intensity and frequency. "Having a bit of a bad run" I thought to myself. Almost exactly a year earlier I succumbed glandular fever again and about a year before that I experienced another bout of shingles. And around the middle of this year the paroxysmal hemicraniums started. I began signing off my weekly pastoral emails to my church as, "From your frail and flawed Pastor". No one really knew why and I didn't really elaborate that much either.

The day my leave commenced I had to do one more thing to ensure that I could take my leave with all the necessary boxes ticked. As I left that mentoring breakfast meeting I hobbled to my car in pain and feeling intense back spasms. These had started over 5 years ago and my doctor had told me not to worry about them as it was probably just a torn Gluteus Medius muscle. But every few months after that initial diagnosis it seemed I was once again tearing my now pesky Gluteus Medius muscle. I drove to my office to collect some final things from there so I could switch off and commence my leave. As I hobbled into my office I received an acute jabbing pain near my right kidney region and collapsed to the floor. Nothing I could do relieved the pain or even made it comfortable. I lay on the floor in agony for about half an hour both grateful that it was a Saturday and the offices were closed (because then no one could see me or hear me screaming in pain) but at the same time concerned that I couldn't move. "I must have really torn it bad this time" I thought. I rang Kim and she came, brought some Voltaren for me and somehow managed to get me into the back of my car after half an hour or so.

For the next week I was involuntarily bed-ridden. Muscles generally take 3-4 days to come good. After 4 days I was still in intense pain and began to wonder whether this was just soft-tissue damage. On Day 6 my 9 year-old daughter rang the doctor and booked me in. He did some tests and said that my troubles were indeed not coming from damaged Gluteus Medius muscles. More than likely, he said, it was my spine. He arranged for me to have a CAT scan straight away. In the meantime he prescribed Movalis and Tramal SR. If I ever meet the industrial chemists who invented these two gifts to mankind I will shake their hands and buy them a decaf skinny latte to show my eternal appreciation to them.

I rang to get the result of my CAT scan a few days later. It's always a bit of a concern when the nurse says I can't discuss this over the phone, you need to meet with your GP. She made an appointment for me to see him immediately. "I'm sorry to tell you, I only have bad news for you" was one of his initial comments. He then shared some of the main points from two page CAT scan report. None of it was good. "You have the back of a 90 year-old former professional rugby player who has been in a traumatic motor-vehicle accident" he said. "At some point, you have broken your back and your back has made several attempts to repair itself, and in the process it has made things worse." And starting with double scoliosis, Baarstrup's Syndrome, extensive facet joint damage, several herniated discs, nerve entanglement, a compressed neural cortex, he began to go through the list of some of the things which the CAT Scan had detected. He then finished with, "And it's only going to get worse."

Since they only scanned half of my spine, I now have to have an MRI to determine how badly the rest of it might be damaged. This information will be analysed by a specialist neurologist in a few weeks to see if there's any point to attempting treatment or whether I am just given a management plan.

Like my iPad, my damage was not immediately evident. Like my iPad, I now occasionally 'shut down'. Very much like my iPad, everything I now do is much slower. And possibly like my iPad, there may be little to nothing that can be done to rectify my situation. Yet I rest securely in the sovereignty of God. When I came out from the doctor's surgery, I sat in my car stunned for several minutes. I've always considered myself relatively fit and able - and with a strong back! When I read Andre Agassi's book, "Open", I discovered that he too had developed a seriously worn back from playing tennis. The game which I love, and was committed to playing professionally, may have also prematurely worn out my back.


And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

While all this caught me off-guard, none of it has surprised God. He is sovereign and beautifully so. I don't just preach Romans 8:28, I believe it and worship God with my life because of it! But my challenges are pathetic and utterly inconsequential compared with those of some of my brothers and sisters - especially in those parts of the world where being a follower of Christ comes at an incredibly high price. I conclude elaboration on my recent portend with a beautiful YouTube clip from an Egyptian church in Minya to illustrate my conclusion.

Ps. Andrew

Friday, 30 October 2015

A CARE DARE

He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
John 10:13
It costs to care. I was chatting with a fellow minister of a church not in our tradition. We were discussing our commitment levels of our churches to the evangelism component of the Great Commission. He told me that in one church he was part of that if a visitor ever happened to turn up, most people in the church would deliberately completely ignore them (or worse) because they felt that visitors were "invaders"! In his current church he lamented that although they paid lip-service to reaching out, they didn't. "Our people are comfortable with each other, and reaching out to others is too uncomfortable for them", he admitted. He then said, "It costs to care. It costs comfort. It's too inconvenient." My heart sank as he told me this. It is my hope that our church will care - that we will have a heart for others. I want to issue a "Care Dare".
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.
First Thessalonians 2:7
How often did Jesus walk into an environment with His disciples that was strange and unfamiliar to them? Often. Initially after Christ's resurrection and the birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost, believers were reluctant to "go" into all the world (Matthew 28:18-20). Instead, they enjoyed thousands of people 'coming' to them. I suspect that the Father orchestrated this as any father would do to help his children gain the confidence to grow up by taking risks and at times experiencing necessary failures. But the first Church seems to have been reluctant to 'go'. Commencing with the persecution of Stephen in Acts 7, it seems that the Father brought a wave of persecution against His Church which had taken its comfortable seat in Jerusalem, despite being surrounded by a lost and needy world. Like any father teaching his son to ride a bike his first step is to give his son confidence and then it is necessary (yet painful) that he let his son fall. The way God treated His infant Church in Acts 2-4was not the same way that He treated his adolescent Church from Acts 8. And I suspect that He generally expects His Church to have matured  some since then, and treats us accordingly today. This means that while the Father 'held onto the bike' initially by bringing people to hear the Gospel when the Church started, we see that His heart was for His Church to go where unreached people were. God still wants His Church to go - to reach out- to care for others.

IT COST JESUS TO CARE
¶ Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confessionHebrews 3:1
What must it have been like for the Lord of Glory to leave Paradise, lay aside His glory and become a zygote? It cost Him. The Eternal One entered into time, forever. This cost Him. The Holy One dined with the unholy. Our Saviour paid a series of costs then the ultimate cost. As Hebrews 3:1 instructs, we should consider the cost that Christ has paid and therefore the cost involved in following Christ. The Gospel is free, but there is a cost which Jesus said must be 'counted' before someone could follow Him (Luke 14:28). Following Christ also has a cost which is described in Romans 12. 
¶ I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Romans 12:1
To follow the Caring Christ is to increasingly become a carer ourselves. Battle-seasoned pastors are caring pastors who soon come to realise that they must do their job with two ears - one ear for the voice of the Lord and the other for the heart cries of those they minister to. Sit under the ministry of such a pastor and you'll soon find yourself beginning to listen with two ears as well. The battles that season such a pastor come when they fail to listen with both ears. Throughout their pastorate they receive scathing notes and letters from those they have disappointed which either make them or break them. Such pastors receive letters like this-
"I came to your church last Sunday after losing my brother to a long protracted battle with cancer. I came looking for hope - instead, I hardly felt welcomed at all. No one even said hello to me. No one asked me how I was. I came in with a heavy heart and left with an even heavier one. I don't go to a church and I thought you above all people might have been able to give me some comfort at this time. I don't want anything from you now but thought you might like to know how I was treated."

If you meet a seasoned pastor you are meeting a much criticised pastor. But the pastor who learns to care for his critics (rather than let them injure him) is the pastor who learns that criticism is sometimes a gift that enables them to more effectively care. Following the career of such a pastor from the days of his youthful enthusiasm to the days of his most fruitful season and you will notice two almost paradoxical things develop. The first is a tenderness toward people (the second I may discuss another day). He becomes softer. He is more easily moved to tears. He more naturally prays for those in his charge and feels wounded when someone speaks ill of their brother or sister under his oversight. He listens more closely to what his flock disclose to him. He learns that words are not always the best form of communication and often get in the way of what a heart can only say through a tear, an outburst, or a silence. This softening is seasoned by the times when he feels the pain of having not been as sensitive as he should have been to some hurting souls. These painful moments cause a seasoned-pastor to look at people differently, with compassion, with interest, with patience. It is every pastor's desire to impart this care for people to every member of his team. 
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ...And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 
One of the biggest dangers that an established church faces is complacency. This is when a congregation becomes comfortable with each other. They confuse their mutual friendship for friendliness. Yet the visitor to their church finds them unfriendly - even though they are friends with each other. This of course is an aspect of care. A church's care is done with two hands: one hand embracing each other, the other hand reaching out to others. But, if a congregation is not careful, it can becoming uncaring if it only uses one hand of these hands and ignores those it exists to reach out to with their other.  

PEOPLE, HANDLE WITH CARE
Caring costs, but caring also rewards. Take a moment today and consider who Christ might care for through you. This Sunday someone will walk through the doors of our church for the first time. Will you show care for them? It starts with an greeting of introduction. It continues with an act of service. It is sealed with a sacrifice. It takes place in the work-place, the class-room, the bus-stop, the club. It begins with clichés, becomes an exchange of facts, moves to revealing opinions, and invites the other to explore the mysteries of God's Word through reading the stories of Jesus and discovering what these say, what they tell us about God, and what relevance it has for our lives.

Do we care for those we know, yet who do not yet know Christ? Will you join me in prayer that we might accept this dare to care so that we can be a church with two ears and two hands?
Father,
forgive us for being so pre-occupied with matters that detract us from worshipping You in our devotion and witness. May we hear Your voice. Grant us the grace to present our bodies and our minds to You as living sacrifices so that we can worship You with all aspects of our lives. Use us Lord to reach out to others with Your love and forgiving grace. May we hear the hearts of others. Fill our hearts with Your heart that we might see people differently. Help us to lay our lives down for Your glory as we willingly serve others. Cause us to show Your care to those who are lost, lonely, and longing.
In Jesus' Name,
Amen.
Ps. Andrew

Friday, 23 October 2015

POTENTIAL

POTENTIAL'S END
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
Revelation 22:13
How many apples are in an apple seed? The end is not always evident at the beginning. The leader is not always obvious in the larrikin. The preacher is not always obvious in the precocious. Potential delights itself in stunning the world. The first believers were stunned when Saul of Tarsus became Paul the Apostle. Peter the Apostle was stunned when Cornelius and his household were dramatically saved. God sees our potential and in the New Testament we occasionally catch a glimpse of God speaking from His perspective of the end when potential has run its course.
and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus
Ephesians 2:6
God has potential for each local church. I suspect that too few local congregations ever learn how to realise their potential. As a result, many give up and cease to be open to what God may do in and through them. From our perspective, God's end for us is sometimes glimpsed but rarely visible. From our perspective,Saul is an enemy-for-life of the Church, Cornelius is a Roman Centurion who may well be trying to infiltrate the Church to identify its leaders for execution. But from God's perspective, Saul was always going to be Paul the Apostle and Cornelius was always a Spirit-filled Centurion follower of Christ. From God's perspective the small, struggling church on the banks of the Thames in the mide-1800s was always going to be Metropolitan Tabernacle led by the most unlikely of pastors (the 19 year-old Charles Spurgeon) with an average weekend attendance of 18,000. In a similar way, in February 1987 when a handful of sincere and newly Spirit-filled believers gathered in the Legana War Memorial Hall, God saw a significant church in what most considered to be an insignificant place where hundreds of people of all ages have come to Christ and more hurting, broken, people each week experience God's healing and wholeness, and many young men and women discover God's call on their life to preach, pastor, teach.

THROUGH THE EYES OF GOD
Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.John 4:35
I've met people with the gift of helps. They can't help but help. When they see someone in need, they help. When there's something that needs doing, they offer to help. Similarly, I've met exhorters and encouragers. In fact this week I met two. One's name was Phillip Mutzelburg and the other was Rod Dymock. They can't help themselves. They are humble, considerate, positive, excellent listeners and extremely interested in others. They exude encouargement. They can't help it. And in a preeminent way, Jesus is a Redeemer. He loves to take the outcast, the failure, the broken, the desperate, the lost, the lonely, the despised, the three-times bankrupt, and the devastated - and redeem them. He delights in taking a rejected brother condemned to do the family's worst job of looking after their few smelly sheep in the far-flung fields on Winter nights and redeeming them into much-beloved Warrior-Kings! THE Redeemer takes delight in knocking arrogant Pharisees off their horses on Damascus Roads and transforming them into powerful and humble apostolic preachers who would evangelise entire cities and so the seeds for entire continents being touched by the Gospel! 
Jesus continues to redeem today. He takes an abandoned single mother and opens one door after another for her to become who Christ the Redeemer had always planned for her to become - even though along the way she barely had the energy to get out of bed some mornings. He takes the abused and neglected son and transplants his heart of bitterness with a heart of love an compassion and leads him to commence an aid agency that would feed, clothe, house, and educate orphans around the globe. 

hopelessWe see some people as hopeless. God sees them as redeemed into their potential! We see an annoying kid who is loud and brash and yet God sees the same person as hurt and scared yet who would soon yield their life to His redeeming touch and become a world leading medical researcher responsible for finding a cure for Motor Neurone Disease. We see a church that has never been 'big' yet it has been faithful in small things for years, and then God graces them with one or two "sons of peace" as converts (see. Luke 10:6) who invite their friends and family members to church who in turn come to Christ and themselves invite their friends and families to church as well - and it appears to most that this Church is like that type of bamboo that seems to grow suddenly and rapidly. The Church that God sees is not the Church we yet see! Take a peak-
¶ After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
Revelation 7:9-10
Perhaps this is why Paul in writing to the highly dysfunctional Corinthian Church and in the midst of his resultant discouragement could say-  
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Second Corinthians 5:7
When we walk by faith we take certain steps as if the end is certain. We sow. We water. We tend. We study. We train. We take risks. We invest. We exercise. We practice. It's always the little things that give us the biggest strides toward fulfilling our potential. A wayward youthnot thinking straight prays a desperate fifteen second prayer to a God he doesn't even know to redeem his life. His journey has now begun to reaching his potential and will be advanced by many more 15 second prayers. An overworked businessman agrees to meet with a colleague who loves Jesus and they spend 15 minutes of their lunch-time once a week to read one of Christ's stories, discuss it, consider what it says about God, them, and how they might shape their lives by this knowledge and finish by praying accordingly. His journey has now begun to becoming a renowned worship leader and song-writer. A drug-taking local football hero who denies that he drinks to excess sees an ad on TV for a local church and something within him tells he must go there. The following Sunday he sets foot through their doors and his journey to a Brownlow Medal where he declares before a viewing audience of millions of his faith in, and thankfulness to, Jesus the Christ which eventually sows the seeds for thousands of adoring fans to explore faith in Christ.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.Galatians 6:9
I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."John 4:38

THE DOUBTS OF THE FIVE WISE
All of this reminds me of Christ's parable of the ten virgins - five foolish and five wise (Matthew 25). I wonder how the 'wise' virgins felt when they went to the trouble of selling all they had to buy oil for their lamps? I wonder how they felt waiting and waiting for their bride-groom to arrive? I wonder how they felt during their waiting when it looked like they had sacrificed for nothing and the 'foolish' virgins seemed to be the ones who were blessed and even wise? But then their day came! Their potential was finally realised! But in the eyes of their bride-groom, this day was always certain - not just potentially certain. The writer to the Hebrews urged his Jewish audience to adopt a similar perspective, and we too would do well to adopt the same perspective so that we do not lose heart and continue to endure with joy. And in the end, your potential is not about you - it's about the glory of God revealed through those yet to be redeemed as we each take the necessary steps toward fulfilling our potential and together as a church we also realise that God has much, much more for us.

How many apples are in an apple seed? The end is not always evident at the beginning. The leader is not always evident in the larrikin. The preacher is not always obvious in the precocious. Potential delights itself in stunning the world. There are some seeds, such as a type of bamboo, that when sown on sprouts a few centimetres, then remains seemingly stagnant for years - except that its roots have been growing deeply and rapidly all that time, so that at the right time it explodes with growth, growing centremetres an hour! That time of stagnancy involved faithful sowing, watering, and fertilising. Be very careful not to misinterpret the times of seeming 'stagnancy' in your life!

Ps. Andrew

Friday, 16 October 2015

GOD GIVES US SECONDS

SECONDS
Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.
Second Timothy 4:11
Generally I believe that a person's past is the best indicator of their future. The general problem with generalities is that there are generally exceptions. And this one is no exception. The reason is that history reveals that nearly every person who achieved anything of note had a past which bore little resemblance to their actual futures. This is good news for people like me and perhaps it's good news for you too. If you've given up on who you one day dreamed you would become, here's some good news: God is in the business of giving people seconds - a second chance, a second wind, a second half.
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.
Galatians 1:13
It seems that God loves to sovereignly change the direction of people. Saul of Tarsus is a stunning example of how a person's past bears no resemblance to their actual future (Gal. 1:13). Moses is another example. King David is another example. Each of the faithful disciples is an example. Throughout history we see this over and over. John Calvin, Count Nicolas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, Thomas Chalmers, F.W. Boreham, Billy Graham, Ravi Zacharias, all had moments where they got a second go at life. In modern times we see the same thing even among business leaders - Ingvar Kamprad (the founder of IKEA), and Nicolas Hayek (founder of SWATCH) - both men started off their lives in a certain direction which bore little resemblance to how they ended up living their lives. God gives seconds to people. Do you need God to give you second
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 
Second Corinthians 5:17
God's seconds don't just begin at our conversion to Christ. To be sure, our conversion to Christ is a dramatic turning point in our lives. Some people claim to have had a conversion experience yet there doesn't always seem to be any evidence of a second in their life. Jesus described this required evidence as 'fruit' (Matt. 7:16). Here's a principle about the seconds which God gives: they are always significantly more fruitful than your pre-second past. Being converted to Christ is not necessarily about 'making a decision' or 'praying the sinner's prayer', it's about what God does in your life and the fruit that results from it. But conversion is not the only second a person can experience from God... 

YOUR SECOND
You may be stuck in life. You may by in a rut. You may have given up. You may have given up on finding happiness, on your marriage, your weight, your addiction to food, your ability to get organised, your pursuit of a job or a better career, or your spiritual progress. I understand what this feels like. I am a pastor who longs to see more people find hope and purpose through knowing Jesus the Christ and connecting in a wholesome way with the community of Christ-followers (the church). Only a pastor knows the pain of disappointment that comes from longing for this to happen and not seeing it. I'm sure I'm not the only pastor who is often overwhelmed with discouragement because our church isn't growing. The temptation that I face as a pastor under these circumstances is to quit striving, cease dreaming, theologise my lack of effectiveness, and surround myself with others who reinforce these God-dishonouring postures. After all, I have served as a pastor at Legana for twenty years and if God was going to grow our church to what I felt He put in my heart in September 1995, surely it would have happened by now? My thinking (and inner discouragement) is galvanised when I go to a Pastors' Conference and hear the amazing stories of how God has blessed some pastors with church growth where a handful of people has grown to thousands of people in just a few years. But then I wonder if God might have a second ahead for us?

HarlandI'm encouraged to think He might when I consider most of those He redeemed in the Bible. I frequently think of a man named Harland (pictured left). He had a dream. He loved to cook. His dream was crushed when he was 40 years old when a highway by-passed his small Indiana café. But he kept dreaming. The Governor of Kentucky loved his cooking so much, he made him a 'Colonel of Kentucky'. Then in 1955 at the age of 65 he began to see his long-held dream come to fruition as his business was franchised across America. In 1960 he sold his business for two million dollars, and the new owners chose to maintain Harland Sander's face in their marketing of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He died in 1980 at the ripe old age of 90 having seen his dream extend around the world and for his face to be one of the most recognised faces on the planet even to this day.
¶ Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21
Tasmania is yet to see the kind of church that best portrays what the New Testament describes. Tasmania is yet to see the kind of church that deeply affects and shapes our State's culture. Tasmania is yet to see the kind of church that gives hope to tens of thousands of people. Tasmania is yet to see the kind of church that it respects and deems to be beneficial, relevant, and authentic. Tasmania is yet to see the kind of church that endures hardship, persecution, and opposition and yet remains faithful to Christ, caring for the poor and oppressed, and generous toward the undeserving. Tasmania is yet to see the kind of church that gives them a glimpse of heaven - where people from every tribe, nation, skin colour, ethnicity, and language, worship the King of Kings in loving unity. Decades ago I committed my life and ministry to doing all I could to see this vision fulfilled. It's why I pastor. It's why I write. It's why I do WayFM. It's why I YouTube. It's why I Tweet. It's why I preach. It's why I get out of bed in the morning! I long for God's second for me, for us.  
¶ After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands
Revelation 7:9
A major challenge to fulfilling this vision and experiencing our second is openness. Have we closed our hearts, our minds, our souls, to what God could do here in Tasmania? Do we make excuses for God and His inability to build a church and see hundreds more churches planted across our island, because it's never been done before, we're not like the mainland, we haven't got the population, we don't have the resources, or, we're just not that important to God in the scheme of things? Perhaps you do a similar thing with your life? "I've never been able to do that." "I'm not smart enough to learn how to." "I haven't got the money to do that." "I don't have the support I need." "I could, but my wife is too ...." "The economy isn't doing well."
THE SECOND THING ABOUT SECONDS

Moses was a washed-up desert goat-herder in his 40s when he remembered his dream to unite his Hebrew kin and deliver them out of Egypt. David was a teenage boy, the youngest of 7 brothers, given the lowliest job of his day - staying out nights on end looking after the family's few sheep, when he dreamed of uniting Israel's fragmented tribes and securing its borders. Saul of Tarsus had a dream of being a great Rabbi and leading Israel back to full devotion to the one true God when he was a young boy. In one sense it looked like each of these sample men had their dreams dashed by life's disappointments. It looked like their efforts in the first half of their lives was wasted effort and counted for nothing. But this was not true. God was honing Moses' leadership both in the palace of Pharaoh and the backside of the desert. God was skilling the warrior in David when he bullied by his older brothers and harangued by wolves and bears as he guarded his few sheep. God was investing into Saul wisdom, knowledge and literature so that he could become the Apostle Paul. The trials, setbacks, and disappointments in your life are not wasted years! God is preparing us for our second half! The farmer who sows his seed in Autumn might despair that Winter has destroyed his potential crops, but then Spring and harvest-time come! Life has its Winters but God also brings about our Springs! This is the second thing about seconds - the more you faithfully sow in the first half, the more fruit you'll harvest in your second! It's my hope that our church is putting as much seed in the ground as possible so that we can reap for Christ as much as possible in the seconds that God gives us!

Ps. Andrew

Friday, 9 October 2015

ENTRUST.

ENTRUST. EVEN WHEN IT HURTS
¶ Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
First Peter 4:19
I was recently invited into a Public Secondary College to give a talk on Cosmology - more precisely, the Cosmological Argument For The Existence of God. When it came time to the Q&A I was expecting some pseudo-intellectual objections to my presentation. But what they all asked surprised me.  
And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.
Malachi 3:15
Now that I think about it, this class of teens listened intently to what I had to say. As much as I'd like to tell you I have a way of captivating teenagers and holding their attention to 90 minutes, I can't. Their attentiveness was flattering but unusual. Then the teacher threw it open for questions. I had prepped up on as much astronomical data as I could muster, so I was armed, ready, and dare I say it, dangerous. But then came their questions.

"Why do bad things happen to good people?" "But why would God allow suffering?" "How come life sucks sometimes?" Each time I deferred to the teacher, because this wasn't why I was invited into her class, but then she relented. As I began to answer this series of questions, it got really quiet in the classroom. I doodled this on the whiteboard-

Life from the cradle to the graveMost people think of life as merely limited to the time between the cradle and the grave. That is, from birth to death. Little wonder then that when someone's life is cut short from their expected time of death, it seems like an utter travesty, a tragedy, a gross injustice. But what if our lives do not merely consist of the time between the cradle and the grave? What if it is, as I continued on the whiteboard, that our lives never end. The grave is not the end. It is merely a change.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison 
Second Corinthians 4:17
The reason we sense such great loss when someone's life seems to be cut short is that there is an intuitive sense within each of us that life is not supposed to end. As I began to explain this, several of the students teared up, and one began to quietly weep. I could tell that this was not merely theory to them. I further explained that our ultimate eternal destiny lay in either of two directions. One of those directions was to defy God's authority over our lives and choose independence and its consequence for eternity, or to choose the other direction which involves humbling ourselves and accepting God's offer of forgiveness and adoption and reaping the gracious consequences of that choice.

After I explained this I summarised the students' questions with a more confronting question about human suffering: Why me!?When someone we don't know suffers, we may feel some sympathy for them but it doesn't affect us deeply. However, when someone we love suffers, we are very sympathetic and even empathetic as we begin to feel something of their pain. But when we suffer, it's not just our pain that we feel, it's also the ache of injustice that is added which we feel deeply. All of this reinforces that we intuitively know something is very wrong with the way the world is.
I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins."
John 8:24
When we experience pain, suffering, tragedy or injustice and do not have hope beyond this life, we despair. But when we have the confidence that God holds not only the Universe in His hands, but our lives as well, we can trust that He has everything in control for a good purpose. Even when such suffering, crime, pain seems utterly futile, we know that the God-Who-Is-Only-Good is also the God-Who-Can-Only-Do-Good. Therefore, we have a positive expectation for our future (which, by the way, is the definition of "hope").
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope.
Romans 8:20
As my time in the classroom came to an end, and the teacher was wrapping up, I slipped to the back of the classroom and spoke to the girl who was crying. She whispered that one of her best friends and classmates had just committed suicide. Little wonder the class was so attentive and sombre. It's sad but understandable that it sometimes takes tragedy for God to get some people's attention. Dark times are not the time to shake a fist at God. Rather, they are the times when we should open our hands to God and ask for His help to get through our dark hour. 

The Apostle Peter writing to the churches of Turkey told them to entrust their souls to their Creator during times of suffering, and not to cease doing good for others (1Peter 4:19). If we suffer and succumb to our Enemy's whispers and withdraw from the family of God and cease doing good for them, we injure ourselves. Our Enemy works tirelessly to isolate us and especially so during our moments of suffering.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
First Peter 5:8-9
One of my favourite singers is Natalie Grant. One of my favourite Natalie Grant songs is "Held". It is about a couple who were excitedly expecting their first child. After much prayer they are finally blessed by God with a bouncing bundle of joy. But just two months after he is born, he falls terribly sick and dies. Natalie Grant sings-
Two months is too little
They let him go
They had no sudden healing
To think that Providence
Would take a child from his mother
While she prays, is appalling
Who told us we'd be rescued
What has changed and
Why should we be saved from nightmares
Were asking why this happens to us
Who have died to live, it's unfair
This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We'd be held
This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it and
Let the hatred numb our sorrows
The wise hand opens slowly
To lilies of the valley and tomorrow
This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
Held, by Natalie Grant
When Peter told the Turkish Christians to entrust their souls to their Creator in the midst of their suffering, it wasn't merely a theory to him. He had seen Jesus The Christ do it. This is the foundation of our hope and the true answer to where is God when it hurts? He entered into it and experienced its worst on the Cross. And just a few short years after he wrote this, he himself showed us what entrusting our souls to God looked like when he was taken by Caesar Nero and tortured then crucified upside down resulting in days of public humiliation and agony then eventual suffocation. No matter what you're going through, entrust your soul to your Creator. No matter how angry you are, entrust your soul to your Creator. No matter what injustice you have been afflicted with, entrust your soul to your Creator. Entrust, even when it hurts.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
First Peter 5:10
Ps. Andrew