Saturday, 27 May 2017

Difficult Divine Decrees


disappointed-with-godDisappointment with God is often caused by a misunderstanding about who God is and how His will intersects with our lives. Some of the most popular faith preachers boldly declare that it is never God’s will for His children to ever experience pain, sickness, or difficulty. These adversities, they declare, are the attacks of the Devil. By exercising the power of faith and making positive confession, they claim, such devilish adversities can be overcome. The problem is, of course, that despite how many thousands of devoted followers some of these faith-preachers have, reality bites each of them. There is of course great value in being an optimist and tending toward a positive outlook. In fact, I am about to make the case that if we adopt realism rather than optimism as our Biblically-informed outlook for life, we will be more wondrous of God than disappointed with Him. But to begin to achieve this, what I am about to say may shock you!  


This is my first shocking statement: God’s highest purpose in decreeing anything is what glorifies Him; His highest purpose is not our happiness!
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.
First Chronicles 29:11
¶ Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
Psalm 115:1
God does not exist to make us happy – He exists for His glory. The next time you hear a TV preacher tell their fans that “God wants you to be happy” replace the word ‘happy’ for holy. That which is holy is set apart to give God glory. By living lives which are dedicated to giving God glory we are putting our trust in the One we worship – even when we face difficulties. 
¶ So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
First Corinthians 10:31
For those that know me, and some of the challenges that I have faced over the past few years, you know that this is not just a theory for me. I now travel through this life with an uncooperative body. At times it feels as if it is fighting me. As I write this, I am in a good deal of discomfort. But I have learned to lift my open hands to heaven in surrender to God, rather than to lift a clenched fist and shake it at God. Before I explain what the Scriptures teach about divine decrees, I fear I risk being misunderstood at this point. Life is not a choice between happiness or holiness. Life’s true happiness only comes from committing our hearts and minds to living holy lives. 


However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt.
Ezra 5:13
We don’t live in a society which is subject to decrees. Time was when the Monarch could decree something for their realm and it had the force of Law without the approval of any other legal body. Even though the President of the United States has the Constitutional power to pronounce a Presidential Decree, it is a power which is rarely used. Australia has nothing equivalent to this. Thus, when we read of God decreeing certain things, our cultural filter may cause us to ask whether God had the consent of the Congress or Parliament to do such a thing?
This is the wicked man’s portion from God,
 the heritage decreed for him by God.”
Job 20:29
Unlike the decrees of Monarchs or Presidents, God’s decrees are always wise, good, and right – even though we may not agree with them / understand them /  accept them. In the Old Testament, we read that God decreed destruction for Jerusalem twice – during the time of Jeremiah by the Babylonians (Jer. 11:17) so that ultimately The Messiah could come, and then in 70AD by the Romans to bring an end to the elements of the Old Covenant after the Christ had established the New Covenant (Dan. 9:24, 26). I’m sure that this didn’t make sense to the inhabitants of Jerusalem at the time.
Rather than assuming God has lost control when difficulties come our way, it might be, and here is my second shocking statement, that God has decreed such difficulties for our good and His glory! 
Two recent stories powerfully illustrate this truth. The first was a novel written a few decades ago by the Fellow of Medieval Literature at Oxford University, called The Horse And His Boy. The second was an Academy Award nominated (x 6) movie about a Tasmanian boy released in 2016, Lion – A Long Way Home. Both stories bare remarkable similarities. A young boy is taken from his home in his infancy, in what appears to be a random accident, and is eventually found by someone who raises them as their own son. But their upbringings are stained by a sad ache – sehnsucht – for what they later realise is a longing for their true home. In the novel, the boy, Shasta, is befriended by a talking horse, Bree, and is rescued one night as they together sneak away from their respective cruel masters. But no sooner had they left the tables than a pack of ferocious lions pursues them into the dark forest. Once in the forest they are separated and Shasta is stalked by the lions and soon discovers that although it had sounded and seemed like “lions” it was in actuality only a Lion.
Pearl Ming's depiction of The Horse And His Boy
Pearl Ming’s depiction of The Horse And His Boy
Shasta bemoans his current predicament and laments the journey of his life to its now apparent end as he awaits to be eaten by this Lion who is driving him up a steep mountain this foggy night. To his surprise, the Lion responds and it soon becomes apparent that this is no mere lion, it is the Lion: Aslan.  Aslan tells Shasta that all that has happened to him was decreed by Him! Shasta is bewildered. But then, as he trusts Aslan and walks on, he discovers his true identity. He is no mere slave boy – he is the rightful King of Narnia! If Aslan had not “hurt” Shasta through all the adversities he had had to deal with, he could never had been able to claim his throne. 
Saroo Brierley was born Sheru Munshi Khan and was played by Dev Patel in the movie- LION, A Long Way Home
LION, A Long Way Home
The similarities between the two stories is profound despite one being a novel and the other being a true story – with the notable exception that there is no talking Lion in Saroo story, but remarkably at the end of the movie, there is a postscript where we learn that Saroo had been mispronouncing his name. Instead of “Saroo”, he was actually named “Sharoo” which means “lion”. At the end of the story we learn that if all these setbacks had not befallen Saroo throughout his life, he may well have been killed in his childhood as indeed he discovered his brother had been. Saroo’s story looked like there was some invisible Guiding Hand on his life. (I will be very interested to where his story ends up with such evidence of Divine Decrees guiding his life to this point.)


By now you can see why I’m not a televangelist! The message that God decrees difficulties for our lives doesn’t sell well. But it is Biblical. It is evidenced in the greatest and holiest man who ever walked the planet. It is seen in the lives of those who truly came close to God and resembled a Christ-like life down through the ages. And I can confidently say that the people who most inspire me today to walk closely with Christ are those people who lift their eyes, hearts and hands to heaven in worship while in the midst of God’s difficult decrees for their lives!
And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. ¶ About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them
Acts 16:23-25
  Ps. Andrew

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Pastoring Fully Devoted

Every believer is a disciple. Therefore, every believer needs to be discipled. Christ’s commissioning last command was to make disciples. This involves making believers then shaping believers into the likeness of Christ as He wants to be seen through them. Believers are taught to practice the disciplines of a Christ-like life – Scripture familiarisation, prayer, worship, witnessing, and spiritual gift development. Every believer is a disciple and benefits from people who care enough to disciple them. But every believer also needs pastoring. Pastoring involves protecting, nourishing, healing, restoring, tending, feeding, loving. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians as both a discipler and a pastor. Sometimes it’s difficult to decide which of the two important roles the great apostle fulfils – especially when he uses words like euparedron

The Greek word, euparedron only occurs once in the New Testament. It is only used by the Apostle Paul. It is only written to the Corinthians. It involves a believer being both discipled and pastored. The Corinthians had already felt the discipline of the apostle Paul in the first six chapters of his epistle to them. But in chapter 7 of First Corinthians, he changes gears. The topic changes. His focus shifts from dealing with the two big problems within their church (disunity and immorality) to marriage. In some of his other epistles he deals with the theology of marriage. But to the Corinthians, he speaks to them about marriage as a pastor. He tends to them as a shepherd. He stands at the gate of the sheepfold and protects from being ravaged by false teachers, the prevailing culture, and their own flesh. 
I am saying this for your own benefit” he tells them. This is the heart of every true shepherd. They lay down their lives for the lives of their sheep. A shepherd’s life is for the benefit of his sheep. He goes on to say that he is not trying to deprive or restrain them by giving them burdensome commands. “I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you.” This is what every true shepherd wants for their sheep: their joy and fulfilment. ‘I want you to be safe and secure’ he tells them. Again, this is pastoral language – “but to promote good order and to secure” he puts it. He then concludes verse 35 as a loving pastor – but this time with the tone of a discipler – 
I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
First Corinthians 7:35
Paul’s pastoral aim for his flock is the same as his discipling aim for them. He wants them to be – “fully devoted” to the Lord. The kind of devotion to Christ that he wants for them is undivided devotion to the Lord. ‘Devotion’ is the Greek word, eupa-redron. This is any pastor’s mission. It is my motive in writing this. It is my motive when I preach. It is my motive when I visit. It is my motive when I counsel.
Perhaps God has called you to help shepherd people within our church? If so, perhaps you could make euparedron your mission for those you are caring for? Maybe your heart lies in other areas of Christ’s ministry to each other. Irregardless, we should all strive together to make euparedron (“undivided devotion to the Lord”) our mission for each other.

Ps. Andrew

Saturday, 13 May 2017



I am mused, rather than amused, by movies. Recently I was mused by the Hollywood blockbuster, Passengers. Initially it appears to be a Sci-Fi movie. But in reality it an exposition of what it means to be human. It opens with the space-ship Avalon hurtling through space with 5,000 passengers and 258 crew leaving earth to colonise an earth-like planet, Homestead II. These passengers are looking for a fresh start. The voyage on the Avalon is calculated to take around 120 years. In order to survive the journey, the passengers and crew undergo induced hibernation in special pods. But thirty years into the journey the unforeseen happens.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
  I would fly away and be at rest;
Psalm 55:6
Passengers, the movie, soundtrack
The flight-path of the Avalon has been calculated allowing for where meteor showers are to be expected. Its journey to the outer reaches of the galaxy has been designed to be able to withstand all meteor showers. But, what was not factored on was an asteroid collision which is later revealed to be catastrophic – but for most of the movie we do not know this. Inexplicably, one of the passengers, Jim Preston, is awoken from his hibernation. Jim, we soon learn, has a knack for figuring out how complex, computerised, machinery works. We learn that Jim is a mechanic. He seeks to find out why – out of all the 5,000 souls aboard – he is the only one who is awoken from hibernation. But there is no apparent reason why. It seems he has been chosen
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
Second Timothy 2:10
Jim has all that the space-ship has to offer at his disposal. Unlimited alcohol. Unlimited food. Unlimited indoor recreation. Unlimited entertainment. But something is desperately missing. With ninety years still to go, he realises he will die before reaching flight’s end. After a year of no interaction with anyone except an android bartender, by the name of Arthur, who has been programmed with a degree of artificial intelligence, his loneliness gets the better of him and he can take it no longer. 
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Romans 12:10
He wanders the hibernation deck to look at all the sleeping people and is drawn to the hibernation pod of a beautiful young lady. She fascinates him. He searches through the passenger records to learn more about this young lady. As he watches the application videos of Aurora Lane explaining why she wanted to travel to Homestead II, he experiences a strange stirring in his heart. The more he looked through her archives, the closer he felt that he had known her all his life. He became convinced that she was his perfect match. Jim discovered how to awaken her from her hibernation. But he assures himself, and Arthur, that he would never actually do such a thing – because that would be wrong
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
Romans 7:18-19

At this point, Jim Preston has gone a year without any human contact. He is teetering on insanity and comes within a whisker of taking his own life. After all, God has not designed for anyone to live isolated from others. 
¶ Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
Genesis 2:18
Even in the distant corners of the galaxy the human soul is still subject to its conscience and the conviction of sin. Jim Preston had become a conflicted man. It is then, after subsequent months of internally battling with the morality of waking Aurora from her hibernation, that he does what he said he would never do. The awakened Aurora is told by Jim that the Avalon is glitching. This is why, he tells her, that only their hibernation pods have malfunctioned. Their time together exploring the Avalon brings them closer together. Jim was indeed right. They were indeed a perfect-match. But the Avalon seems to be breaking down. Things are no longer working quite right. Then another hibernation pod malfunctions, this time in the crew section, when the Chief Deck Officer, Gus, is awakened.
By this time, Arthur the bartender has let slip that Jim intentionally awoke Aurora from her hibernation and she is furious! She tells Gus that what Jim has done is essentially to “murder” her. Gus somewhat mediates between them and attempts to discover why the Avalon is breaking down. But Gus is not well. He goes to the crew’s medical repair pod and discovers that he has major, irreparable internal organ failure. The repair pod is unable to repair his damage. In a short while Gus is dead. Before he dies he has left Jim and Aurora with his crew access tag. 
What we discover toward the end of the movie is that space-ship is also dying. Jim and Aurora discover that the Avalon has suffered catastrophic asteroid damage which has devastated the ship’s nuclear reactor which has burnt out one of Avalon’s main computer processors. Jim devises a strategy to repair the ship. But it is extremely risky and has a low chance of his own survival. Aurora begins to realise that Jim is actually quite a noble guy for being to do this. She also realises that what she thought was grossly unfair, and akin to “murder”, was actually the very thing that has given her any chance of survival – and ultimately the survival of the lives of all 5000 passengers and the 257 surviving crew members.


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
  1. Even tragedy and disaster are used by God for the greater good.
  2. The most natural emotional response in times of hurt from set-back is anger, depression, self-pity and withdrawal.
  3. It’s not that time heals all wounds. It’s only time used wisely which does.
  4. Circumstances often leave clues that God has gone before us.
Passengers shows that human beings cannot live in isolation. We are created to live in community – especially small communities such as families. We are also created to love. But ultimately, the subtle message behind the movie, Passengers, is that God is the unseen Guide and Conductor of every atom in the Universe. As such, everyone who watches Passengers should leave the movie theatre with a heart full of worship for our Sovereign and Creator.
And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Revelation 14:7
Of course, we are all actually hurtling through space on a ship called earth. We are all passengers. In some respects, our ship is broken. Just as the Avalon experienced the invisible hand of the Sovereign God, so too our earth is riddled with the tell-tale signs of God’s redemptive intervention. And God invites all people everywhere to experience for themselves His intervention in their lives if they would just ask. You are not a million miles from God – you are just one prayer away!
Ps. Andrew

Friday, 5 May 2017



roast-dinnerCertain things trigger happy memories. A special song which was current during a particularly happy event. A date (such as 2007, when the Geelong Cats dominated the world of football and has ever gone down in history as the greatest team ever). And an aroma which reminds us of a happy place and time. Yesterday I was playing tennis near a home which was obviously cooking a lamb roast for their evening dinner. This highly distracting fragrance wafted over our tennis court and virtually invited us to join them for dinner.  That’s what pleasant fragrances do. They attract. They invite. And I hope that our church is “smelt” by many who feel they have no home, no family, no hope. 
I was listening to Wayne Cordiero’s Monday night teaching program on radio this week when he told the story of a YWAM evangelist who went to the local Red-Light district of Honolulu to reach out to the ladies there. As he shared the Gospel of God’s true love with them, many of them received Christ. The evangelist encouraged these ladies to go to church – for, as Wayne Cordiero said, evangelism is not truly evangelism if there is no church to disciple the evangelised. But they asked the evangelist if he could start a church for them. He responded by saying that there was no need for this as Honolulu had plenty of churches in the area. The girls responded with – “Look at us! What church would welcome us?!” This stumped the evangelist. When Wayne Cordiero, who pastors a church in Honolulu, heard the evangelist tell him this story, he immediately prayed, “Lord, may we be a church that would welcome all people – especially people like this.”  And when I heard Wayne re-tell this story, I also prayed the same prayer for our church!
He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his banner over me was love.
Song of Songs 2:4
A banqueting tableEvery Sunday we put on a banquet. We serve up an entrĂ©e of music that whets our appetites for God’s presence. We serve a delicious pre-dinner Communion which helps us to remember Christ and His finished work of rescuing us. We receive an offering which detoxes our souls of self-centredness. We serve up a bountiful feast of God’s Word as the sermon delivers a carefully constructed recipe of soul-nourishing, mind-stimulating, and spirit-refreshing insight and truth fresh out of the oven. We then enjoy the dessert of fellowship together as we look into each other’s souls with the care of Christ. All of these aspects of our weekly banquet combine to produce an aroma that attractive, appealing, and inviting. 
the-empty-chairThe banquet we put on each Sunday doesn’t require formal attire. Anyone can come as they are. Neither is it for “perfect” people. None of us are. It’s a family dinner table made up of orphans like you and me who have been adopted by God and made into a family. When we come together before the Father, we feel His great love for us and no matter how many people are added to our number at the Table, we feel no less loved by the Father! Yet, each Sunday we have vacant chairs at our banqueting table. The Father longs for His children to meet together with Him and to welcome in new family members – and these empty chairs remind us of the Father’s heart for His lost children.
And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.
Luke 14:23
F.W. Boreham tells the story of a man who grew roses. All day every day he worked in a hot-house with the fragrance of roses all around him. Whenever he visited someone or dropped into a local shop, everyone knew immediately who it was even he was sighted or heard. As you probably suspected, this was because they could smell the sweet rose aroma which he inadvertently carried with him. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians and gave them a vision of what it meant to spend all day every day with Christ. It was, he wrote, the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ – the fragrance of life
¶ But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere…a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
Second Corinthians 2:1416b
I think we have a sense that there are thousands of people in our city who right now can only smell death. Their parents have mercifully yet sadly split. Their friends ignore them. Their marriages have turned bitter. Their childhoods have been robbed. Their teen years have been destroyed by poor decisions. Their finances have all gone and now all they have is debt. Like their fridges, their hearts are empty. And no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to escape the fact their lives stink. These are the ones whom our Father longs to see sitting our “Sunday Table”. 
Bruce-Beresford-Susan-McMartin-Britt-Robertson-Lee-Nelson-1200x801I am currently sitting in Melbourne Airport writing these few thoughts. One of the blessings of air travel is that I get to watch a new release movie in flight. This morning I was thrilled to watch a movie I’ve wanted to see for a while – Hidden Figures. I’m halfway through, but already I’m angry. Not at the quality of the movie, but at the fact that this is a true story of how unwelcome these Negro women who worked for NASA were made to feel. Just a few weeks ago I got to watch the outstanding Bruce Beresford film, Mr Church. This film also explores what it means to deal with being made unwelcome. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and the next time I see Mr Beresford I’ll let him know that (as well as complain to him that he made me cry on the plane like a girl!). 

Watching both of these movies causes my heart to cry out to God that we can be a church that welcomes. May we exude a fragrance that invites, appeals, and woos people to Christ. May those who think their lives stink come to us and enjoy a different aroma – an aroma of life, the fragrance of Christ. And may all this happen despite what they’ve done, how they look, how they’ve treated us, and or how they’ve been living. Let’s smell like Christ and welcome whosoever!  
Ps. Andrew