The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

The Minister’s Desk Newsletter – December 2013

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So, where was this all leading? That was the question being asked for many years as I studied. My exit thesis was accepted on the second submission and came back with a distinction. Subsequently I was licensed to preach on the 17th March – an acknowledgment that I had completed my training. Yet the question remained, “Where was this all leading?” It wasn’t until mid March that any prospects of employment began to take shape.

The newly appointed CEO of Presbyterian Social Services asked the question I’ve long been waiting for, “Jason, what do you want to do?” Around 3 weeks later after further correspondence, I was appointed as the Disability Advocate for the NSW Presbyterian Church for 14hrs/week. The task: to educate the church on matters of disability and to equip the church to respond to the needs of people with disabilities and their carers – no small task for anyone! But there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. Consequently, 2013 was very much a whirlwind of a year.

Prior to taking the position, I had agreed to co-author a conference paper with Lindsey Gale (CBM, Melbourne) for the ‘Disability, Theology, and the People of God’ conference at Carey Bible College, Auckland in July. Happily, all this was considered part of my new position as research and development. This was a compilation of my exit thesis “The Role of the Holy Spirit in a person with a Disability and their relationship with the Church”, and Lindsey’s research into the results of the National Church Life Survey in regard to disability in the church. It was a mammoth project. Somehow, I think I had the easy end of the deal! All I had to do was come up with the theology – most of which I had already written. I just had to “de-nerd” my thesis by taking out all the Greek, which grated me… Anyway! Once upon a time, I didn’t know Greek either. I have since learned our paper has been accepted by the publisher for the conference book which is great news – and a relief!

So, this meant some travelling. In April I went to Melbourne to begin co-authoring the paper. This also provided an opportunity to catch up with friends, and share my faith at one of the schools. I also went to Auckland for the conference. Last time I was in New Zealand, I didn’t take the opportunity to have a look around after my training placement. This time, I was determined to take the opportunity! With the OK from work, I hired a motorhome for 10 days and toured parts of the North Island. It’s certainly one of the best holidays I’ve had. Some of the highlights were the Coromandel Peninsula, Hobbiton (Lord of the Rings movie set), and Rotorua. I really enjoyed learning about Maori culture as well. The geothermal areas were a freaky but intriguing place to be. I was really blessed with the weather. Of course, it rained. But it didn’t affect my activities. Hobbiton was well timed. Just as I was leaving, it began to rain – YES!! I found their winter isn’t that much colder than their summer, so staying warm and confortable wasn’t that much of an issue.

Apart from higher academic works, I’ve also had articles published in the Presbyterian NSW state magazine, ‘The Pulse’, and the National Magazine, ‘Australian Presbyterian’. I’ve been visiting churches and Presbyteries promoting Luke14 – the education initiative developed by CMB. Highlights have been to visit Mittagong Presbyterian who have an active ministry to include people with disabilities, and to visit Toukley Presbyterian on 2 occasions. Never had I received a reception to one of my sermons such as I did at Toukley. It was very encouraging. Much of the work is done at home, such as reviewing Scripture teaching material for children with intellectual disabilities, and continuing research into theological developments and current affairs in the area of disability.

A big blessing has been to have my church on board with my work. Gosford Presbyterian agreed to host all 5 Luke14 workshops dispersed throughout the year. This is giving me the opportunity to get a feel for the workshops and find out what works, and what doesn’t work. It’s been great to have a team of people supporting me as I run these workshops. So far, I’ve run two workshops, with the next one on Kids and Teens on the 9th March, 2014. I’m continually praying that churches will recognise the need, and make a decision to take positive action.

It was thrilling, then, to formalise this work with my ordination into the Presbyterian Church as a minister on the 20th October – something I was wondering if it would ever happen at the start of the year! To hear Dr. Ian Smith open God’s word, and have so many of my friends and family there was such a blessing. A few of my friends came from deep in the woodwork. This was an encouragement and a surprise. Being ordained and appointed to my position now means I have a say in what happens in the denomination the same as other ministers. I think this is a very good thing for the NSW Presbyterian Church, and not just for me.

So work is only 14hrs/week – what do I do the rest of the time? Again, I taught year 2 Scripture at Wyoming public this year. This is still a challenging exercise reinventing the lessons so I can deliver them with my limitations. I expect to be doing this again next year. I’m still running church services at Allambie Heights’ Cerebral Palsy Alliance. This year, we finished the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ series. We went through 1 John – which worked remarkably well. Now we’re half way through the ‘I am’ statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel. It’s been particularly encouraging this year to see these people affirming the Gospel. I’m also giving pastoral support in my own time, and leading my Bible Study group when required. I’m still involved with disability camps at Springwood, largely helping out with the teaching side of things So, life is full, and I have found myself some weeks with my head in 4 different parts of the Bible, in more than one language. I’ve enjoyed the interaction I have online discussing points of theology, and nuances in the Greek.

I have also made a point of bike ridding and exercise – not that it’s happened as much as I wanted. But I have grown acutely aware that the fitter I am, the more I can do. If I’m to keep up this work rate, along with looking after myself, I need to be fit! So I’m thankful that my work is only 14hrs/week with all the flexibility that I need.

Apart from tripping around in a Kiwi motorhome, I’ve also had opportunity to take shorter breaks. I took the opportunity to end a 12 year absence of attending Katoomba Easter Convention – a weekend of Christian teaching by international speakers. It was very refreshing. And I had a few days relaxing at Jervis Bay with friends this past spring.

So, where is this all heading? No idea! But God knows, and I very much look forward to the adventure. God had brought me thus far, doing what no one has been able to perceive. And I’m thankful to have your prayers and support along the way. College might be over (for now), but the hard work has only just begun.

In case anyone is wondering, I’ll still be writing under the title The Student’s Desk. “The Minister’s Desk” is only a celebratory title. I may no longer be at college, but I still consider myself as a student of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. That’s what the word ‘disciple’ means – student. If I’m not a disciple, then it’s high time I resign from the ministry! Evidently, I’m intent on remaining a disciple. Then there’s the prospect of a research master’s… one day.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | 1 Comment

Dear Prime Minister, Jesus Christ is Lord: A response to Rudd’s comments on Q&A 2nd September, 2013.

In response to a Pastor insisting on a biblical view on marriage from Jesus’ words “ a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (quoting Genesis 2:24), the PM said,

 “Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition. Because St Paul said in the New Testament, “Slaves be obedient to your masters.” And, therefore, we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the US war.”

A number of Christian commentators have already made responses. I want to make two comments I haven’t seen made yet: A historical comment, and a redemptive comment.

The PM’s citation of the Bible comes from two places: Ephesians 6:5, and Colossians 3:22. Firstly, at a historical level, what was this ‘slavery’ that Paul was referring to? Are we really to imagine African chain gangs labouring away under a hot sun in the southern parts of the United States of America? 

Slavery in the Roman Empire was an integral part of life. And no doubt it could be brutal. Slaves from the north and west of the empire were often given the most difficult tasks, and worked in chain gangs. But this was not always the case. The preference was for slaves from the east, who would go on to be household servants, teachers, librarians, accountants, and estate managers. It’s estimated that 85-90% of the population of Rome and the Italian peninsula were slaves. These slaves were granted many rights. Slaves were able marry, and accumulate money to purchase their freedom and start their own business. Slaves also held other prominent positions in the community such as artisans, architects, physicians, administrators, philosophers, and grammarians. To equate Roman slavery with the American slave-trade is to be irresponsible with history.

Secondly, at a redemptive level, why does Paul even raise the issue of slavery. By these words, is Paul endorsing the ownership of human beings by other human beings? In 1 Corinthians 7:21, Paul seems to be encouraging slaves to gain there freedom. Presumably, this means to buy their freedom, as we also have Paul sending a slave back to his master with letters of commendation (Philemon 1:8-19). Paul can’t be endorsing slavery as we might imagine it. So what is Paul endorsing? Paul is endorsing a gospel-shaped life – a Jesus-centered life. Paul lists a number of positions in life including wives, husbands, children, and fathers that are to comply to such a life. The thing to take away from this passage is Jesus Christ is Lord no matter what your life situation is. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re a slave or a free capitalist. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re a part of a democracy or under a dictatorship. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re an employee or an employer. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re straight or gay. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re young, old, sick, healthy, disabled, able, educated, uneducated, married, single, whatever!! Even if you’re a historically irresponsible, Bible-twisting public servant, Jesus Christ is Lord.

There is one other position Paul mentions that I have deliberately left out until now. And how disappointing it is that those who wish to disparage the Bible can’t even be bothered reading a few more lines on to appreciate just how radically different the Jesus-centered life is. “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:5). The Bible never accepts the brutality that comes with slavery, but seeks to transform it, as surely as it seeks to transform any life situation. This doesn’t mean the Bible endorses slavery, but it does seek to minimise it’s impact.

The concern here is, wherever we are in life, we are to respond to the grace God has lavished upon us. Firstly, as general providence as God gives us food to eat, clothes to wear, places to stay, and things to enjoy. Secondly, as a special providence in saving us by the forgiveness of our sins through the death and resurrection of His only son, and our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

THAT, Prime Minister, is the fundamental point of the Bible.

September 4, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to create a group mailing list on an iPad

I worked this out when trialing a group email app, and quickly worked out what it did. It so simple, it’s stupid!

  1. Create a contact and in the name field, type your group name – i.e. ‘family’
  2. In the email field, type in all the emails address for your group. The email field will accept multiple email address.
  3. Click/tap [Done] when all the email address are entered
  4. Compose email.
  5. Insert the name of the group in the ‘To’, ‘CC’, or ‘BCC’ field. The group name should appear as you’re typing. Only the name of the group will appear, but it will contain all the email address.
  6. Type your email.
  7. Click/tap [Send]. Everyone in your group  should receive you’re email.

For existing group mailing lists on your Mac or PC, conversion is quite simple.

  1. Compose a new email.
  2. In the ‘To’, ‘CC’, or ‘BCC’ field, type the name of your group. The name and possibly the email of each individual will now appear.
  3. Select all the contacts (Mac: [COMMAND] + [A]. PC: [CONTROL] + [A])
  4. Copy the contacts (Mac: [COMMAND] + [C]. PC: [CONTROL] + [C])
  5. Create a contact and in the name field, type your group name – i.e. ‘family’
  6. In the email field, paste all the emails address for your group (Mac: [COMMAND] + [C]. PC: [CONTROL] + [C]). The email field will accept multiple email address.
  7. Click/tap [Done] when all the email address are entered.
  8. You can now compose your email as per the first set of instructions.

I told you it was simple!

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Web Bits | | Leave a comment

Being led by the Spirit – John 16:12-15

John 16:12-15

This sermon was preached at Wesley Church, 26th May 2013. A fuller text of the sermon is provided below.

In a news article I read recently, a mother and her daughter in North Carolina were found walking down the street naked. When stopped by police, the mother informed them they were walking down the street naked because God had told them to.[1]

In another article, a South Boston made was charged with disorderly conduct for ‘train surfing’. He later informed police that God told him to do anything he wanted.[2]

In a much more disturbing article, a mother accidently suffocated  to death her 3 year old daughter believing her daughter had a demon, and that God had told her to exorcise the demon. She was committed to a state mental health institution for six months.[3]

News articles like theses may well see us asking: what does it mean to be led by God, or by his Holy Spirit?

As Christians, we have experiences which we may describe as being led by the Holy Spirit. We may particularly seek out guidance by the Holy Spirit when buying a house or a car. Or searching for a job. Or considering a marriage partner, or whether to marry at all. And I don’t wish to put the legitimacy of those experiences into doubt. Even I, myself, sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to which passage I should preach on today. I was given a choice of 4 passages by this church, and I felt led to preach on John 16:12-15.

But these experiences do not define the norm for what it means to be led by the Holy Spirit. For if we keep pushing this kind of thinking, we will end up seeking the Holy Spirit over which breakfast cereal we should eat – which is just ridiculous. For if that is how we think of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, there’s not much, if anything, that separates us from those in the news. So, we are still left asking: what does it mean to be led by the Holy Spirit?

Can I say from the outset, that the work of the Holy Spirit is not to diminish our responsibility, but to enhance our responsibility as followers of Jesus. To understand how the Holy Spirit does this, we must understand who the Holy Spirit is, where he and his authority comes from, and what he actually does. Once we have done this, we’ll be in a much better position to know what it means to be lead by the Holy Spirit.

Before answering those questions, we may wonder why is the Holy Spirit needed? In John 16:12, we find the disciples suffering a bit of ‘information overload’. When you consider that this is one of the longest single discourses of Jesus we have recorded, it’s understandable. But this is not the main cause of the information overload. It starts way back in chapter 12 with the celebration of the Passover.  In 14:8, the discourse takes on a sharp focus with Phillip’s request for Jesus to show them the Father. In other words, Phillip is asking Jesus for a fuller, richer experience of what it means to be his disciple. They’re about to receive that experience in 1 week’s time when they witness Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. But they’re not going to understand it. That’s why they can’t bear what Jesus is saying to them now. Their eyes are glazed over, and nothing Jesus is saying is going in. How are they to continue on in the absence of Jesus, especially when they’re so thick?

The answer is the Holy Spirit referred to as ‘Spirit of Truth’ in v13. It’s not the first time he’s been mention in this discourse. So to find out more about him, and how he solves the problem, we’re going to look at other parts of this discourse.

So, who is he?

In 14:17, he is again referred to as the ‘Spirit of Truth’. There, we learn he is not of this world. He does not blend into this world. He cannot be received or recognised by the world. Why? I suggest it’s because his agenda is different to the world’s agenda. He does not entertain worldly passions. Do you want the Holy Spirit to lead you to that nice sports car, or that luxury yacht because your workmate has one? I suggest it’s not going to happen. The Holy Spirit’s concern is different from the world’s concerns.

In 14:6, 26 and 16:7, the Greek word used to refer to him is paracletos, and is usually translated as ‘helper’ or ‘counsellor’. I suggest another helpful word might be ‘coach’. He coaches us in our relationship with God. A sports coach doesn’t play the game for you, nor tell you what to do at every single point in the game. But he does point you in the right direction, and equips you to play the game well. Don’t expect the Holy Spirit to do your decision making for you. But look to him so you do make good decisions.

Where does the Holy Spirit and his authority come from?

In 14:26 we learn that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father in Jesus’ name. He is sent by the Divine Father who has been revealed by the Divine Son. This should give us a clue as to why he is not of this world, and cannot be engaged by the world. Because he is of God, and is God he is engaged in God’s work. His concerns are God’s concerns.

That’s why in 16:13, we learn that he has no authority is not his own. He takes what is God’s and what belongs to Jesus, and makes it know to us. So if you find the spirit is saying one thing, and the Jesus is saying another in the Bible, I suggest to you whatever spirit your listening to is not the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit does not speak of his own authority, but only the authority of the Father and the Son. And we know what the Father and the Son have said, because it’s been recorded for us in the Bible. There’s no guess work for us!

So, what does the Holy Spirit do?

In 14:26 we learn that the Holy Spirit reminds and teaches us what Jesus said. In 16:7 we learn that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is in direct relation to Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’˜ ministry was to make atonement for sin in his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit applies that ministry to us. That’s why Jesus says in 16:7, “if I don’t go, he wont come”. Jesus was going to make atonement for sin, and unless that happened, they’d be no atonement for the Holy Spirit to apply. And if there’s no atonement to apply, there’s no work for the Holy Spirit to do. Follow??

In 16:13, we learn that the Holy Spirit guides us in all truth. Does this mean that Christians don’t need to study for exams? I can’t see any of my former lectures at Bible College being convinced of that kind of thinking! The force of what is said here is that the Holy Spirit will immerse us in everything Jesus has said. The disciples hardly understood anything Jesus said to them. But it was still truth. It was still relevant. The disciples needed to be immersed in that truth by the Holy Spirit so they could understand it with their minds, and have it seep into their hearts, and out through their bodies as they lived out that truth.

We also learn that the Holy Spirit declares the things that are to come. Does that mean that there’s more revelation to come? For us, no. For the disciples, yes. Remember, in 1 week’s time, they will see their beloved Lord crucified, buried and resurrected, and though they may believe, they will not understand. In 20:8-9, Peter believed but didn’t understand. In v13, Mary Magdalene thought someone had moved Jesus’ body. And in v25, poor old doubting Thomas needed physical proof!

It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came that they understood why Jesus had died, and was resurrected. The Holy Spirit reminded them of everything Jesus had taught, and made known to them the meaning of his death and resurrection. That when he died, he was taking their punishment, in their place, for their sins against a Holy and Righteous God. That they were no longer their own to do as they pleased, but they now belonged to God, PURCHASED by the precious and pure blood of Jesus for eternity. That they no longer belonged to this world with all of its selfishness, all of its lust, and all of its greed. But they now belonged to a new order, a heavenly order, where the good of the other is sought in love, and God the Father and his Son Jesus are worshipped alone, and are made known.

The same is true for us. We need to be immersed in that glorious truth by the Holy Spirit. The truth that we have been PURCHASED. We no longer belong to this world, so why on earth do we insist on living like it? We belong to God, and we live according to a heavenly order. The Holy Spirit guides us and enables us to do that. We owe Jesus praise and worship, big time!

It’s no wonder, then, that in 16:14 we learn the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus. The Holy Spirit keeps pointing back to Jesus. There is nothing more to know about God apart from Jesus. Jesus says, “Everything the Father has is mine…” Everything! … Everything concerning God, who he is, what he’s doing, what he will do, it’s all found in Jesus. All that the Holy Spirit talks about is Jesus. This is why Jesus says in v15, “… he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Are you starting to notice a pattern here? Being led by the Holy Spirit is not about our activity, and God responding to our small-time ideas. It’s about God’s saving activity in Jesus, and us responding to God’s ideas for eternity!

Being led by the Holy Spirit is about Jesus. Knowing Jesus and glorifying Jesus. There is nothing else to know or to be revealed apart from Jesus, because everything concerning God has been given to Jesus.

Therefore, being led by the Holy Spirit involves much more than our decisions. It involves our thoughts and our attitudes. We are to look for ways where we can be immersed in the truth about Jesus, growing in our knowledge of him, and glorifying him.

So, when it comes to buying a house, or a car, ask yourself, “How will this glorify Jesus?” When looking for a job, or a marriage partner, ask yourself, “Will this help me grow in my knowledge of Jesus, or is it a distraction?”

And if you really can’t make up your mind between Cornflakes and Cocoa Pops, there’s a very easy solution – have both! God gave us food to enjoy. Don’t make it any more complicated than what it has to be!

Being led by the Holy Spirit means growing in the knowledge of Jesus, and glorifying him in all we do.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2013


May 26, 2013 Posted by | Bible, Sermons | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Worshipping God in Difficulty

The following sermon was delivered at Gosford Presbyterian Church, 27th January 2013 on Psalm 98.

I suspect everyone here would agree that worshipping God is important. God deserves to be worshipped, and we were created to worship God. But if we are honest, we can find worship difficult. Perhaps one of the main reasons why we find worship difficult is wrong motives. We can end up thinking that God exists to bless us the way we want. Then when we don’t get what we want, we struggle to worship God. I admit, I find it easier to come to church when I’ve had a good week, rather than when I’ve had a bad week. Worse still, we can face the very real temptation to stop worshipping God all together.

On the other hand, correct motives sustain us to worship God. So it’s worth asking, what should motivate us to worship God? A good place that helps us answer that is the Psalms.

Psalms 96 – 99 form a block of Psalms that celebrate God’s kingship. These Psalms give us insight into correct motives for worshipping God. They’re worth reading through, in your own time, noting what the Psalmist mentions, and perhaps what he doesn’t mention.

Today, we’re looking at Psalm 98, which begins by inviting us to worship God by singing a new song v1. The idea being expressed by the Psalmist of a new song means to look beyond our present circumstances – our frustrations, our weaknesses, our disappointments – and look forward to the NEW work of God in the future, which we’ll look at in a minute.

But some of you might find this a big ask. Some of you may find your circumstances so painful, you just can’t see past them at the present time. Well, there is a solution. Before you look forward to what God will do, look back to see what God has done, and all the positives he has provided. That’s exactly what the Psalmist does!

in v3 The Psalmist looks back to the time when God made salvation for his people. It’s likely that the Psalmist is referring to God’s salvation in general terms. But it is also likely that he was thinking of the exodus – when God saved his people from the tyranny of slavery in Egypt, and after many years, brought them into the Promised Land. Just as he had promised their forefathers generations before.

For us today, we need to look back to the salvation that God made for us in Jesus – when we were saved from the tyranny of sin. When Jesus died on the cross, our wrong doing before God was removed so we could enter a right relationship with him. His resurrection assures us that sin has been conquered, and the work of salvation continues.

Whether it’s the salvation that Israel experienced in the exodus, or the salvation we experienced in Jesus, we are to understand that salvation is entirely God’s work. In v1 it is stated that “God’s right hand and holy arm have made salvation”. This gives us confidence to depend on what God has provided for us.

If I make something, trust me, you know it will fall apart. The same is true for our salvation – if we try to make our own salvation, it will fall apart. We can’t put confidence in our own efforts. But, because God has made salvation, it can’t fall apart. If you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, your relationship with God is secure. Nothing can change that – not our frustrations, weaknesses, or disappointments.

So here is the right motivation to worship God. We worship God not because he gives us what we want – although sometimes he does, and we should thank him for it. But we worship God because he gives us what we need – a right relationship with him.

So, what will this worship look like? How are we to worship God? In a word, publicly and loudly. Occasionally I hear about the idea of a ‘private Christian’ – someone who keeps their faith to themselves and never lets on they’re a Christian. Such an idea is inconsistent with Psalm 98. In v4 the psalmist’s invitation goes out to th`e whole earth, which involves making music. Until the invention of headphones, music was not a private affair! Music that is out in the open is noticed by anyone nearby. There is nothing private about music. So, according to Psalm 98, neither should there be anything private about our worship of God. Everyone is invited to worship God.

So, when it comes to right motives for worshipping God, we need to be looking beyond our own circumstances, because it’s God who makes salvation, not us, and our response in worship is to be public.

Now, I’ve made mention that our circumstances can be painful. But in focusing our attention on the salvation that God has made for us, I do not intend to be dismissive of such circumstances. I know when I’m hurting, and my concerns are dismissed, it only hurts even more. I don’t want to do that to anyone. We should be looking to support each other any time one of us is hurting. But at the same time, we must recognise that the support we get is not the final solution to that hurt.

The final solution to our frustrations, weaknesses, and disappointments is judgement. We see that in vv7-9. Judgement is a part of salvation. They go hand-in-hand. Judgement will see a time when things are put right. Not just improved. They will be made right! A time when evil and wickedness will be punished. A time when the righteous will be protected. That is, for those who are trusting in God’s promises, harm and injury will be done away with. Suffering will be no more.

It’s important to note the difference in who pays attention to salvation and to judgment. While we might expect that salvation gets the most attention, its actually judgement that gets the most attention. With salvation, everyone on earth pays attention, which when you think about it, that’s a lot of attention! But in vv7-9 judgement not only grabs the attention of everyone on earth, it grabs the attention of creation itself. The fish, the animals, the rivers, the mountains are all caught up in the worship of God, looking forward to the judgement that is to come.

Our motive for worshipping God is bigger than ourselves; bigger than our circumstances; bigger than our lives – what we’re doing, and what we hope to do. Our motive for worshipping God is God himself: What he has done in making salvation. For us, that salvation is through Jesus; and what God will do in judging the earth.

We need to see that our motive for worshipping God should not be restricted by our circumstances.

So when I have a bad week, I still come to church. When I’ve had a discouraging day, I still go to Growth Group. When I’m angry and want to tell someone off, I still pray. When I feel like hiding at home, I still look for ways to share my faith. When I feel like escaping reality by watching a movie or playing a computer game, I still read the Bible. When I’ve been ripped off, I still look to be generous with what I have.

I don’t abandon God just because I don’t like my circumstances. And neither should you. Instead, we are to persevere in our worship of God, looking beyond our circumstances. And our worship is to be motivated by the salvation God has made, and his coming judgement.

In this way, we can truly sing a new song, and worship God, just as the Psalmist invites us to do!

January 28, 2013 Posted by | Sermons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – December 2012

2012 saw the end of a course of study that began in July 2002. To think I entered PTC timidly, concern I wouldn’t meet the standards required of a degree, to come out the other end being able to debate interpretations of the Bible from the original languages, along with other abilities, has truly been a blessing from God. It was also the kind of year where meeting an Ewok look-a-like Cavoodle that did meerkat impersonations didn’t seem all that out of place! More of the dog later.
I began the year with optimistic valour. I thought, “Just a language to learn, and a thesis to write. How hard could that be??” I had to ask… When I learned Greek,  I thought that was hard. But, compared to Hebrew, Greek was a walk in the park! Or should that be ‘a walk in the λάχανον’? Anyway, I found Hebrew extremely difficult, and I can now understand why everyone I spoke to discouraged me from doing it. But I had to be stubborn! In the first 3 weeks, while my classmates were flat learning the language, I was flat out learning how to access the language.
Not being able to use paper and pen means doing everything via a computer. At the start of the year, my main computer was my Windows laptop. Changing from English to Hebrew and back again wasn’t as straight forward as one would hope. So then I tried my Mac which, thankfully, was much more streamlined. Then I found sophisticated word processing applications (like MS Word, Mac Pages) couldn’t handle right to left text (Hebrew runs the other way to English). So I had to buy a word processing application that could handle bidirectional text. Then I found many of the processes and methods I had developed for learning Greek weren’t going to work for Hebrew.
At every step in the journey, I incurred frustration. I seriously pondered whether I needed to withdraw. But, I was told of some vocabulary applications for the iPhone, and they pretty much made all the difference. Then I was left to struggle with the same issues as everyone else – vowels that changed for no apparent reason, and vocabulary that had no bearing with English. But now, I am ever so pleased I had taken on the challenged – and succeeded! The strange thing is, while Greek was easy to learn, it’s hard to read, Hebrew is hard to learn but easy to read. Many others have made the same observation.
As for my thesis – ey! Emotions are still raw as I write this. I only submitted it in recent days – for the second time! It was toward the end of November. My thesis had been submitted 3 weeks prior, my final Hebrew exam had been completed, and I began to celebrate. My studies were over! So I thought. Alas, those celebrations were short lived. 4 hours later, my thesis came back. Not good.
    The topic I had chosen was ‘The work of the Holy Spirit in the person with a disability, and their relationship with the church’. Now, if you ever wanted a challenging topic to write on while adhering to the Reformed theological tradition, this would be one of them. I chose this topic for 3 main reasons. Firstly, my Pentecostal friends often speak of the Holy Spirit, and I wondered if he really did some of the things they claimed. Secondly, I wanted to provide a theological basis for disability inclusion. I have come across disabilities ministries that are completely segregated from mainstream churches. They do a wonderful service in ministering to people with disabilities, but I wondered if they capture God’s vision for his people (there’s only one!) and the ministry of reconciliation. Thirdly, as a would-be Presbyterian minister, I wanted to state very clearly what my theological agenda is from the perspective of disability – I want to see people with disabilities included in the life of main stream churches as an expression of God reconciling all things to himself through Christ.
So the thesis gave me an opportunity to explore these issues. Unfortunately, the examiner wasn’t happy with my arguments (and rightly so, I’ll readily admit), although they applauded my efforts. So in the past month, I’ve had to come up with a new argument, and rewrite half my 8,000 word thesis. Not to mention attending several speaking engagements, organising a Christmas service, and going to Melbourne for 3 days during the process. Now, 8,000 words may seem allot, but when you have a mind as hyperactive as mine, I can assure you it’s not! My biggest frustration was cramming all my ideas under the word limit. I have enough discarded bits and pieces around here to publish a book. That’s before I develop them any further so a nonacademic could actually understand! Of course, I’m happy for people to read my thesis, so long as they’re prepared to contend with Greek, and a bit of Hebrew. As I write, I still don’t know whether I’ve actually finished my studies. I’m still waiting for the result.

2012 also saw plenty of opportunities for me to speak and teach, which I’m most thankful for. In March I preached on John 9 at St. Clements Anglican Church, Mossman. The same sermon was delivered at Temora Presbyterian Church in June where I also spoke to them about how they could be more inclusive of people disabilities. This is where I met this strange dog that would frequently sit upright on its hind legs with its front paws drooping downward, and have a good look around the room. It was quite funny to see. I was able to preach the same sermon again to Buxton community church, which was an eye opener into the workings of community churches in December. In October a ministry for people with intellectual disabilities called ‘Jesus Club’ invited me to preach at their supporters night on Matthew 28:16-20. This was a great opportunity to meet new people and encourage them.
Raising the awareness of disability also kept me busy as I introduced the Luke14 program (a disability inclusion initiative by Christian Blind Mission), to Anglicare in Campbelltown in May. I was also able to speak to the Presbyterian Women’s Home Mission Committee in June about the needs of people with disabilities and their families, and my desire to equip churches to meet this need. Similarly, I had the opportunity to speak about disability at the ‘Flourish’ Presbyterian Conference in July. St. James Anglican, Turramurra, had a disability awareness Sunday asked me to speak for 10mins on ‘Loving People with Disabilities’ in relation to 1 John at all 3 morning services in December. This also was very well received. My answer? We love people with disabilities the same way we love anyone – the way God has loved us in Jesus.
My last college mission saw me going to McClean on the north coast of NSW. There, I was able to give my testimony to the local Presbyterian Church. One of the members saw an opportunity, and the next thing I knew, I was off to Grafton Christian School to give my testimony there as well. It was very encouraging to see how the students responded to what I had to say. I think I’ve remembered all the speaking I’ve done… My apologies if I’ve left out anyone!
Aside from these opportunities, I continued to teach year 2 Scripture. This has been an extremely valuable experience for me in learning how to relate to kids. It’s always interesting looking at the lesson in the teacher’s manual thinking, “That’s not going to work for me…” Then coming up with my own approach. Computer produced find-a-words based on a Bible passage and colouring in pictures from the internet have come in very handy.
Church services at the Allambie Heights Cerebral Palsy Alliance continued this year, and it was great to have so many willing volunteers to help me out with the ministry. This year we went through Genesis 1-12, looking as some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith: that God loves us, he provides for us, he wants to restore us and the rest of the world from sin, and we need to trust him in that regard and obey him. Recently we’ve been going through the Sermon on the Mount, understanding it as an appropriate way of responding to the grace God has given us. At the end of the year we had our Christmas Service. A number of people got a band together so we could sing carols. Everyone involved put in a huge effort. People came to the service who don’t usually come, and they were able to hear about how Jesus gives us peace with God, which is where peace on Earth starts. It was a really encouraging time.

So, all that was quite allot on top of my studies. Pending the response to my thesis, I’m assuming the formal part of my studies is over. So what happens next? In a word: DUNNO! However, I’m hoping to be licensed to preach on the 3rd January (again, pending the thesis result). This does not mean I’ll be ordained, it’s just one of the last steps toward ordination. How and when ordination will happen remains a mystery. Nothing has been planned in terms of employment for 2013 (that I know of!). There are a couple of leads I’ll be chasing up in January. Apart from this, I’ll continue teaching Scripture, running the church services at Allambie Heights, and providing a bit of pastoral support. I’m hoping that the opportunities I have to speak and teach around the place will continue, and develop into something sustainable.
Apart from this, I have a small stockpile of books to keep me occupied. In many ways I feel I’ve only done the preliminary part of my studies, and now I’m free to get on with the real work. There’s a number of issues I’d like to address, as well as developing my thesis further. In terms of further formal study, I’ll be taking a break to recover from the prolonged pressure of study, and to discover what ‘normal’ now means for me. But the possibility wont be too far from my mind. As such, The Student’s Desk will remain, even though my former studies are over (for now). I look forward to exploring and learning even more.
It’s been a really, really long journey, and I’m thankful that so many have stayed with me on it. Especially those who have been with me from the beginning. Whatever happens now, I feel hugely blessed by, not only in being able to do theological studies, but to actually excel in them. This is a privilege and a grace.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | Leave a comment

Peace on Earth?? You gotta be kidding!

The following message was preached on 8th December 2012 at the Allambie Heights Cerebral Palsy Alliance.

Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7

Peace on earth. It’s one of the things we celebrate at Christmas. But as we look at the world, and our relationships, and even within ourselves, we may start to wonder where is this ‘peace on earth’ we’re meant to be celebrating?
I looked at the world section in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, and saw stories about violent clashes in Egypt, people being killed by typhoons, spies being poisoned to death. Peace on earth? Are you serious?
Then in our lives, we so quickly find ourselves arguing and bickering with the people we love! I know I’m one who’s always up for a good argument, and I sometimes wonder why some people are still talking to me.
Then if we’re not arguing and bickering with other’s we’re getting frustrated with ourselves, and our limitations with trying to get things done! We’re now into the Christmas season, and my past three weeks has been anything but peaceful. I’ve been down to Melbourne, and I’m convinced that anyone who finds that flying is peaceful can’t be normal. Last weekend I was down in the Southern Highlands, preaching. Today I’m here. Tomorrow I’m at Turramurra Anglican. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I’m trying to re-write a major paper so I can graduate college. And then there’s the local shopping centre! Peace on earth? You’ve gotta be kidding! How can we as Christians seriously talk about peace on earth?
Well, I’ll tell you how. A long time a go – a REALLY long time ago, there was a guy called Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet. Now, what prophets did was they spoke on the behalf of God. Isaiah was telling people what God was about to do. If you think things today are pretty wild, the kinds of things that Isaiah was talking about were ‘off the planet’. Because God’s own people were disobeying God, Isaiah was predicting a time when God’s people would loose their country and their city, and nothing of their city would be left. Absolutely nothing! They’d be forced to live in a foreign country where they spoke a foreign language. A time that was not peaceful in any sense.
Yet, Isaiah wasn’t all bad news. He also spoke about a time when these people, who had lived in this very dark time would also see a very bright light. A time when everyone and everything against them would be stopped. Because Isaiah also predict a time when a mighty ruler would be born – a King. A King whose kingdom would be world wide. The law of this land would be justice and peace, and will last for eternity. Forever!
Despite the turmoil that Isaiah saw coming, he could still talk about peace. Whether or not Isaiah knew it at the time, this Mighty King he was talking about was Jesus. Isaiah was talking about Jesus over 700 year before Jesus was born. Jesus would be the King of this everlasting kingdom and bring about this peace.
So how does Jesus bring about this peace? The problem God’s people had in Isaiah’s day was they had disobeyed God. And it’s the exact same problem we have today. As long as there’s sin, we can’t have peace with God. Unless someone takes our sin away. And guess what Jesus did? He took our sins away. This was the whole reason why Jesus was born. Jesus was born, he lived, he died, and he rose again so we could have peace with God. That in his very death, he took all of our sins, all that we’ve done, and ever will do, and they were destroyed, done away with, finished. Peace on earth starts when we have peace with God, by putting our faith in Jesus, trusting what he has done.
Isaiah says that people will rejoice over this, like at harvest time. Now, none of us are farmers, and we don’t know the joys of harvest time. But I take this is something to get excited about. So what do people get excited about around Christmas? They get excited about Santa, presents, decorations, shopping (unless you’re male). People get excited about food. My Bible study group had a Christmas dinner on Thursday night, and when the  food came out, boy, did I get excited! That homemade dark chocolate cheesecake was something else! But here’s the question: how excited do we get about Jesus. How much do we praise Jesus, talk about Jesus, cherish the life Jesus has given us? Because as good as that cheesecake was on Thursday night, it pales into insignificance compared to the peace we have in Jesus. Jesus is worth getting excited about.
The world is messy, our relationships are messy, and our lives are messy, but when it comes to ‘peace on earth’, we are serious. We’re not kidding around. Because peace on earth starts when we have peace with God, and this is what Jesus has achieved for us now. As believers, we look forward to the time when Jesus return to establish his kingdom where we wont only have peace with God, but we’ll also have peace with everyone else. Now that is something to get excited about! Let’s spend Christmas praising Jesus and talking about him.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

December 23, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘Great Commision': The ins and outs of making disciples

Based on Matthew 28:16-20

This messaged was preached at the ‘Jesus Club’ supporters night, 22nd October, 2012.

Well, how are we going with the ‘Great Commission’? Sharing our faith is a walk in the park, right? Perhaps not. The notion of sharing any part of our faith can lead to a feeling of unease. Perhaps we feel inadequate for the task. Maybe I lost my patience the other day, and some naughty words slipped out. Or I wasn’t kind to that person I bumped into last week. What kind of a witness is that?? Or maybe I’m not up on the latest evangelism techniques, and the most effective way of talking about Jesus. Or I really don’t know enough about the person. Perhaps we struggle with who we are – who am I to tell people they need to repent and put their trust in Jesus? Either way, sharing our faith can be a daunting experience.

As we look at the ‘Great Commission’, we discover that Jesus spoke these words who stumbled and slipped in their faith. That sharing our faith isn’t about evangelism techniques, or knowing about people (although they can help. The ‘Great Commission’ is about Jesus authority, and his task in calling together the people of God.

So, what do we need to carry out the ‘Great Commission’ and make disciples? Firstly, we need to be disciples ourselves. This may sound it goes without saying, but we need to think about what it means to be a disciple. Being a disciples means enjoying a right relationship with Jesus. After Jesus had been raised from the dead, he appeared to his disciples at Galilee – where Jesus’ ministry had started. In response, the disciples worshipped him (v17). Well, most of them. Some doubted. Why were some in doubt? Did they doubt it was Jesus? This is possible. But I suspect the kind of doubt the disciples had was one where you’re not sure of yourself. You’re not sure where you stand, or what you can expect. So you hesitate about what you should do. You’re in doubt! After all, the disciples had abandoned Jesus during his arrest. A relationship had been broken. What kind of a reception would Jesus give his disciples? You can just sense the tension in the room as the disciples and Jesus eyed off one another. Yet Jesus’ approach to them is one of hospitality. It’s one of restoration as Jesus comes toward them and speaks to them as his disciples. So we see that making disciples is about enjoying a right relationship with Jesus.

Do you believe in Jesus? Are you enjoying spending time with him, reading his word, praying to him? I’m not asking are you doing these things. I’m asking, are you enjoying them? Have you ponded the depths of his grace for you? Are you just overwhelmed that God would have you as part of his family? That God’s sinless Son would choose condemnation of life, and assume your place on they cross. If that is your joy, you are able to share your faith. Sharing your faith begins with enjoying the relationship we have with Jesus.

Secondly, what authority do we have to make disciples? Our authority is Jesus’ authority, and that authority finds its expression through the church, God’s people (v18). What kind of authority are we talking about? An authority for what? The answer is basically, everything. We’re talking about an all encompassing authority. And authority that sees a kingly realm that covers the whole earth. Even death itself comes under this authority, since Jesus has just defeated it. It’s an authority that makes all people answerable to Jesus. This is why Jesus instructs has disciples to go to all the nations making disciples.

Now, if that sounds unnerving, it’s probably because it is. Imagine being a disciple during this discussion. You’re a Jew. As you were growing up, you were taught ‘Jew, good. Gentile bad.’ You did not associate with Gentiles. You had nothing to do with Gentiles. Gentiles were filthy, God-forsaken people. You knew this because God picked the Jews to be his chosen nation, which meant ever other nation must be condemned, right? Now you have Jesus saying to go to all the nations and make disciples. Guess what that meant? Talking to Gentiles! Oh, boy!!

The ‘good / bad’ dichotomy is still around. There are plenty of instances today. I believe one of them in our culture is disability. We’re taught, ‘ability good. Disability bad’. It’s all over our media. People do not want to be associated with disability. Against this, Jesus says, “On the basis of my authority, go and make disciples of all nations…” Now, I know at this point, I’m preaching to the converted. But I want you to see that what you do here at ‘WeBelong’, and ‘Jesus Club’ is very much part of the ‘Great Commission’. It involves pursuing those who society has deemed ‘unworthy’, and telling them about Jesus, as well as those who society has deemed ‘worthy’. Jesus’ authority is all encompassing.

Thridly, when are we to ‘make disciples’? Us modern metro people like having a box for everything, don’t we? We have a box for our work life, a box for our family life, a box for our hobbies, a box for our sporting life, a box for our Christian life. Within our Christian box, we might have our evangelism box. We just love our boxes, don’t we? The more boxes the better! Except, Jesus knows nothing about boxes. When we read v19, we get the idea that we need to drop all our other boxes, and pick up our evangelism box, and run with that. But that’s not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying, as you are going, as you are going about you’re everyday life, picking the kids up, doing the shopping, working your job, paying the bills, kicking the ball… make disciples. Making disciples is just an organic part of our lives. If we are enjoying our relationship with Jesus, it can’t be anything else. Jesus will just come up in conversation, wont he?

Fourthly, how are we to make disciples? Through baptism and teaching. What? Why baptism? Isn’t baptism just a sign? Baptism never converted anyone. Why is Jesus talking about baptism? Both those things are true, and at this point, I’m going to show my true Presbyterian colours, and say, what is significant here is not so much baptism, but what baptism represents. Baptism is a declaration of a person being a member of the community of God. Behind Jesus’ instruction for baptism is a concern to see people included in the church. So if talking about Jesus just isn’t your thing, inviting them to church, seeing them included, is still very much part of the ‘Great Commission’. We may also note that sharing our faith is not simply an individual effort, but it is a communal effort. We are in this together to make disciples.

This makes sense when you think about where do you hear Jesus teaching. The church. And in teaching people about Jesus, what are we teaching them? I hope we are teaching them how to respond to grace. Let’s be clear, Jesus is not advocating some kind of legalistic righteousness. It’s very easy to grab hold of something like the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, and turn it into a stack of rules. But that’s not what Jesus is on about at all. The issue is, we have experienced grace. We have God’s blessing. How are we to respond?

Fifthly, how are we enabled to make disciples? Jesus has not left us to our own devices. Jesus has promised us his presence will be with us until the end of the age (v20). I believe this is especially true, when we make room in the church for people’s brokenness, and be constantly reminding each other of the grace God has lavished upon us.

Making disciples is based on Jesus’ faithfulness in preserving the relationship we have with him, even when we’re unfaithful. Making disciples is not dependent on our cleverness, or the latest evangelism techniques. Making disciples begins when we enjoy the relationship with have with Jesus, and worship him. It’s only in relationship with Jesus that we can go beyond our comfort zones, and pursue those that society would rather forget. We must also remember making disciples is not meant to be a solo effort. Jesus presence is with us, and that presence is made manifest in his church.

As you go, make disciples. Include them in the church, teach them his grace.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

October 23, 2012 Posted by | Bible Exposition | , , , | Leave a comment

Who are God’s people?

Matthew 5:1-16 

Who are God’s people? Who are the one’s that enjoy God’s blessing? Who are the ones that can really have an impact for God, and change people’s lives? We might first think of religious leaders. People like Ghandi, or Mother Theresa. Perhaps even the Pope. Or we might think of people who can do lot’s of stuff for others. People who work for charities like Red Cross, or the Smith Family. Or help with food and disaster relief. Or, people like politicians or business people. People who use their money and power to do good in society. Well, if we take Jesus’s words seriously, we have to say that the people who have the most impact for God is us. It’s those who have their faith and trust in Jesus that can have a monumental impact. Maybe not on a world scale, but you have an impact for God, one person at a time.

Well, how is that possible? People in Jesus’ day were allot like us in the way they thought about these questions. Like us, they would’ve thought God’s people are the religious leaders, the wealthy, the do-gooders, and the well-to-do. Jesus takes this whole way of thinking, and flips it upside-down. God’s people, Jesus says, are the down and outers. The ones who have the power to have an impact, have no power at all. Let me explain.

Jesus says, those who feel they are not good enough for God, they’re the ones who know what it is to repent. They’re the ones who know their thoughts, their attitudes, and what they’ve done are not what God wants. And they are sorry for that, and they ask forgiveness. These are the one’s that enjoy God’s blessing.

Jesus says, those who have no joy, those who grieve over their own sin, and the sin of the world, they’re the ones who have God’s blessing. These are that find comfort. The kind of comfort that can only be found in God’s grace. It’s only in God’s grace in sending Jesus to die for our sins that our sins are dealt with and finished. We can enjoy the comfort of knowing when we approach God, he will accept us. If you’re not aware of your own sin and the sin of the word, why would you seek forgiveness? If you don’t seek forgiveness, how will you ever find God’s grace. It’s awareness of our sin that causes us to learn on his grace, his blessing.

Jesus says, those who are gentle, who control their desires and seek the benefit of others, the ones who aren’t grabbing everything for themselves, they are the ones who will have everything. Because they know everything belongs to God anyway. There’s no point squabbling over it!

Jesus say, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who really want to do what God wants, and not just pretend they do, they’re the one’s who’ll find satisfaction. They are the one’s who will enjoy God’s blessing. They’re the one’s who will be fulfilled. Because they will know God! Not know about God, like I know about the Queen. But they will know God in a personal relationship.

Jesus says those who show mercy, not strength, they’re the ones who’ll get mercy. It’s those who feel unworthy, who grieve over sin, who are gentle, who want to do God’s will, who aren’t worried about rights, and justifying themselves. They know mercy is needed, and they show it.

Jesus says those who really want to be friends with God, and have set their hearts on eternity, and nothing else, they’re the one’s who will be friends with God.

Jesus says those who seek to make peace, and not trouble and division, they’re the ones who are called the Sons of God. Don’t worry, that includes girls too. It’s those who look to lessen tensions, not add to them. Who seek solutions, and make sure everyone has understood them. They’re the ones who really reflect what God is like. Like father, like son.

Jesus says those who get picked on and made fun of because of their faith, they’re the one’s who really have eternal life. They know how good it is, and they hang on to it, no matter what!

That’s a long list, but what it boils down to is this. If you are fairdinkum about believing and trusting in Jesus, it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’ve done, or what you can or can’t do. The issue is, what is you’re heart set on. Is your heart set on the stuff of world, and you’re only pretending to follow Jesus. Or is your heart really set on the stuff of God?

If your heart is set on the stuff of God, rest assured, you are one of God’s people. You have been given forgiveness, comfort, everything in Christ. You’ve been given knowledge of God, mercy, friendship, and are able to reflect what God is like in the way you live.

Because of this we are able to have an impact for God and change the lives of the people around us. This is what Jesus meant when he said we are ‘salt’ and ‘light’. By living out our faith, by being obedient to Jesus – providing wisdom, making peace, reflecting God’s character. We don’t do this to be saved! Jesus has already saved us!! We do this so others might worship God as well.

God’s people are those who have the hearts set on the stuff of God, and live out there faith in such a way, others can’t possibly miss it. Let’s respond to what God has given us in Jesus by set our hearts on the stuff of God, and living out our faith before others.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

September 28, 2012 Posted by | Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing ‘Worship’

Genesis 4:1-16

What is worship? I suspect when we think of worship, we tend to think of giving thanks, praise and adoration to God, and praying to God. This is absolutely right, worship is all these things. But here’s the thing: we can so easily distort worship, and twist it into something else as we give thanks and praise and pray to God. For us, worshipping God can become a means of scoring brownie points with God. Doing things to make God happy so he will bless us, or give us what we want. Ultimately, this kind of worship becomes about us trying to manipulate God. This kind of worship is a major problem, because it doesn’t reflect God’s character. God is a God who blesses. Who provides. Who is gracious. God doesn’t sit back and wait for us to do the right thing, and then he blesses us. God has blessed us. God has provided for us. Abundantly! When we worship God, and pray to him, his blessing and his provision need to be reflected in our worship.And this is where a man by the name of Cain came undone.

Cain was the son of Adam and Eve, and he had a younger brother named Abel. One day, both Cain and Abel worshipped God. God accepted Abel’s worship, but not Cain’s. And it’s not immediately obvious why it was so. But I think it’s got to do with their motives. It’s an issue of the heart. You see, when Abel worshipped God, he was whole-hearted. Abel recognised how much God had blessed him, and he gave the best thing he had to God. He didn’t want anything back. He just wanted to acknowledge God’s blessing on his life.

Cain on the other hand, he was half-hearted. Cain gave some of what he had. It wasn’t the best. Actually, to me, it sounds like Cain gave God his leftovers. Does God give us his leftovers? No! He gives us what’s best for us. So Cain’s worship of God didn’t reflect God’s character, and how much God had given him. Cain wasn’t truly thankful for how much God had given him. The problem with half-hearted worship is we’re not really focused on God. We’re actually focused on what we want. And that’s what sin is, wanting what we want, and not wanting what God’s wants.

Because we’re not really focussed on God, we end up trying to manipulate God to get what we want, and we become frustrated when God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want. Then we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. This can have terrible consequences.

Cain took matters into his own hands, this led to the murder of his brother, Abel. Cain was envious of Abel because God accepted Abel’s worship, and not his. Cain was so angry about his brother, he actually planned his murder. Cain had it all figured out – when and how to murder him, and how to get rid of the evidence. Perhaps Cain thought if he bumped off his brother, God would have no choice but to accept his half-hearted worship, and bless him with what he wanted.

The thing is, God won’t be manipulated. God won’t let himself be accountable to us. God is God, and we are accountable to him. He can see straight through us. Cain was a worker of the ground. He knew how to dig a hole and make a body disappear. He could con his parents into thinking Abel was alive and well, but not God. Cain relied on his expertise as a man of the land to cover up his sin. No one could ever tell what happen, except God. God saw straight through it. By burying his brother’s body, he thought that would cover his sin. Instead, the act actually convicted him. And the question was never about how well Cain could cover his sin. It was a question of the state of his heart. When God questions Cain about where Abel was, a very cold and hard heart is revealed. Cain couldn’t have cared less about Abel. All he could care about was himself, and what he wanted. Cain’s worship was half-hearted from the beginning, and that’s why God didn’t accept his worship.

What about our worship? Is our worship whole-hearted like Abel? Is our focus on God? Are we thankful for everything God has given us? Or has something else got our attention, so we end up trying to manipulate God like Cain to get what we really want. Because the thing is, God has given us so much more than what he gave Abel. God has given us Jesus so we could have a personal relationship with him. Jesus worshipped God the way God deserves. Jesus didn’t just give his best to God. He gave everything to God. Even his life. And Jesus did it with us in mind. Jesus worshipped God for us, and God accepted his worship. That’s how we can have a personal relationship with God now. That personal relationship needs to be reflected in how we worship God. Our worship of God doesn’t just involve praising God and praying to him. It involves our whole life – how we treat people, and what we do. It’s worth asking the question, “How does your personal relationship with God affect what you do?” This is your worship as well!

Worship is not about earning brownie points with God, to manipulate him and get what we want. We can’t be half-hearted about it, wanting something else as well. Neither is worship about us, and what we want. Worship is a whole-hearted response to what God has given us. Especially as Christians who know that God has also given us Jesus. Worship is recognising God’s character – that God is a God who loves us and has blessed us. He has already provided what we need. Finally, worship is made possible by Jesus. Jesus alone has worshipped God as he deserves. True worship begins when we put our faith and trust in Jesus.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012


June 1, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Genesis | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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