The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Times of Change (Christmas Message)

Isaiah 40:1-5

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
“In the desert prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the
Lord has spoken.”

Times of Change

We’ve all had one of those times when nothing is going right. It’s just one piece of bad news after another. After a while it just gets so depressing, and you wonder if things will ever change. I have times like this. I have them frequently. In fact, they’re almost the norm. But then something good happens, or you get some encouraging news, and it changes your whole perspective. You begin to think that things aren’t as bad as they seem.

This is what we have in Isaiah 40. It’s a silver lining in a cloud of bad news.

Let me tell you about Isaiah. Isaiah was one fellow that you would not want at your Christmas party, or anywhere else for that matter. Isaiah was full of doom and gloom, and was utterly depressing to listen to. He reckoned that God’s people had been unfaithful to God, and because of it, they were about to get it in the neck. What made it worse was, he was right! But every so often he’d come out with some good news, some encouraging news.

Another thing that’s remarkable about Isaiah is, he was around long before Jesus was even born. In fact, around 700 years before Jesus. So he wouldn’t have been going to any Christmas parties anyway! But what’s remarkable was the things that Isaiah said and looked forward to was fulfilled by Jesus. Isaiah was talking about Jesus! So it’s helpful for us to see what he said.

As I said before, Isaiah saw that God’s people were going to get it in the neck for being unfaithful. But this judgment, this punishment would not last forever. Isaiah also saw the time coming when the end of the judgment and punishment would come. A time when God will forgive his people, and they will no longer fear God’s judgment. Not because they have done their time as it were for being unfaithful. Not because they’ve managed to get their act together, and keep God’s law perfectly. But because Isaiah saw a time when God would be made known to everyone. God will actually be amongst his people.

Now, as you might imagine, this has consequences. Isaiah saw this too, as he said, “… make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” (Isaiah 40:3-4) Isaiah isn’t talking about building a freeway so people can drive their cars at high speed. Isaiah is talking about change. A monumental upheaval. God is coming, and life as we know it must change. This will be a new period in history. The old order has gone, and the new order has come.

All this can be said about Jesus.  When we read through the life of Jesus and what he did, one of the things to pick up on is how incredibly disruptive Jesus is. He just doesn’t fit in anywhere. He doesn’t do what people expect him to do. This is because Jesus brings about this change that Isaiah talks about. Jesus changes the way we relate to God. Because of Jesus’ work, namely in his death and resurrection, we can relate to God as forgiven people, no longer fearing God’s punishment. That’s why Jesus was born in the first place! And in turn that should effect the way we relate to each other as we look to serve one another, and not take advantage of each other.

Jesus birth and work truly has brought about change. Yet more of the same sorts of changes will take place as God finally comes to be with his people forever.

In 1999, people looked to the new century with great hope, expecting that the new century will be better that the old century. Well, we’re 10 years into the new century, and it’s starting to look a whole lot like the old century.

And being December, part of out excitement comes from the prospect of a new year with new opportunity. But I suspect we’ll get to February, and start thinking the new year isn’t all that different from the old year. It can seem that things will never change for the better.

But they have. The changes we want, the changes we need are found in Jesus, and only Jesus. And it begins with our relationship with God. This is the silver lining in a cloud of bad news that Isaiah was talking about. Jesus is the silver lining in the cloud of our struggles today. And it is this silver lining that ought to change our perspective of our struggles, when we’re having one of those times. It wont be easy. But it wont be impossible either. Let us thank God this Christmas for the silver lining we have in Jesus, going into the new year with the perspective of being forgiven people.

© The Student’s Desk, 2009

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December 23, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Religious | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – December 2009

I am very glad to get to the end of another year, and for once my final exams could not come quick enough. And I truly am amazed and what I’ve managed to cram into my head! I just hope it all doesn’t fall back out over summer. I’ll need it for next year.

This past semester I studied Homiletics (or preaching), and the second half of the Greek course. Greek was particularly challenging as the pace was really ramped up. It seemed we had to learn three times as much material compared to the first semester. Most of it was variants of what we had already learned (supposedly!). At least I had my study methods worked out, and I was able to get to work on it straight away.

Homiletics was a very interesting and exciting subject to study. Though I must admit, I was expecting a semester of being told how to suck eggs! I thought, “I know how to preach. I’ve been preaching for years!” About the third week into the semester I realised, I didn’t have a clue when it came to preaching! I had always struggled to make my talks relevant to the people listening. But the method we learned of witting a talk helped me a great deal to make my talks relevant, and I put it into practice straight away with my talks at the Allambie Heights Spastic Centre. Part of the assessment involved preaching three sermons. I was very interested to see where this would end up given my communication difficulties. Nonetheless, my sermons were very well received, encouraging comments were made, and my results were much better then expected.

Another important discovery was mind mapping software. This allows me to jot down ideas and link them to other ideas. This way I can quickly put all my thoughts down on a given subject and the write the essay or talk once all my thoughts are clearly laid out. I have found it very helpful for writing talks, and should be even more helpful in writing lengthy essays.

Life Beyond the Theology Books

Church services at the Allambie Heights Spastic Centre are still going on strong. Some people have left, others have come, and I still get around 10 people coming along. We have continued looking at the miracles of Jesus, and I, personally, have been enthralled by the biblical presentation of Jesus in contrast to the popular sensationalist ideas that tend to float about our modern society. Jesus just did not fit in to his own time and culture, and was really quite controversial. The reason for this was he was bringing in the Kingdom of God with values that were very different to the culture of his day, and even our culture. I hope some of my excitement has rubbed off on the people there as we’ve talked about the miracles of Jesus.

One thing I am growing more aware of is I’m not only ministering to people with disabilities, I’m also ministering to people who are aging. So it is sad to see people who I once communicated with fluently, now struggling to hear or comprehend anything that is said. Still, it’s always encouraging to see the come along. We recently had our Christmas service, which was again enjoyed by all who came. I also am very grateful to those who help me put the service together. The job seems to get bigger each year, and having the right people on the day makes a big difference.

Well, now that I’ve done 1 year of Greek, what else does one do other than another year of Greek? Seriously! Next year I’ll be doing Intermediate Greek which looks at how the language is actually used, along with canonical issues (that is, why we have the books in the Bible that we have); and Romans which will be looking at what the book is all about, except I’ll be doing it, you guest it, in Greek! I’ve already been introduced to one of the debates that goes on which has left me confused, so I should be in for a fun year! So to prevent all my Greek from falling out of my head before then, I’ve decided to start translation Romans over the Christmas break.

The really good part is I’m getting closer to the end of my degree. From what I can work out, I’ve only got a few years to go, which in my time frame isn’t that long. That’s if I study the Hebrew language as well, which I’m still very keen to do.

There is still no clear direction on what I’ll be doing after my studies, so now is the time to start thinking seriously about this, and praying for opportunities so I can get the right training now when it’s available.

December 17, 2009 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | Leave a comment

Remaining Faithful in Times of Trouble

The Student’s Desk Devotion

Psalm 40:1-5

I waited patiently for the Lord;

he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear

and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man

who makes the Lord his trust,

who does not look to the proud,

to those who turn aside to false gods.

Many, O Lord my God,

are the wonders you have done.

The things you planned for us

no one can recount to you;

were I to speak and tell of them,

they would be too many to declare.

Prayer

Lord, what are mercy to know in the mist of hard times, stressful times, that all we need do is wait patiently on you, to lift us from out struggles, and provide a firm place for us to stand. Not for our sake, but for your sake. Lord, since it is for your sake, help us to turn away from the ways who do not know you. Instead, may we have every confidence in Jesus, and remain faithful in the midst of our hard times.

In his name we pray, amen.


Mark 4:35-41

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Remaining Faithful in Times of Trouble…

As Christians, we all get the idea that we shouldn’t be selfish. We should be on the look out for others and putting them first. And it’s easy to be charitable when things are going well and our needs and desires are being met.

But what happens when things aren’t going so well. What happens when there are things going on in our lives that are completely out of control? When even our very lives are under threat, either from sickness, or someone else’s stupidity? All of a sudden, it becomes very hard to be charitable, to be giving.

The disciples found themselves in such a situation. A situation that I can kind of relate too. Last summer, I took up sailing. I loved it. There’s something special about being pushed along by the wind, gliding along the water’s surface.

But it hasn’t always been plain sailing. One time, the wind was getting up to gale force, the waves were crashing over my boat, and I don’t mind saying I was really scared! I don’t know much about boats, and I know even less about the water. But I knew that if I kept a level head, and kept doing what I had been taught, I’d be OK. The situation was still in my control – if only just!

Not so with the disciples in this story. Not all, but a number of them were fishermen. They knew boats. They knew the water. They were expects in their field. They were the best kind of people to have on a boat. But the wind they encountered that night caused these experienced fishermen to loose the plot. The situation was completely out of control, and they panicked! This was a big wind, beyond the experience of these men.

Now, the disciples heard Jesus’ talk about the Kingdom of God that day. But this wind was so big, all that teaching was blown straight out the disciple’s heads! All they could think about was saving their own sorry little butts! Never mind the other boats that were with them. They could all drown for what they cared!

In the midst of this storm, the disciples failed to notice who Jesus is. Did they really think they were going down in a boating accident with the world’s saviour? I mean, get with the program, boys! Then they tried making demands on Jesus by saying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” The Bible doesn’t say what the disciples expect Jesus to do, but perhaps they were thinking that the least Jesus could do was grab a bucket and bail water! He most certainly shouldn’t be sleeping!

The thing is, we can laugh at the disciples, but don’t do the same. When we get into strife, don’t we start making demands on Jesus, and forget the demands Jesus makes on us? Don’t we start thinking more about our own kingdom, and less about God’s kingdom? Don’t we expect Jesus to grab a bucket and start bailing, and loose sight of who we are in relationship with?

Well Jesus gave his disciples a very vivid reminder of who they were dealing with.

As I said before, when I was out on the water in that wind, I was scared. But do you know what would’ve scared me even more? If the wind and the waves suddenly stopped. And it was dead calm. And I just heard someone on my boat say, “Stop. Be still.” Who or what do I have on my boat!?

Clearly, this person the disciples had with them in the boat is God himself. Isn’t interesting that the disciples took no notice of who Jesus is. But the wind did. Whoa! Who else can control the wind like that? No-one!

And Jesus’ actions don’t merely meet the immediate needs of his disciples. Remember the other boats the disciples couldn’t care about? They would’ve been impact by Jesus’ actions too, as the water became calm.

See, when Jesus works in our lives, it’s not just us who are impacted, but it’s the people around us as well. Especially in the midst of a crisis.

Is it any wonder Jesus rebuked his disciples saying, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”. How dare they accuse him of not caring? How dare they make demands on him? How dare they not take any notice of who he is? These are all the hallmarks of having no faith.

Faith is recognizing who Jesus is. Doing what Jesus commands. And trusting in Jesus’ love and care. And this is no more evident to others than when we have to deal with issue beyond our control.

In life, we will experience times of great stress, and things will be beyond out control. During such times, we’ll be tempted to be selfish. To only see things from our perspective, and get our demands met.

But times of stress are also a call to faith. A call to remember the promises of God. That God has promised us redemption, to take us out of this world of struggle back to himself. And we know God will come good on his promise, because the way he has done this is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Since we’ve been redeemed, we should not give in to the temptation of becoming selfish, but to continue to seek after God’s kingdom, to seek to keep God’s standards. Not just because we should, but because such times present an opportunity for us to grow ever more deeply in our relationship with God.

These times also present an opportunity for others to see our faith, both for the believer and unbeliever. For the believer, it will be a time to be encouraged in their faith. For the unbeliever, it will be a time to be convicted of their sin, and be encouraged to turn to God.

Jesus has redeemed us from being selfish. So in times of stress, let’s not give in to the temptation to become selfish, but to answer the call of faith, trusting Jesus, and seeking his kingdom.

© The Student’s Desk, 2009

December 3, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Miracles of Jesus | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments