The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

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

Jesus, our Advocate (Easter 2012)

Luke 24:36-53

I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve had a disagreement or an argument with someone that’s seriously affected our relationship with the other person. We’ve either lost our temper or offended them in some way, and we feel as though we’ve burned our bridges with that person. There’s nothing we can do ourselves to mend the broken relationship. In such cases, we need an advocate. Someone who can represent us and our cause to the other person in the hope of undoing what we’ve done to offend them, and mending the broken relationship.

When it comes to God, we have all done things to offend God – whether deliberately, or accidentally. This is what the Bible calls sin. This has seriously affected our relationship with God, and all of us have burned our bridges with God. There is nothing any of us can do ourselves to mend that broken relationship with God. We need an advocate. We need some who can represent us before God. We need someone who can undo the sin we’ve done to cause God offence. We need someone who can mend our broken relationship with God.

But our advocate can’t be just anyone. I can’t represent you before God. I’m a sinner as well! I’ve caused God offence also, and need an advocate myself! Our advocate needs to be someone who has never sinned. Someone who can meet God on his terms. Someone who pleases God. There’s only been one person to match this description – Jesus. The whole point of Jesus’ life was to represent us before God, undo the sin that we have done to offend God, and mend our relationship with God. Jesus came to be our advocate.

But how can we be sure? How can we know Jesus was able to do all this? Any crackpot can stand up and say they are our advocate before God, and be mistaken. We can be sure that Jesus is our advocate before God because of the resurrection. When Jesus died, he was properly, properly dead. Crucifixion was designed only to have one outcome – death. People who were crucified did not survive, it’s that simple. After this, Jesus’ body was wrapped up, and placed in a tomb for three days. Any prospect of Jesus coming back to life was the furthest thing from the disciple’s minds, as we can see from the part of the Bible we read.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, they were frightened. This was a completely unexpected event, and their minds went in search of other explanations. Perhaps they were seeing a ghost! But Jesus had a body like we have a body. The disciples could actually reach out and touch him. Ghosts don’t have a body like ours, so maybe this really was the same Jesus. But they still weren’t to sure. They really didn’t expect Jesus to come back from the dead, and it just seemed too good to be true! So Jesus ate a piece of roasted fish. Now, think about it. If a ghost were to eat a piece of fish, what would happen? The piece of fish would drop to the ground, right? But that didn’t happen with Jesus. It was the same Jesus with the same body eating a piece of fish as he had probably done countless times before. Jesus had indeed come back from the dead.

So, how do we make sense of all this? Why did Jesus come back from the dead? In a sense they should have known, because it was talked about all through the Old Testament. But, the thing is, we can’t understand the Bible without God’s help. When Jesus opened their eyes to help them understand the Bible, he was able to explain to his disciples that he came back from the dead so that people would be able to repent and have their sins forgiven. In other words, Jesus came back from the dead to be our advocate. To represent us before God, to undo the sin we’ve done that offends God, and to mend our broken relationship with God.

We know that because of Jesus, we can repent and have our sins forgiven because Jesus was carried up into heaven – body and all. This shows that God accepted what Jesus did on our behalf. That Jesus’ death was sufficient to pay for our sins, and Jesus is the one who can be our advocate before God. Jesus is the one who can represent us before God, undo the sin we’ve done that offends God, and mend our broken relationship with God.

We can be certain that Jesus did come back from the dead because he had a real body. We no longer have a problem in our relationship with God because Jesus’ resurrection allows for repentance, and forgiveness of our sins. In Jesus, we do have an advocate who has dealt with the problems between us and God, and the only right response is to worship him. Jesus has made the impossibility of us being God’s friend possible for all eternity.

Easter is a wonderful opportunity for us to remember how Jesus became our advocate before God, even though we had burned our bridges with God, and we who follow Jesus now have peace with God.

(C) The Student’s Desk, 2012

April 6, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Jesus Wants…

John 17

What Jesus wants…

What Jesus wants. It seems a straight-forward question to ask, “What does Jesus want?” The answers that might come to mind are, Jesus wants us to be good; be kind; pray; read the Bible; go to church. I put the question on the internet to see how others would answer. One said Jesus wants our life. Another said our money. Another said peace.

All of these are certainly part of what Jesus wants. But there’s something deeper than all of these. Something more important than anything else. Something that Jesus wants more than anything else. The problem is, we can become so busy, or become so focus on these things, we actually miss what Jesus really wants. We become focused on doing these things to get what we want as Christians – God’s blessing. So the Christian life becomes all about us, and what we’re doing to get into God’s good books. The fact of the matter is, we, as Christians, already have God’s blessing. We’re already in God’s good books because of Jesus. The Christian life is about Jesus, and what he is doing in us and through us. If that is true, we need to go back and ask, “What does Jesus really want?” To do this, we need to read the Bible, and understand what Jesus really wants. Once we understand that, we learn what it is to follow and obey Jesus.

In John 17, we have one of the last prayers of Jesus before he dies, and the longest prayer. There’s nothing like imminent death to prompt someone to sort out what they really want. Jesus reveals what he really wants in this prayer, and 3 things come out in Jesus’ prayer. Firstly, Jesus wants to be glorified (v5). Secondly, Jesus wants his followers to be one (v11). Thirdly, Jesus wants the world to know that he was sent to earth and did what he did by God. But, what’s really interesting is how Jesus’ wants are fulfilled. Jesus’ wants are fulfilled through his followers, and they are given what they need to fulfil Jesus’ wants. Jesus never leaves his followers to their own devices to do what he wants.

Firstly, Jesus wants to be glorified, and the other 2 wants feed into this. But what does it mean to glorify someone? It means to give recognition to someone for who they are and what they have done. It means to elevate them, to see them as being more important than other people and other things. Often when we glorify someone, we give them more recognition than they really deserve. But in the case of Jesus, he deserves all the recognition we give him, and a whole lot more! The reason is, God the Father has given Jesus authority over all things, to give eternal life (so people can go to heaven), and has done all the work God the Father gave him to do. What’s interesting is Jesus asks God the Father to give him the recognition through Jesus followers. It’s through us that God glorifies Jesus. Have you ever thought of that? That we are caught up in a heavenly act of worship of Jesus. How is this possible? By God keeping us. By guarding us, protecting us, watching over us. There are a million and one ways for us to be distracted from giving Jesus recognition in this world. But God is continually teaching us and providing for us so we can give Jesus the recognition he deserves.

Secondly, Jesus wants his followers to be one. It’s important that Jesus’ followers are one because Jesus is one with the Father. Jesus doesn’t do anything to oppose the Father, and the Father doesn’t oppose Jesus. They work as one, and are one. Now, looking around at the modern church, you’d might think Jesus’ followers are anything but! There’s a difference of opinion on every point of doctrine, and I’m another person with their own set of opinions. But we need to understand what Jesus meant for his followers to be one. Our oneness does not depend anything we do. Again, it’s about what God is doing through us. God is sanctifying us. What this means is we have been set aside for God’s purpose. We’re all here for God’s work. It’s not just the guys with theological degree and whatever else that are involved in God’s work. It’s all of us. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been set aside for God’s work. That is how we are one. We might have differences, and that’s fine. We are one for the work of God.

Thirdly, Jesus wants the world to know that God sent him, so they might believe in him. This would be done by his followers being one in being set aside for God’s work. Jesus’ followers are empowered for God’s work by sharing in Jesus’ glory. This means receiving God’s revelation. That God has revealed himself to us in Jesus. Do you realise that we can know God, personally; and we can tell other people about God. That we are in relationship with God the Father, and show people what God is like? Only Christians can do that! No one else. As I’ve already said, we have been set aside for God’s work, and this is also part of sharing in Jesus’ glory. Jesus desire for the world to know that God has sent him is met through us! And God gives us what we need to make that possible.

We need to recognise that the Christian life is not individualistic. It’s not something you keep private between you and God. It’s communal. It involves the people around us. What dos Jesus want? Jesus want to be glorified, in the way we relate to people, and treat them; in the way we speak – what we say, and how we say it; in the way we conduct ourselves – what we do and how we do. This is what Jesus wants. So the world will know he is sent by God.

(C) The Student’s Desk, 2012

March 10, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, John's Gospel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s work through disability – John 9

Yesterday I had the privileged opportunity to preach at St. Clements Anglican at Mosman. Preaching at all four services was a test of endurance. I was pretty wasted when I returned home at 11pm after being up at 5:30am. But the effort was worth while. God did amazing things as people were impacted by what was said.
To listen to the sermon, click here for the web page. I’ve provided a transcript below…
From John 9

As Australians, we can be obsessive about a number of things. One of those things is ability. We love to celebrate those who have ability. Doctors, academics, particularly sports people. Think of the amount of money sports people earn. It’s remarkable.

And so we should celebrate ability. We ought to thank God for the abilities that God gives people. But there is a dangerous flipside for people with disabilities. They are often perceived as not worth celebrating. To be minimised. Perhaps even to be avoided. They are also often perceived as not being able to work, or make a contribution. Such thinking can cause much difficulty and hurt for those with disabilities. But when we bring that thinking into the church, it causes even bigger problems. Such thinking affects the whole church community as it faces the very real prospect of missing out on God’s work – which is the touchstone of Ch. 9. What does it mean to be doing God’s work? and who can do God’s work?

In the time of Jesus, God’s work was clearly defined by the religious leaders, and it had severe implications for the disabled. If you were disabled there was a very simple explanation for it. You deserved it. You or your parents had done something to offend God, and God was punishing you with a disability. So you were perceived as rejected by God, and were ostracised by God’s people. Particularly if you were blind you were perceived as incapable of receiving God’s revelation. So you certainly could not do God’s work if you couldn’t receive God’s revelation. Hence we have the disciples’ question in v2 “Who sinned, that this man was born blind?”

Now, before we charge these religious leaders with disability discrimination, we need to understand that these beliefs developed out of a desire for holiness. These were devout honest, men who wanted to remain pure; who wanted to live up to God’s standards in keeping the law. Especially when it came to the Sabbath. For these men, the work of God meant separation from those who they considered condemned by God – erecting barriers between themselves and undesirables.

We may not go to the same religious extremities that the leaders of Jesus’ day. But our response to disability can be just as questionable. Disability can make us feel uncomfortable, and some can find disability very confronting. One reason for this is disability may remind us of our own brokenness. Once reminded, our self perception and self worth are threatened because in our culture, they are so closely tied to what we can do.

I turn 37 this week. For most of my life I’ve been trying to prove to myself and everyone else that I am not disabled. For some reason it hasn’t quite worked. I did this through cycling – I would ride anything up to 250km/week. I’ve learned to drive a car, sail a boat, and cook. I’ve travelled and camped on my own. I’ve done what most sensible able-bodied people wouldn’t do! Mostly because it was fun. But partly because I wanted to disassociate myself from disability, and show I’m just as important, just as valuable as anyone else. For the record, all that effort has failed. My importance and value has nothing to do with what I can do.

Or, another reason may be that we think we need to hide our brokenness to provide a good witness. That for God and his gospel to have any credibility, we need to appear as though God has solved all our problems. That our brokenness is mended. That as Christians, we have our life together, and we’re just cruising through life. Otherwise, if we are still struggling with brokenness, maybe there’s something wrong with our faith, or perhaps God isn’t the real deal. I know an elderly man who, when you ask him how is, he’ll answer “I’m fighting fit”. But probe a little deeper, and you’ll find he’s battling some serious health issues. For some reason, we are reluctant or even embarrassed to expose our brokenness, and can be desperate to hide it.

Often we do not have a place for disability in our Christian thinking. The result is it affects who we engage with and form relationships. We can easily find ourselves erecting barriers between us and who we regard as broken. The reality is, we’re all broken, no matter how much we try to hide it. None of us are self sufficient. All of us need God’s grace. All of us need the support of others. The main difference between many of you and myself is my brokenness is allot harder to hide. Yet, we still find ourselves erecting barriers.

Where the religious leaders and, to a lesser extent, us today see disability as a barrier to doing the work of God, Jesus does not. In response to his disciple’s question, in v3 Jesus says, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus takes this whole understanding of disability, and turns it on its head. Rather than the person being rejected and condemned by God, Jesus understands that this person is at the forefront of God’s work.

The whole aim of Jesus ministry was reconciliation. Reconciling people to God, and to other people, in his name. It’s not a wishy washy reconciliation where we get rid of anything that might cause conflict, so no one believes anything anymore. It’s reconciliation by Jesus. Ultimately, this was achieved in Jesus’ death and resurrection. But this was also being demonstrated in his earthly ministry.

This had implications for the disabled as it was through them along with other broken people that God’s grace would be demonstrated. This is why Jesus says in v4, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” Jesus time on earth was short, and in this blind man, he saw an opportunity to demonstrate God’s grace. This grace would be vividly demonstrated by removing what was thought to be a sign of God’s rejection of him – his blindness. The result was making this man a recipient of God’s revelation, enabling him to display God’s grace in his life, and to believe and testify to Jesus. In this Jesus was redefining the work of God. It was about tearing down barriers that stood between God and people, and between people themselves.

One of the biggest barriers at the time of Jesus was Sabbath. To be a person of God, you needed to observe the Sabbath tradition. But for Jesus, showing mercy and doing the work of reconciliation in his name is more important then tradition, or the way things are done. In this, Jesus changed what it means to do the work of God.

So how did people respond to this new way of doing God’s work? Well, just like people don’t like change now, they didn’t like then. In the text, we have 4 groups of people responding in 5 different ways to the news.

The first group is the neighbours in vv8-13. They haven’t a clue what’s going on. They can’t even decide if it’s the same man, and refer the whole matter to the religious experts. People today can have the same attitude toward disability – ‘it’s too hard, let someone else handle it’.

So it’s onto the second group in vv14-17, the Pharisees, the religious experts. When they hear the man’s testimony, they were divided as to whether this was God’s work. Some doubted pointing to the fact it was the Sabbath and concluded it was impossible for the man’s testimony to be God’s work. Others disregarded the issue of the Sabbath and simply considered what had happened and concluded the man was worth listening too. Yet these people felt the pressure of their peers and changed their view of the man. I’ve seen this before where people value the person with a disability, until someone with a louder opinion comes along, and people change their minds, or remain silent.

The third group are his parents in vv18-23. They readily admit the man is his son, and that he was born blind. But that’s as far as their support goes. They avoid the whole issue of the man’s testimony, otherwise they’ll run the risk of rejection. Instead of supporting their son, they’ll let him sort out his own problems. For his parents, they were more worried about what people might think if they became involved with their disabled son, and acknowledged the work of God that had occurred in his life.

So it was back to the Pharisees for a fourth response in vv24-29. They respond a second time by maintaining the Sabbath barrier. They hold fast to their own traditions, and conclude on one shred of evidence, as sure as this man is born blind, that Jesus is a sinner, and do not listen to the man. The stupidity of their conclusion is brought out by the blind man when in v30 he says, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” This is an emphatic statement. In other words, “You have labelled Jesus a sinner, and you don’t even know where he comes from!” They are rejecting the man’s testimony when they haven’t even done the basic checks! All because of their view of a person born blind.

Four different reactions, yet with one thing in common. Whether it was general confusion, peer pressure, fear of rejection, or maintaining tradition, all four groups were not able to receive God’s work because they refused to accept this man’s testimony due to his status in life and position in the community.

There is a fifth reaction I haven’t mentioned yet, that of the blind man in vv31-33 – receiving the work of God, and becoming part of the work of God. Against the Pharisees with their one shred of evidence, he begins to stack up the evidence for his healing being a work of God. Firstly, God listened to Jesus. Secondly, no one has opened the eyes of a man born blind before. Thirdly, if he Jesus wasn’t from God, he wouldn’t have been able to perform the miracle. The man knows that to understanding his healing as a work of God, he’ll face identity issues, he’s going against religious tradition, he faces the denial of his parents, he faces banishment from the religious community, and yet believes. In believing, this man was able to do the work of God, not by performing miracles, but by testifying that Jesus was sent from God.

You see, this man was able to do the work of God, not by what he could do, but by who he believed – Jesus. When Jesus caught up to him in vv35-38, Jesus revealed himself to the man as the Son of Man – the one who reveals God. In response he worshipped him.

Since involvement in God’s work does not depend on what we can do, we, in the church, can not afford to obsess over ability like those outside the church. If we do, we run a very real risk of erecting barriers between ourselves, and those who we consider less able, and miss out on the work of God in our midst displaying his reconciling grace.

We must recognise that the work of the gospel is reconciliation – reconciliation between God and people, and reconciliation between people. This means removing barriers where ever possible. This doesn’t come natural. Allot of the time it may not be easier. It may involve going against social norms and traditional concerns. It may involve spending more time and effort getting to know someone as it would somebody else. Certainly in my case, it takes more time and effort to listen. But by removing the barriers, we’ll soon discover that all followers of Jesus are involved in God’s work of reconciliation, regardless of ability or disability.

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Sermons | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Student’s Desk – January, 2012

What a crazy, crazy year 2011 has been! Usually I write twice a year. But in June, instead of writing The Student’s Desk, I was remodelling The Student’s Desk. And for half of December, I wasn’t even to be found in the country! More on these in a minute.

2011 began where 2010 finished – in Melbourne. I returned to Melbourne in January to do the second half of my block placement. This time, I was working much more closely with CBM (Christian Blind Mission) preparing training modules for their Luke14 program which looks to equip churches to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. By year’s end, I found myself becoming one of the volunteer regional co-ordinators for both Central Coast and Sydney. This means I’m part of a team that visits churches to run a training seminar, among other things. This also led to the opportunity in September to present a theological approach of relating to people with disabilities to couple hundred men at a ‘Men for Christ Ministries’ conference with Rob Nicholls from CBM.

In March I graduated with my theological degree, and was also awarded the ‘Koorong Prize’ for Excellence in Biblical Studies. This was unexpected, and I felt very honoured to receive this prize. It was a brilliant night for all, being reminded of the biblical truths we hold to. I was so glad to have many of my family and friends there to mark the occasion. I wasn’t so crazy about wearing a tie, though! As exciting as it as to graduate, it was a bit of an anti-climax to wake up the next morning to more essays as I continued working towards my Advance Diploma of Theology – required for ordination in the Presbyterian Church.

Studies in first semester included Grace and Eschatology, and John’s Gospel (in Greek, of course!). Eschatology led me to engage with the millennium debate, which discusses the circumstances of Christs return. I’m not sure if I fully understand the debate, and I’m not sure if many people do! What did astound me is no one has seemed to venture to explain how the millennium is functioning in the text (Revelation 20:2-7). I would’ve thought it was a fairly fundamental question, but apparently that’s the wrong question for a systematic theologian to ask (??). I hope to make some progress in answering this question myself before returning to college this year. Studying John’s Gospel gave an up-close and personal insight into the person of Jesus, and was again confronted by the significance of Jesus, and the fallen state of the world.

The mid-year break saw the remodelling The Student’s Desk, which was a much bigger project then I had imagined. You know how it is – you start working on one thing which leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to “I should never have started this!” Such was the remodelling. I had the idea of moving my studying out from the 2nd bedroom to the loungeroom for over 2 years, centred around a large, custom-built desk (which I had already drawn up plans). Then I had a brainwave (always a dangerous thing with me). With modern TVs having the ability to be used as a computer monitor, why not buy a big TV, hook up my computer, then get a table on wheels to place a wireless keyboard and mouse with enough room for 2 or 3 books? With the analogue TV signal being phased out, I would’ve been buying a new TV anyway. Well, that’s exactly what I did, along with buying some storage draws and cupboards, and it’s worked really well. Even though I had people assembling and moving furniture and cleaning the place up, it was still a big effort for me getting all the bits together, and moving books is not easy! I’m just glad the vast majority of them are on my computer.

This time also saw the addition of new technology – a Mac, of all things! After years of taking the micky out of them and those who own them, I bought a Macbook Air. What I’ve wanted was an “up-and-go” mobile computer. None of this turn it on and wait for something to happen. And wait, and wait, and wait! Hence why I previously bought an iPad, but found it too limited in what it could do. The Mac has surpassed all my expectations, allowing me to take it everywhere and to work anywhere on a full computer system that’s responsive and reliable. I’ve found myself a few times commuting to college on the train preparing a talk. I’m so impressed with the Mac, I’m now looking to replace my main computer with one, once Apple starts putting today’s technology in them, and not yesterday’s!

After 10 years, services at the Allambie Heights Cerebral Palsy Alliance (formerly NSW Spastic Centre) continue. Recently we’ve been slowly working our way through John 14-16, looking at what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I’ve found this very interesting and quite confronting, yet encouraging. What’s been noticed is Jesus makes some big demands on his followers, but he doesn’t leave them to their own devices. As Christians, we are given all we need to do Jesus’ bidding, and we mustn’t ever forget that grace! It’s also been encouraging to see new people come along and participate, if only for a short time.

In the latter half of the year, I also frequently found myself in a school surrounded by ten year 2 students, teaching the Bible. I wanted to learn how to relate to kids, and in the first half of the year returned to assisting with Scripture in a special education school. I was unable to continue in the second half of the year, and was reassigned to another class at a mainstream school, except, I wasn’t to be an assistant. I was to be the teacher! Oh boy! How on earth was this going to work?? The kids were attentive, and I did have an assistant to help with communication. The school was also very supportive of what I was doing. Again, technology came to the fore as I quickly learned how to use a smart board to present lessons.

In the second half of the year, I took another 2 subjects:  Pastoral Skills and Methods and Synoptic Gospels (again, in Greek). I found Pastoral Skills really helpful for ministering to people one-to-one, although I really didn’t like writing the essay on ‘divorce’, but understand why that topic was chosen. Synoptic Gospels really enforced the importance of reading the books of the Bible as literary units, and not isolate passages and interpreting them by ones own presuppositions, as significant as they may be!

I finished my lectures for the year, and from then on, life became really crazy! I thought I had 3 leisurely weeks to learn 6 chapters of Luke (in Greek) in preparation for my exam, and to pick up my fitness for my upcoming block placement in New Zealand. Our legal system had other ideas. I was summons to jury duty which reduced my study time to 1 week. Any thought of getting back on my bike went out the window as I crammed 5 out of 6 chapters into my head. Then it was a case of completing the exam one day, packing my bags for New Zealand the next day, board the plane the day after, and run around New Zealand non-stop for 3½ weeks. After all this, I popped out the other end with a High Distinction for Synoptic Gospels. Don’t ask. I’ve got no idea how that happened either. I’m just chalking it up to God’s providence! While I’m relieved to have completed the Greek side of my studies, I’m also disappointed it’s finished. As crazy as it may sound, I really enjoyed getting into the Greek text. I am very glad that I insisted on doing Greek, and am thankful to the college for their support.

New Zealand was a huge effort, but well worth it. I can’t imagine flying off to another country for the first time on your own is much fun for anyone, much less someone with a disability. But, this is what I did. I was still experiencing difficulty getting a field placement for my studies when this opportunity with Christian Ministries with Disabilities Trust in Auckland came up. I went back to my college and negotiated to do a 2nd block placement in lieu of a field placement. So the endeavour to become a Presbyterian minister became an international effort!

            New Zealand was a fantastic experience with friendly people who have a tremendous sense of humour. One person tried telling me I was from the ‘West Island’. I had to pay that one. There was plenty of opportunity for me to preach and teach, encouraging people one to one, and try my hand at other ways of presenting. It also gave me an opportunity to find out the inner workings of CMWDT, and start thinking about what might be possible in Australia, and the best way of maintaining Biblical standards. I really enjoyed my time in NZ, although there were some very difficult moments. So it was with a measure of sadness that I boarded the plane to come back home. The photo on the left is Lion Rock at Piha.

Looking to the year ahead, it’s shaping up to be a quiet one on the study front, but I’m anticipating this will be a very busy year. It is with immeasurable joy that I can say this will be my final year of study (at least for this course). I only have Hebrew to learn (how hard can that be?? I was also told Greek would be hard!), and my exit thesis to write. Beyond this, I am praying that opportunities will be opened up around the Central Coast and Sydney, and I’m already seeing some movement on the horizon. It will be very interesting to see how this year unfolds.

January 16, 2012 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | , , , | Leave a comment

A Theological Approach to Relating to People with Disabilities

This paper was presented at the “Men Meeting the Challenge Conference 2011” 3rd September, organised by “Men for Christ Ministries”.

 

The Bible does not have a simple category for people with disabilities. It does not address the issue of disabilities directly. However the Bible does recognize disadvantaged people groups. These included the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widowed. These were people that were at a social and economic disadvantage in the community of Israel. So it seems appropriate to also include disability among these disadvantaged groups; and by looking at how God approached the issue of disadvantaged people we can also see how He approaches the issue of disability.

 

In Leviticus 19:9-10 (23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21) the Bible speaks of these disadvantaged people and the provision that they were to enjoy. Scripture stipulated that food crops on the edge of fields, and any crops that were dropped or left behind in the process of harvesting, were to be left for disadvantaged groups. In this we recognize that being disadvantaged was not punishment from God. Nor were people who were disadvantaged to be treated like second classes citizens. They were recognized as members of the community. Note also, this provision was not a hand out. This provision did not allow these disadvantaged groups to sit around all day and do nothing. In order to eat, and provide for their family, they were to be involved with the on-goings of the surrounding community and they were to be responsible for their actions.

For our purposes of relating to people with disabilities, it is more then simply providing for immediate needs. There is a social dynamic that needs to be considered. That is, enabling the person to exercise their God-given abilities, as small as they may be, to become an active member within their community.

 

We see a similar approach in the ministry of Jesus. Through the gospels people are reconciled not only with God, but with other people. And how people are reconciled to other people reflects how they are reconciled to God. We see this in the way Jesus engages with people. In Matthew 20:29-34 we read how Jesus was going to Jericho when he met two blind men. And in this encounter we find Jesus asking the question ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ Now us modern, task orientated people, we read that and we might think, “Get with the program, Jesus!” It’s pretty obvious what these blind men want. They want their sights restored. So why doesn’t Jesus just heal them? Why does Jesus put the question when the answer is so obvious?

The answer to this is quite simple. This is possibly the first time in their lives that these two men have been treated like human beings. The culture tells a lot about the attitudes towards people with disabilities at the time. We know that from a well of information that such people were considered to be a blemish on the fabric of the holy society and it’s little wonder that the crowd told them to “shut up”. It was an embarrassing thing for a great teacher to be pestered by two blind men. Being pestered by two men who obviously been rejected by God because of their blindness!

So I want you to notice the gravity of what is happening here. It could be the first time that someone is placing themselves at the disposal of these two blind men. And it’s not just anyone who involves themselves to these two men. Matthew describes Jesus as the One who is faithful to God. So the one who is faithful to God is making himself available to people who are perceived as not faithful to God. For Jesus, it wasn’t simply a matter of enabling these two blind men to see, but to engage with them personally. And this was a restoration of their humanity as well.

 

Again we find the same thing happening in Luke 8:40-48 where we have a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. Now this is a woman of no status in the community. And she had no right to be in a place where she could access Jesus and touch him. All this woman wanted to do was get in, get healed, and get back out undetected. But Jesus concern goes beyond this woman’s physical needs. We find Jesus asking what seems like another ridiculous question, ‘Who was it that touched me?’ Now, if I was in the crowd and I heard that, I would have been rolling on the ground laughing! It is just a ridiculous thing to ask. There were people pushing and shoving Jesus in every direction. The scene of one of chaos, and out of all this chaos Jesus wants to know who touched him? It’s a ridiculous question. So why does Jesus ask the question? Again it’s about this personal interaction. It wasn’t enough for this woman to be healed of her bleeding. She needed her humanity restored. Someone unfit to be called a daughter of Israel, Jesus calls His daughter. She is restored into a relationship with Jesus. She becomes a daughter of The King! It’s more than having needs met.

 

Again in John 5 we find Jesus encountering yet another person with a disability. And again Jesus asked the man a pretty obvious question, “Do you want to be healed?’. But the question asked brings something out of the man’s character. That he doesn’t only need healing on the outside. He actually needs healing on the inside, and this is Jesus’ real concern.  Jesus heals the man and he is well. But what he says towards the end of this account is interesting. Jesus says to him, “Sin no more that nothing worse may happened to you.” What’s he  talking about? Is he talking about sinless perfection on earth? No he is talking about entering a right relationship with Him. You see, right through the account this man has been denying Jesus. His body might be healed. His physical needs may be met, and he is walking. But he is not right with God. Jesus is concerned with seeing him right with God. And when he says ‘so nothing worse may happen to you’ Jesus is not talking about a disability. He is talking about Hell. Jesus ultimate concern for this man is that he becomes right with God. It’s more than physical. It is more than having immediate needs met. It’s relational.

 

I’ve only picked out a few examples of how Jesus interacts with disadvantage people. If we read the gospels, we find again and again, it’s more than physical, and it’s more than immediate needs. It’s personal, and it’s eternal. If we are going to minister the gospel to people with disabilities, it needs not only to be physical. It also needs to be personal, and it needs to be eternal.

 

Well, how does this work in the church? In 1 Corinthians 12:22 Paul writes this, ‘On the contrary the parts from the body that seem weaker are indispensable and those parts of the body that we think are less honorable we bestowed greater honour. Our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty”. What does that mean? It is difficult to understand this verse in English mainly because it is difficult to understand this verse in the original Greek. And different commentators have different ideas of what Paul is on about, and I’m not entirely convinced. What I am convinced of is Paul’s vision for the church at Corinth was for each of the member of the church to serve other members so they can serve. The background that Paul was writing to was one where people were showing off so they can better themselves against other people. To this Paul says ‘no!’ Instead of showing off, use your abilities to help someone else use their abilities.

So I take it in the modern context, if someone is unable to contribute to the church, I do what it takes so they can contribute to the church. This may take more time, more effort, and even more resource. This can go against our task orientated culture but we need to stop and ask what are we trying to do? Are we trying to run programs? Or are we trying to build relationships? It may not be the quickest way of doing something. It might not be the most expedient way. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are building those relationships and we are building people up, presenting them mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).

 

By way of conclusion, I hope we can see that: firstly the relationships that we have with people with disabilities needs to be based on the relationship that God has with us – a relationship of reconciliation. And secondly I hope we can see that relating to people with disabilities is much, much more than just providing a service. It is about building relationships, serving people in the context of a relationship. Not a relationship in the context of their needs.

 

© The Student’s Desk, September 2011

September 2, 2011 Posted by | Bible, Biblical Theology, Essays, Religious, Talks | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – December, 2010

Each time I’ve sat down to write one of these, there’s been something significantly different about the previous semester. The later half of 2010 has been in keeping with that trend. This time, my training for the ministry landed me in Melbourne. Which is why this edition of The Student’s Desk is a little late. But more of that in a minute.

            I only did one subject this semester – Other New Testament Writings in Greek. It was the only subject available to me. While that may seem like a light workload, it wasn’t. I still had to only learn 8 chapters of Greek like last semester. But unlike like last semester, the 8 chapters were spread over two books. So that was two lots of themes, two lots of literary styles, and two lots of arguments. And when one of those books is Hebrews – yah. You should be getting the picture by now. Understanding Hebrews in English is hard. Understanding Hebrews in Greek is fine – so long as you have nothing else to do! I once joked by saying I looked at the first verse in Hebrews in Greek and about the only word I could recognise was kai. Basically, kai is one of the most frequently used words in the New Testament, and means ‘and’. If you can’t recognise kai by this stage of Greek, you shouldn’t be doing Greek! The other book was 1 Corinthians which was a piece of cake compared to Hebrews. I only had to learn half the vocab as I did for Hebrews, and the sentences actually made sense – which is always a bonus! At least I was able to get on top of my vocab by streamlining the production of my vocab cards, which meant drawing on some computer skills from last century – seriously! I made a list of the words that I didn’t know in a spreadsheet along with a definition, the occurrence, and parse. I then imported that information into a word processor to produce vocab cards, which I could then view on my computer or mobile phone. Every time I came across a word I didn’t know while translating, it went into the spreadsheet. It was quite quick to do, and got the vocab into my head – at least long enough to get through the exam! I still make a practice of it when I translate the Greek for my own preaching and teaching.

I’m continuing on with church services at Allambie Heights Spastic Centre, which really has been a privilege. I took them through Jonah this semester before returning to the miracles of Jesus. I struggle with providing teaching from a variety places within Scripture as the people there find it much easier to understand the gospels. But I consider it important to teach from all areas of the Bible. Next year, I intend to go through book of Judges, emphasising the theme of ‘God’s unlikely servants’, drawing out the idea that God can also use people who are different from most to bring about his purposes.

Well, just how does a candidate for the Presbyterian Church of NSW end up doing a training placement in Melbourne? It starts with prayer. Several times over a number of years a suitable training placement has been sought for me, all to no avail. Last time I wrote, I mentioned I had an opportunity, and I asked for prayer that it would lead to other opportunities. It did! The opportunity I had was to be involved in a 1 week intensive subject in July raising the awareness of disability in churches. Here, I met Lindsey Gale who heads CBM’s (Christian Blind Mission) Luke14 disability inclusion program, and asked about the possibility of doing a training block placement with CBM. Lindsey also attends Donvale Presbyterian Church, and discussions began about the possibility of a combined placement. By September, I was on a plane to Melbourne to finalise those discussions, and by the end of November, I was packing the Hotel Royal (my truck) to drive to Melbourne for the training placement.

            And what an opportunity it has been! Donvale was keen to have me teach their people all I could about disability, and I was greatly support in this. I learned so much about pastoral care, and the work of CBM, and am keen to learn more about CBM. I was also given the opportunity to preach at their night service, and my sermon was very will received. I now have a very clear vision of what my future ministry will look like. I still have no idea what I’ll be doing, or for that matter where. But I know how which is helpful for me, and those who’ll be working with me.

            Normally, the placement is done as a 4 week block, but I’ve been allowed to divide it into two 2 week blocks. So mid-January I’ll be doing the run to Melbourne again. I’m looking forward to much of the same as last time, and will also be discussing future possibilities of ministry. All these opportunities couldn’t be more timely – praise God!

Why are these opportunities timely? Perhaps it’s because of the highlight of the year – finishing my degree! On the 9th of March next year I graduate with my Bachelor of Theology. But don’t get too excited, this is not the end of my studies. To fulfil the requirements of my candidature, I need a second award. This is an Advanced Diploma of Theology. I can now say with unswerving confidence that this will take no more than two years to complete.

So what does one do after two years of Greek? Well, they do another year of Greek, of course! Next semester I’ll be doing John’s gospel, and being “fisherman’s Greek” I’m expecting a much easier time of it than Hebrews with it’s “scholar’s Greek”. Although, who knows what the examiners will pull from their bag of tricks just to make it more interesting. I’ll also be doing Grace and Eschatology and I’m looking forward to deepening my knowledge of grace.

 

We’re nearly there folks, we’re nearly there! One challenge almost done, another one rapidly coming – a ministry placement. Thanks for your prayers and support.

December 26, 2010 Posted by | Newsletters | Leave a comment

God’s pick for a nation’s leader

1 Samuel 16:1–13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.

The heart of the matter

If you were to pick a leader of a nation, who would you pick? It’s a timely question to ask since we’re about to have a Federal election. But I’m not about to tell you who to vote for, mainly because I’d like to see a friend’s cat become Prime Minister. I figure a cat couldn’t possibly do any worse! But it’s an interesting question to ask and think about from the Bible. What kind of characteristics would you want in a leader? Would you ever consider yourself representing someone else? What kind of a person would God want to represent him?

Well, long ago, around 1,000 years before Jesus was born, God’s people wanted a king who would fight battles and keep there country safe from their enemies. This created some problems, because God was their king, and he had kept them safe from enemies. But this wasn’t good enough for the people. They wanted a human king they could see and touch. God thought, “Fair enough! A king they want, then a king they’ll get.” So they got their first human king – Saul.

Things went well to start with. Saul was popular, tall, strong and handsome. The kind of person that would drive women crazy. He knew how to win battles as well, which was just as well. He bailed a few people out of trouble – even the ones who least deserved it.

But Saul turned out to be a bit of a basket case. It wasn’t long before all that kingly power rushed to his head, and he became too big for his own boots. Saul thought that he knew better then God, and no longer obeyed God like he use to. Samuel, who was God’s prophet, or spokesmen, caught Saul disobeying God red-handed. God didn’t want someone like that representing him! So Samuel told him, “On ya horse! God doesn’t want you to be king any more!”

Now this may seem a bit weird, but Samuel was very upset that God had rejected Saul. People had big hopes for Saul. They had hoped that through Saul they would become the nation that God intended them to be. Now their hopes were dashed, and Samuel was mourning over Saul and the great disappointment that he was.

God told Samuel to get over Saul, and go to a town called Bethlehem. Now this was a long time before Jesus was born, so Samuel wasn’t going to see Jesus, but he was looking for another King who was in fact Jesus’ great ancestor. Samuel didn’t know who he was looking for. All he knew was he was looking for a man named Jesse, because it was one of Jesse’s sons that God had chosen to be king. The question was, which one? There was 8 of them!

Samuel saw Jesse’s first son and thought, “That’s gotta be him!” He was the firstborn and so he was first to everything, and he certainly looked to fit the bill. Perhaps very similar to the first king. A leading candidate for the new king. It just made sense! But God said, “Nah, forget it! I’m not worried about what he looks like, or how popular he is, or what he can do. I’m only interested in what’s going on in his heart!” So Samuel looked at the second son. God wasn’t interested. Samuel looked at the third son. But no, God wasn’t interested. It would’ve made sense that any of these sons would be chosen as they were militant men (17:13). They knew how to lead an army, and protect their country. But none of them were chosen. And the same was said for the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh son. God wasn’t interested.

Samuel was left scratching his head. He was sure God told him the new king was one of Jesse’s sons, but none of the sons Samuel saw was chosen. So Samuel turns to Jesse and says, “Are these all your sons? Is everyone here?” Jesse replies, “Well, there is one more, David. He’s down the back paddock minding the sheep. But you don’t mean him, do you?” See, David was the youngest son, which meant he was last in line for everything. He was such an unlikely candidate. He was young and inexperienced. He was a leader of sheep for goodness sake! How could he be the leader of an army?? What would he know about politics? or running a country? Now Samuel was making a sacrifice, which is kind of like a BBQ with God. People would get together, invite others, and a good hearty meal. At this sacrifice, Samuel was to pick out the new king. Jesse was so sure that David wasn’t in the running for the Kingship, David wasn’t even invited. Samuel tells Jesse to go get David. And the sacrifice is now put on hold for the one who wasn’t invited. And guess who the new king was to be? David! He looked nothing like king material, but God said to Samuel, “That’s him. Make David king”. And it didn’t matter what David looked like, or what he could or couldn’t do, because he was empowered by God’s spirit. David was God’s choice to represent him despite what he could or couldn’t do, or what he looked like.

You know, in many ways, David’s great descendant was the same. Of course, I’m talking about Jesus. Jesus was born in a shed, not a fancy palace. He grew up in a rough neighbourhood. He wasn’t recognised by authorities as a teacher. Jesus wasn’t a political leader. And according to one prophet, Jesus wasn’t much to look at either (Isaiah 53:2). Yet, it was Jesus that God sent to represent himself, and to be king over his people. Jesus didn’t do this on his own. Jesus was also empowered by God’s spirit. Not to guard God’s people from their enemies, but to guard them from God’s wrath at the final judgement. Jesus can do this because he is one with God. Jesus is God! So Jesus represents God perfectly.

But did you know God still has representatives today? God has hundreds of them. Thousands of them! Do you know who some of them are? It’s us! God has chosen us to represent him, to show other people what he is like, and to tell others who God is. WHOA! But you might think, “Now hang on a minute. I can’t do a whole lot. I can’t even get out of bed without someone helping me!” You know what? That doesn’t matter. Because God is the one in control, and he empowers us by his Holy Spirit to show others who he is in ways we may never know.

When it comes to people representing God, God isn’t worried about what people can or can’t do, or what they look like. What God is worried about is whether they have a heart for him. Do you have a heart for God?  Do you treasure what God treasures? Do you want others to know what God is like? This is what it means to represent God.

(C) The Student’s Desk, 2010

July 25, 2010 Posted by | Devotionals, King David | , , | 1 Comment