The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Sermon on the Mount: Living life upside-down – What can we expect?

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 36:5-9

Lord, you are the source of all life. You made all things, and give what each one needs day in and day out. So often Lord we forget this, and take everything for granted. As we reflect on how you want us to live, may we be always mindful of your all-sustaining love for us, and live in such a way people can see your light and love in us, and in turn will want to praise you.

Living life upside-down – What can we expect?

Read Matthew 5:11-16

Last time I spoke about living life upside-down, and I was saying that the lucky people in life are really the people who appear unlucky by worldly standards. The reason for this is these people are more likely to look beyond themselves and the world and have their focus on God. Those who appear lucky by worldly standards will have their focus on themselves, what they can do, and not give a thought about God.

Now, if we’re living life upside down, the way God wants us to live what can we expect? How will people respond to us? Jesus says we will be persecuted and put down for our faith in him. Now why would that be? Because people don’t want too know about Jesus. Because the way we live might challenge the way they live? This persecution can come in big ways or small ways. In some countries today, people are sent to prison because of their faith in Jesus – imagine that! That’s pretty big! For us, it might mean getting the cold shoulder every so often. Either way, no matter how big or small, being persecuted isn’t all that nice. We tend to avoid it when we can, and when we can’t, we whinge about it. But Jesus says we are to rejoice when we’re persecuted when it happens in his name. The reason for this is those who are persecuted have grown to such a point in there faith it’s obvious to everyone that they belong to Jesus.

So, if we’re to live life upside, down, the way God wants, and we’re being persecuted for it, what’s the point? What good is it going to do? Particularly what good can we do? Jesus says the point is to let people know we belong to God so they will also praise him, and it doesn’t take much for people to find out. To illustrate the point, Jesus talks about salt and light. Now who has ever put salt on their food? How much salt do you need to make a difference? Can you see the salt? Sometimes, not all the time. Even though you use the tiniest amount of salt, it still makes a difference when we taste it.

The same with light. Occasionally I get a bit dopey. When I go out I sometimes for get to put the front light on, and when I come home that night, I can’t find the keyhole to unlock the door. So I get my mobile phone and I open my phone where the screen gives off light. In the day time, the light that the screen gives off doesn’t make any difference at all. But when it’s dark, it makes every big of difference so I can unlock my door.

 We may feel like we’re not doing anything, or making any difference to the people around us. But Jesus says it doesn’t take much to make a difference. In fact, we’re probably making more difference than what we know!

So what can we expect from living lives upside down. We can expect a bit of flak for being different, for belonging to God. But we can also expect to be making a difference no matter how small we may feel.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

August 10, 2008 Posted by | Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Religious, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon on the Mount: Living life upside down

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

What does it mean to be Christian, and live a godly life? Ask around today, and you’ll get several different answers: be good, don’t do bad stuff, go to church, be tolerant and love everyone, be excusive and follow only Jesus. Who’s got the right ideas? Who’s up the garden path?

            In Jesus day, the religious leaders know what it was to be godly. At least they thought they knew. They had regulations for every aspect of their lives that they could tick off to make sure they were following God. It sounded good in theory, but it left Jesus unimpressed. Hence we come to Jesus’ ­Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon we learn that living Christian lives isn’t about ticking boxes to stay in God’s good books. It’s an ongoing process of becoming more and more like God and continually moving in the direction of holiness. It’s a sermon that turned religious protocol and expectation upside down in Jesus’ day, and if we’re honest, it does the same today. That’s why we can understand Jesus instructions to us as living life upside down. It’s a sermon that challenges our expectations of the Christian life, and stretches us to live accordingly.

 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 32

Lord, often we don’t rejoice in the things you rejoice in, and the things we do rejoice in your often despise. Yet you have drawn us into a relationship with us, and call each one of us ‘friend”. Help us to see life from your perspective. Help us understand what Jesus taught. And help us live our lives upside-down.

In Jesus name we pray.

Living life upside-down

Read: Matthew 5:1-10 

Going by worldly standards, who would you say the lucky people are? People with money and possessions? People who have extraordinary abilities? People who are famous? People who are powerful? People with a high education? It’s these kinds of people who the world calls lucky. But Jesus comes along and turns this way of thinking upside down. Jesus says no! It’s actually the lowly people, the down-and-outers, those who are doing it tough that are lucky. And it’s not just that they are lucky, they are blessed by God. They have God’s approval. They have God’s thumbs up.

So who are these people, and how is it that the unlucky are actually lucky? Jesus gives 9 characteristics of these people and gives reasons for them being blessed. The first 4 consider how the person relates to God, and the following 5 considers how the same person relates to the world.

The poor in spirit are those who recognise their helplessness. They know they can’t compete with the fast pace of the world. As such, these people don’t live by the standards of the world. These people long for the things of heaven and not the things of the world. It is by Jesus himself that people can enjoy the things of heaven.

Those who mourn are those who know they’re not worthy of God because of they’re sin. This is a wild statement to make because in Jesus’ day, plenty of people did things to make sure they didn’t sin and therefore we’re worthy of God – or so they thought. The reality is no one can ever be good for God. What God wants is for people to understand that, and cast themselves on his mercy. Because in God’s mercy, he sent Jesus to take away our sins so we would be good enough for God. It’s not about what we can do, but what God has done.

The meek are those who don’t seek revenge for wrong done to them. Has anyone had someone do something wrong to you? Of course! We all have. And the first thing we want to do is get back at them, right? But Jesus says no! It doesn’t really matter because God owns the whole earth anyway, and can give it to who ever he pleases. Squabbling over this and that doesn’t do anyone any favours because it’s all just temporary. We stand to loose it one day. But those who long for heaven, and depend on God’s mercy, they’ll inherit the whole earth. Again it is Jesus who makes this possible.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are like those who mourn. They want to live the way God wants but they know they can’t. Despite all attempts not to sin, they keep on doing the same old thing. Jesus says that they will be filled with righteousness. This will happen because Jesus will become their righteousness. Jesus will be righteous on their behalf. So instead of depending on their selves for righteousness, where there’s none to be found for anyone, they will depend on Jesus who is righteous.

The merciful are those who don’t bare grudges – sounds a bit like the meek, doesn’t it? They have a forgiving spirit, and love those who are suffering. Jesus says that the same kind of mercy we show others is the same mercy God will show us.

Those who are pure in heart are those who are honest and want to worship God in truth – consistent with the Bible. Many people today want to make God out of what they think, and in Jesus’ day, outward appearance were all that matter. Truth was dispensable. Not so with Jesus. Truth and purity were a great priority. And it just makes sense. If our hope is in heaven, if we mourn over sin in our lives, if we’re dependent on God for mercy and righteousness, then surely we want to know God as he really is and respond to him properly. In this way, those who are pure in heart will not only know God, but they will see God.

The peacemakers are pretty straight forward. They’re the ones making peace. But it’s more than that. God is already at work in the world to bring the world back to himself. This is called reconciliation, and God is doing this through the person of Jesus. So the peacemakers aren’t just running around saying “don’t fight!” They are doing the very work of God to bring people together in a proper relationship with God and each other. As such, these people will become sons of God, as surely as Jesus is THE Son of God.

The main point to all this is we need to have our focus on God. If we think we’re someone, and we can somehow earn our way to God, and we’re somehow more important then other people, and others owe us respect, then we’ll be focussing on ourselves, and only be giving lip service to God. That’s why Jesus doesn’t call the rich, or the able body ‘lucky’, because they have no reason to look beyond themselves. But if we’ve come to that point where we know we can’t depend on ourselves, there’s every reason to look beyond ourselves and the world. It is then we realise and there’s nothing in this world worth arguing and squabbling over, like two seagulls over a potato chip. Instead, we’ll be focussed on God and his purposes. That’s what makes us blessed, because it is that relationship with God that really matters.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

July 26, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Gospels, Religious, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saved by Grace!

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 111

At this time of Easter, Lord, we pause to remember that you sent Jesus to pay for our sins, in our place, and raising from the dead to new life. Lord, even if we’ve heard the story of Jesus death and resurrection 100 times before, may it spark a new passion in us. May we long for the new life Jesus has won for us. As we consider again the story of Moses, and how you saved your people from the Egyptians, may it serve as a picture of what you have done with Jesus for us.

In Jesus name we pray.

Saved by Grace

Read Exodus 12:1-13

Last time we talked about the 10 plagues of Egypt, and we said that by these 10 plagues, God was showing that he is all knowing, all doing, and all powerful. He is God almighty! This time, I want to focus on the last plague of Egypt, the plague of death as a picture of how God saves people. It’s also a picture of how Jesus has saved us.

The last plague God set upon Egypt was by far the worst. This meant every first-born, whether animal or human, would die. It was a terrible thing to have happened! Every house in Egypt would’ve tasted death – whether a person or an animal. We might wonder how can God do such a thing! This is the point I want to focus on.

As terrible as the plague of death may have been, God was gracious in his judgement. God did provide a way out. This was the last night God’s people were to spend in Egypt and be established as their own nation. They were to mark this occasion with a commemorative meal of roast lamb which they were to celebrate each year. Now God told his people to take some of the lamb’s blood and paint it on the doorframes of their houses. That sounds a bit gory doesn’t it? But blood would be a very important symbol, and we’ll find out why in a minute. God promised that when ever he saw a house with lamb’s blood on the doorframe, he would pass over that house. His judgement would not come upon that house, and no animal or person in that house would die. So there was a way to escape God’s judgement.

I also want to add that there was no favouritism here. God did give his instructions to the Israelites – his people. But this doesn’t mean that everyone who was an Israelite would be saved, and everyone who was an Egyptian would be judged and suffer the plague of death. I suspect on one hand there would’ve been Egyptians who had seen the first 9 plagues, got wind of the 10th, and did what the Israelites had been told. On the other hand, there would’ve been Israelites who would’ve thought this is all a bit beyond the pale and ignored God’s instruction, and ended up with death in their houses. God’s grace demands a response. Those who did what they were told and painted blood on the doorframes of their houses did not suffer death.

God’s judgement against the Egyptians isn’t the last judgement God will make. There’s another judgement coming, a final judgement, and it will be greater and more terrible than the one in Egypt. This time, God will judge the whole universe! But God has provided a way out – Jesus.

The night before Jesus died, Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover – the same meal that the Israelites used to remember the way God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians. It was a party! But Jesus does something special on this occasion. He takes the symbols of the meal, and applies them to himself. Instead of lamb’s blood on doorposts turning away God’s judgement, it would be his own blood on a Roman crucifix turning away God’s judgment.  Our response is not to paint lamb’s blood, but to believe and trust in Jesus. Just as the people in Egypt escaped God’s judgement by responding to his provision of grace, we too will escape God’s judgement by responding to his provision of grace in Jesus.

So with the story of Moses, we have seen how God can work from the most impossible of situations. We have seen when God acts, it’s not always in a way that we may expect. Sometimes we end up doing things we don’t want to do. We have seen that God is all knowing, all doing, and all powerful. And today we have seen today that God is also judge, but out of love for his people, he provides a way out of his judgement. At Easter we particularly remember how God provided Jesus as our way out – a way out of his final judgement.

God is a gracious God who loves his people very, very much. All he wants from us is to respond by loving him back.

March 20, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Biblical Theology, Moses, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Behold your God and Saviour!

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Editor’s Note:

I have been privileged personally to study the 10 Plagues of Egypt, and to understand something of God’s greatness and all sufficiency. I began to write a much more extensive work on this piece of history of God’s people, however it was distracting me from my formal studies. I hope in the next few months, I’ll be able to complete the work and publish it on The Student’s Desk. For now, here’s the devotional…

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Isaiah 45:22-25

Lord, hearing your word spoken through Isaiah we often forget how great you really are. Even when we do think about your greatness, we hardly grasp how great you are. We call you ‘Saviour’, and yet go looking into other things to provide for our needs which are just so insignificant compared to you. As we look at what you did in Egypt many years ago through Moses many years ago, allow us to understand something of your greatness, and that you control all things. Let us know that no matter how big or how small something may be, we can come to you with it, and you have the authority to deal with it.

In Jesus name we pray.

Behold your God and Saviour!

Read Exodus 6:1-9

Or extended reading Exodus 7 – 12

Last time we talked about how God was sending Moses back to Egypt – the last places Moses wanted to go! – and bring God’s people from Egypt where they had been working as slaves.  God was about to save his people.

Now when God saves people, he doesn’t do it just for the fun of it, or just to be kind. When God saves people, he does so to establish them in a relationship with himself. In order to have a right relationship with someone, it helps to know a few things about them. The same goes for God. Ask around today and you’ll find all sorts of crazy ideas about who God is that have little to do with what the Bible says. Perhaps one of the most popular notions of God is someone we carry around in our back pocket to be whipped out every time we want something – not unlike a credit card! When we have what we want we tuck him away, safe and sound, and forget about him until the next time we want something.

So we come to the problem in Egypt. God’s people had been immersed in Egyptian culture and Egypt beliefs for 430 years – twice as long as Europeans have been in Australia. It’s estimated the Egyptians had some 80 gods, each with there own responsibilities and powers. It was believed that it was these gods who made Egypt the great civilization that it was. Such thinking was intolerable to God because it was a lie. If God was going to his these people as his most treasured possession (Exodus 19:5),  they would have to know just who he is.

God did this through 10 great miracles, or what is often known as the ‘10 Plagues of Egypt’. Perhaps at one level, we may be tempted to think this is God ‘chucking a tanty’. But these miracles are precisely controlled and deliberate in what they reveal about God. In the mist of these catastrophes, we find God exercising mercy and grace. God could have snuffed out Egypt like a candle. But it was God’s concern that the Egyptians also knew who he is. So these plagues are much more than God giving the Egyptians a good spanking for enslaving his people. As the severity of the miracles increases, the Egyptian magicians and officials begin to realise the God of these foreigners is not airy fairy idea or some localised deity, but the Lord of the universe and is greater than all the 80 gods of Egypt put together. Even Pharaoh began to crack under pressure but was too stubborn to yield.

The 10 plagues that God sent included blood, frogs, gnats, flies, sickness of livestock, skin disease, hail, locusts, darkness, and death. Now some of those sound pretty aweful. But by doing these things, God shows that he’s more powerful then anyone else, and that he alone is God. From these 10 plagues, God demonstrates the he is the one that sustains nations, the earth and the universe; he controls life and death; he has authority over new life and resurrection; he is the one who provides health; he is the one who controls the weather; he is the one who provides food and clothing; he alone is the eternal God. He is God almighty! All knowing. All doing. All powerful. All we need is to submit to God.

This has great significance for us as there isn’t anything God can’t handle. God is much more than someone we whip out of our back pocket every time we need something. We have what we have because of who God is. Further more, he wants each of us to know him in a personal relationship. God hasn’t saved us for the fun of it. He has saved us for a personal relationship with himself. Therefore we ought to be thanking him for all that we have, and going to him with all our concerns. In this way, we come to know God better and better.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

March 9, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Moses, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God has a plan, but…

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 145:1-13

Lord we can easily forget how much you love us, especially when things don’t seem to be going our way. But we know Lord that you are God who’s constantly at work to draw us even closer into a relationship with you. Help us to see your works, to marvel at you mercy and love, that we may praise you, and tell everyone else just how great you are!

In Jesus name we pray.

God has a plan, but…

Reading Exodus 3:1-10

Last time we left Moses as a young boy growing up in the Royal household of Egypt. God’s people were slaves in Egypt, and we had hoped this Moses would change all that. But now, many years later, we find that Moses is living in Midian which was at least 400km away, by horse or by foot. Moses has settled down with a wife, and has a good life. Further, Moses had no interest in returning to Egypt because his own people don’t respect him, and Pharaoh would probably take his head for killing an Egyptian. Things don’t look good for God’s people. Has God lost the plot? Was the birth of Moses just a false hope?

No. For all this time God had been in tune with what had been going on. God had been hearing the cries of his people and is about to act, and another great miracle of the Moses story occurs: God speaks to Moses from a burning bush that wasn’t being destroyed by the fire. Now that might be telling us something in itself. Even though God’s people were going through all kinds of suffering, they weren’t going to be destroyed. And God was about to tell Moses how.

God is going to send Moses to Egypt to bring his people out. WHAT!? God’s people didn’t respect Moses last time, Pharaoh wants him dead, and God wants to send him packing back to Egypt!? Besides all that, Moses has a good life Midian. Surely God’s lost the plot this time!

Have you ever been in a position where you’ve been asked to do something and you don’t want to? What happens? You give every excuse you can think of not to do it, and then some! Well this is what Moses does with God. It sounds like a teenager having an argument with their parents! Listen to the excuses:

Excuse #1: ‘I’m nobody!’ Well that’s a fib to start with! He was raised in the Royal Court after all. Besides that, Moses wasn’t doing this on his own. This was God’s work, and God was going to be with him every step of the way.

Excuse #2: ‘I’ve got no authority!’ That was true. So God told him his name which referred to his relationship with his people, and meant he loved them very much.

Excuse #3: ‘What if they ignore me!?’ God enabled Moses to perform 3 different miracles that Moses could perform at any time to show he was more powerful than the Egyptians. Now that’s someone you don’t want to ignore!

Excuse #4: This is my personal favourite – “I have a speech impairment!” That doesn’t wash with God either. God promises Moses he’ll help him speak, and give him the words to say. And if that wasn’t enough, Aaron his brother could speak for him.

Poor Moses. He just ran out of excuses, and not long after, he was packing for Egypt. The hope of Moses bringing God’s people out of Egypt was still very much a real one. But we’ve learned some important things today. 1) God never forgets about his people. 2) God uses the most unlikely people to achieve his purposes. And 3) when God does use people, he gives them everything they need to do what they are asked.

So we can trust God, even when things seem out of control. And if we’re to be part of the solution, God will provide everything we need to do his work.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

February 23, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Moses, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Moses: The Beginnings of Hope

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Introduction

In this series of devotions, we take a flying overview of the story of Moses. It’s an incredible story of the way God brings about his purposes out of hopeless situations. God really is God of the impossible. A feature that should stand out to us is time. Often we expect God to fit in to our lifestyle of instant coffee and microwave dinners, and get frustrated when God doesn’t seem to be responding to our prayers. However, God’s plan for his people would span the life of Moses, and the final acts of deliverance would only be experienced by the next generation. Not only that but the story of Moses is part of a bigger picture that began 4 generations ago when God promised Abraham that he would become a father to a nation, and that nation would be God’s own people. It was a promise that would culminated in the person of Jesus, and wont be fulfilled until his return. Who knows what God has in mind for our lives, and the purposes he has for not only us, but for generations to come! The story of Moses in a microcosmic way shows us how God brings about his ways by intimately working through people in ways we would never think of. The story of Moses teaches us to be patient and wait upon God’s timing; to marvel at the way God works and to have complete confidence in him; and ultimately, look to God for our salvation.

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 121

Lord we can look at the world sometimes, or what’s even going on in our own lives, and feel intimidated, even scared. We can feel frustrated Lord, labouring day in and day out, and not get anywhere. So it is a great comfort to know that our help comes from you. That we’ll never find you sleeping, you’re always watching over us, keeping us from destruction no matter how difficult life gets. Lord these truths are so evident in the life of your people. As we look at the story of Moses, help as to be amazed at the way you work, and to know we can have our trust in you.

In Jesus name we pray.

The beginnings of hope…

Reading: Exodus 2:1-10

Sometimes we find situations that are just hopeless. It may be an event we’ve heard on the news, or it may be circumstances in our own life. And there appears to be no way out. No matter how hard we think, and try to fix the problem, we’re stuck there. But I want us to know that God knows when we’re stuck, and he does care deeply about us. Even when it seems nothing is happening, and we’re getting frustrated, God is at work to solve our problems in ways that we would never think of.

It’s at such a time in the life of God’s people the baby Moses was born. This was around 1,500 years before Jesus. Let me paint the scene: God’s people had migrated to Egypt and had become a large number of people – there were thousands of them! The King of Egypt, Pharaoh, began to worry about how many foreigners there were in his country. He was worried that one day they’d all run-a-muck and take over Egypt. So he hatched a plan, to stop this from happening. He had all God’s people put into slavery where they were forced to do hard work. But that didn’t work because they just became more and more numerous. So Pharaoh came up with another plan that was even worse than the first. Pharaoh was going to have every new born baby boy killed by throwing them in the river. NASTY! He did this for 2 reasons: 1) so little boys couldn’t grow up to be big soldiers and fight him, and 2) so that the only men the girls could marry would be Egyptians. God’s people were in serious trouble, and they couldn’t do anything about it.

But God was at work, and miracles were happening. A baby boy was born, and his mother was able to hide him for three whole months. Can you imagine trying to hide a baby with all the noise they make??? But then she got one up on the Egyptians. She made it look like her baby was thrown into the river just like all the others, but somehow survived the ordeal. Then who else should find the baby then Pharaoh’s daughter? Uh oh! This baby is a gonner for sure! There’s no way the Pharaoh will allow his daughter to keep a foreign baby! But no. Pharaoh’s daughter had pity on the baby, and took him to be her own. The plan has worked. Pharaoh’s daughter believed the baby had been thrown in the river and gave him the name ‘Moses’.

But we haven’t heard the best part. Moses’ sister is standing at a distance watching all this happen. Now royalty never bring up their own. They always have nurses or nannies to do the job for them. So Moses’ sister goes running up to Pharaoh’s daughter and offers to get a nurse for her. Pharaoh’s daughter says, “yep, go get one!” But who does Moses’ sister get? Mum! So not only does Moses get to live, but he gets to be raised by his Mum in the Royal Court. So Moses is going to get the best education, the best food, and the best lifestyle. The only catch is, Moses’ mum can’t let anyone know who she really is. But that’s ok, because there’s a much bigger issue at stake – the rescue of God’s people. We’ll get to see how Moses’ childhood plays a big part in this in the coming weeks.

Well so far, God’s people are still stuck in slavery. They’ll be in slavery for a while yet. In fact, things are about to get a whole lot worse for them. But already we have seen God busy behind the scenes setting up something big, even though we might be wondering what baby boys have got to do with people in slavery. For this reason, we can be confident that God is at work, even though it may not look like it. So we ought to be praying to God about the things we struggle with. We ought to be patient and wait for his timing, and his purposes. Because whatever God has in mind will be far better than what we could ever imagine!

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

February 9, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Moses, Old Testament | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

And when you pray…

(Matthew 6:5-13)

As a Christian of a number of years, I have heard much talk on prayer. Most of it I agree with, some I don’t, particularly what I heard as a child. One point I will always agree with is that prayer is not only important, it is essential to the Christian life. For it is by prayer that we commune and interact with the living God. But I also believe fervently, the Church, us as Christians, needs to evaluate with great care to whom are we praying and what are we to pray for.

These are the issues I want to address, and I’m going to do it by examining the model of prayer that our Lord gave us, commonly miscalled “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” found in Matthew 6:9-13. I say miscalled because if you want to know The Lord’s prayer, you’ll find it in the Garden of Gethsemene the night before Jesus was crucified (John 11). But that’s on the side.

This is what Jesus taught his disciples:

 “‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’

We shall consider Jesus’ model under two main headings – Two whom are we praying, and what we ought to pray for.

To whom are we praying?

Jesus commences his model by first addressing who it is we are praying to. And it’s important to recognise God for who he really is. Because what you think about God will determine how you pray, and how you relate to God. So Jesus outlays three things about God we need to bear in mind when we pray, that he is our Father, he is in heaven, and he is holy.

Our Father

There has been a movement in recent times to substitute the title ‘Father’ for something else. Particularly by people who have had a bad father figure as a child. They find a title like ‘close friend’ more acceptable. Now, if you have had a bad father figure as a child, I don’t mean to trivialise, or brush your hurts away to one side. Your hurts are legitimate hurts, and they need to be dealt with – and properly. But I do believe it is important to address God as Father because 1) He tells us too. This is the way God wants us to relate to him. And 2) calling God a ‘close friend’ doesn’t quite cut it. It doesn’t adequately describe the relationship he has with us.

You see, for a friendship to commence, the two people need to have something in common. Something they are both interested in. In recent years, I’ve become quite good friends with a married couple who both have cerebral palsy. That friendship didn’t start instantaneously, or automatically. In fact, on my first camp, I spent a good deal of time talking Don, but at the end of camp, we both went on our merry way and didn’t talk to each other for 2 years. That friendship only got started when I turned up in my Suzuki 4WD at another camp. Lo and behold, Don owned one too, and we became interested in each others cars. Now the relationship has moved on from cars, and on rare occasion, we discuss something other then cars, much to wife’s relief.

But with God, it’s different. God did not sit us down at a local café, to suss out our likes and dislikes over coffee. Our relationship with God is much more instantaneous then that. Our relationship is more like one between a child and their parent.

See, when I was born, Dad didn’t whisk me off to the hospital cafeteria to discuss my aspirations in life over lunch to decide whether or not he wanted to be my father. There was an instantaneous relationship that took place. The moment I was born, Dad knew I was his Son, and somehow, as baby’s know, I knew he was my Father. And there is no other person you can have this kind of relationship with, no matter how close you are to them. Except God.

Since God is our Father, he is personal. God is not some mystical force we need dial our psyche into. Nor is he some cosmic tyrant who we need to keep happy, or keep badgering until he gives us what we want. No. He is God our Father. He is close. He knows what we need before we even ask of him, as Jesus says just prior to giving us this model “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8). He is intimate with us. He is concerned for you. He is concerned for what is going on in your life. He’s concerned for your needs. So then we might well pray, “Our Father.”

In heaven

God our Farther is in heaven. He is eternal. He is powerful. He has authority over every facet of life. He is the one who controls the universe! He is not constrained in any way, shape or form unlike us. Have you ever tried standing on the beach facing the waves and yelling out “STOP! BE STILL!” Do you think the waves would listen? We have very limited ability. But Jesus could. He was God, and he had authority over the wind and the waves (Mark 4:37-39). Since God is so powerful, because he has such authority, he is able to answer our concerns.

Let me tell you a story: A few years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of having my car stolen. My beloved Subaru – as clapped out as it was. At the time, I had a personal friend who happened to be a police officer. Because he was a personal friend, he was concerned for my predicament. He wanted to see me get my car back. But because he was a police officer, he also had authority over the issue, and was in a position to help recover my car. He knew where all the car dumping sites were, and went looking around. He knew what paperwork needed to be done, and did it. My mate was a person of authority, and because of it, he was able to help. Similarly, God is prepared to hear our prayers as a Father. But he’s also powerful to answer them. So then we may well pray “Our Father in heaven”.

Hallowed be your name

Thirdly, his name is hallowed. God is holy, he is pure. There is no blemish in his nature. He is fit to be God. It is a concern of mine that sometimes we personalise God so much that we start thinking he’s just like us. We turn God into some kind of ooshy gooshy, God loves all, kind of celestial Santa Claus, and forget that he is totally different from ourselves. God is pure, we’re sinful. There’s no greater divide then that.

The prophet Habakkuk proclaimed: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (1:13). The disciple Peter when confronted with the person of Jesus begs, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Peter knew where he was at. Which bring me back to my first point. If our relationship with God depended on a cup of coffee, it wouldn’t get started at all. There is no common ground between us and God. There is nothing we are both interested in. We are utterly self-centred, God is utterly other-centred. Yet, this is the God who brings us into his holy presence, and initiates a relationship with us. And this is the God we pray to. A God who is concerned for our needs and concerns. A God who is powerful to act. A God who’s holiness demands our humble repentance. And since God is holy, so to must our prayers be holy. When we pray, we must have in the forefront of our minds who it is we are praying to. And in the light of who God is, we must give careful consideration what we are to pray for.

What we ought to pray for…

Your kingdom come

Jesus’ model of prayer continues with ‘your kingdom come’. Now what’s a kingdom? We don’t really talk about kingdom these days. A kingdom is simply this, the realm or area that a king dominates or rules. And we, as Christians, talk about God as being king. But how is God king? How does God rule? How does God’s kingdom come?

I guess when we think about God’s kingdom, we think about the final day when Jesus will come back and establish God’s kingdom on earth. At least, that’s what comes to my mind. And we are right in thinking that, and that day should be engraved on the forefront of our minds. But, there is also an immediate sense of God’s rule today, right here, right now. In that we are being renewed in the image of Christ. As we study God’s word, the Bible, and it impacts our hearts and our minds, and come to know what it means to live as Christians. As we meet together, and spur each other on in the Christian life. As we sing songs, as bad as some of us may sound, in worship and praise of God, there lies the Kingdom of God, breaking into a fallen and sinful world, and having an impact.

It is a concern of mine that we as Christians seem to have lost the fervour we ought to have for God’s kingdom. Our society isn’t short of things to keep us busy. There’s always something to occupy us. And when our friends and family demand time and energy from us, we have a tendency to tell them, “just wait till I get this done, maybe next week.” And that’s fine, we need to be doing that to each other. We’re not all superman. But the trouble is, in our heart of hearts, don’t we say that to God?” “Just let me finish my studies.” “Just let me establish my business”. “Just let me buy a house.” “Just let me compete at the next Olympics.” “Just let me get married and have kids.” “Not just yet Jesus. Just let me get this done, then I’m yours Lord, all yours.”

And this kind of thinking comes out in what we pray for: a better job; maybe a job in the first place, a more powerful car, a bigger house, more money. Now these things may be important to pray for. Maybe you own a 2 bedroom house, and kid number 3 is on the way. Maybe you’re in a job where your boss treats his pet dog better then what he does you. We all have needs and desires, and there is nothing wrong with that. In Philippians 4:6 the Bible commands us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” But something has gone amiss when we are so focused on our needs and our desires that we loose sight of God’s kingdom. When loose sight of our personal relationship with Jesus. We loose sight of his return. When we are more concerned about seeing our shopping lists fulfilled, then God’s kingdom fulfilled.

As Christians, we’re to be primarily about God’s Kingdom. Know Jesus is coming back. Expect the breaking in of God’s kingdom and God’s rule, now, in your life, and the lives of others, and in the future. So then we might well pray “your kingdom come”.

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

Once we have appreciated something of the character of God, and the nature of his kingdom, what are we going to do about it? How do we live Christians lives in a sinful world?

It worries me when people make simplistic solutions to complex questions. Living out Christian lives and enforcing Christian values takes much care and consideration. What’s your position on Stem cell research? The “War on Terrorism”? Environmental issues? Economic issues? Even within your own relationships?

These are all very complex issues and just a sample of what we encounter as Christians. If we’re to have an influence in such areas, we need to have thought through, and prayed through these with great care in the context of God’s kingdom. So then we might well pray “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.

Give us today our daily bread.

In our society, we tend to be fiercely independent when it comes to looking after our needs. We store up vast amounts of wealth for our retirement, buy investments properties for that little bit extra, and buy shares for our kids. And there is nothing wrong with that. We ought to be good stewards of what God gives us. But something has gone wrong if we as Christians have our entire security bound up in what we can do for ourselves. Quite plainly, it is God who sustains the entire universe and us. It is declared in Revelation 5:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” And again in Acts 17:28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

It is because God exists we have what we have. If God were to disappear into some mysterious vacuum, do you know how long we would last? The moment God disappears, we disappear at that same moment.

So then, how can we dare assume, it is to our own ability that we are sustained. I am constantly surprised by the way God provides for me. Whenever I need something extra, the money always comes from somewhere. A cheque in the mail, or some extra work. It crops up every time. Maybe some of you have had simular experiences. God provides. He’s the one sustains us. So we ought to ask him for our daily needs, and not simply be looking to our stockpile of wealth, if we happen to have one.

Even for us who are on pensions, it’s easy for us to think that all our needs have been taken care of. The government will give us security. But no. While the government might be the one handing out money, God’s working behind the scenes, providing for us.

Praying for our needs and the needs of others gives a front row seat in God’s theatre of creation where we are not only the spectators, but the participants as well. By praying for our needs and interacting with God exposes us to the awesomeness of creation, and the character of God who made it. So then we might well pray “give us our daily bread”.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors

This is quite difficult to understand, and I didn’t understand it until the other week when I was studying the relationship Israel had with God in the Old Testament.

Why do we need to ask God to forgive our debts, or forgive our sins? Hasn’t our sins been done with when Jesus was crucified for our sins, died, buried and rose from the dead? Doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus made a once for all sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:2, 10)? Well, yeah. So why ask for further forgiveness?

Simply for this reason, we’re not yet perfect. Just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean we’ve stopped offending God. Don’t get me wrong. Our relationship with God is secure, make no mistake. Our place in heaven is secure, have no doubt. But they’re not secured by our capacity to maintain that relationship with God. They’re secured by God’s willingness to maintain that relationship with us.

Think about this, if you held a grudge against everyone who offended you, or rubbed you up the wrong way, even the slightest amount, how many friends would you have? If you’re like me, you wouldn’t have any friends. So in order to maintain our friendships, and other relationships, we exercise a certain amount of forgiveness toward each other. And we ask God to do the same. Maintain that relationship, forgive our sins.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

What a strange request this is – lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. What could Jesus possibly mean?

This section on prayer is part of a bigger sermon we call The Sermon on the Mount. And much of the sermon is addressing religious hypocrisy – going through all the religious motions, without any heart conviction. Or saying one thing, and doing another.

Towards the start of his sermon, Jesus says this, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20).

If you think that’s a heavy going statement, you’re right! Who were these Pharisees? Who were the teachers of the law? They were the good guys! They were the guys that did everything right. They went to church each week, they prayed, they fasted, they gave money to the poor. If you had a question about the Bible you went to a Pharisee or a teacher of the law. If you needed advise, you went to a Pharisee or a teacher of the law. And to all this religious activity, Jesus says NOT GOOD ENOUGH. “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

What was the problem? The problem was it wasn’t from the heart. It was all just a show. They weren’t being genuine with their faith. And this is the evil Jesus is instructing us to pray against. We still have this problem today. No matter which area of Christianity you come from, it’s easy to get so caught up in the religious side of things, you actually leave God behind. And all God wants from you is a heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship.

You might come from a high Anglican or Catholic background where there’s allot of emphasis on tradition, sacraments, and church authority. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Or you might come from a Charismatic, or Pentecostal background, where the emphasis is on emotion, and music of performance production standards. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Or you might come from an evangelical background, like the low Anglican, and Presbyterian churches where there’s an emphasis on theology, knowing the Bible and evangelism. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Do you have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

Or even in my case, where I spend hours studying the Bible, when you take away my theology books, and talks, and assignments, and all the bits and pieces I busy myself with, who am I before God? Do I have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

It’s an important question to ask – Do you have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God? Toward the end of his sermon, Jesus says this, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ (Matthew 7:21-22).

And to that, we may hear other questions: “Did we not go to church every Sunday?” “Did we not pray?” “Did we not give to the poor?” “Did we not help out people with disabilities?” Jesus continues, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

Please don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with doing good things! As Christians, we ought to be doing such. But fundamentally, Christianity is about you and God, heart-to-heart, face-to-face. And everything we do, all the good stuff, needs to stem from that relationship. If we don’t, and we’re just going through some religious routine, then we’re settling for second best. Not only this, but we’re ripping God off as well.

Jesus knew about this. Jesus knows we get hung up on other stuff. That’s why he tells us to pray against this temptation and evil.

Now I’ve pointed out the main points in Jesus model of prayer, I wish to point out some things that aren’t in this model.

There is nothing in this model of prayer to require you to assume a particular position. There is nothing in this model of prayer to suggest there are better times to pray then others. There is nothing in this model of prayer that requires you to pray in a particular place. There is no benefit to be had with praying in a church building, or in front of a statue. Not even a fence post, for those who remember the events at Bondi. Neither is there any advantage in going on a pilgrimage half way around the world.

Neither is there a requirement to even verbalise your prayers. You know when you have a time of open prayer in a group, and there’s an embarrassing silence before the person who closes, closes? When I meet with the people at the Spastic Centre, I actually let that silence go a little longer. Allot of those people can’t speak. But that doesn’t mean they can’t pray.

God is an incredibly intimate God. He is our Father, He is mighty, and he is holy. God wants a heart-to-heart, face- to-face, personal relationship with us. How do you pray? Do you use a particular model or mechanism? When you boil it right down, prayer is about you and God talking stuff over. Not you, God, and your parents. Not you, God, and your friends. Not you, God, and your church – although we can and should pray with all these people as a community of believers. Prayer, fundamentally is about you and God. Are you concerned for God’s concerns? Do you have a heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Angelic Proclamation

The Student’s Desk Christmas Devotion

 This will be the final devotion for 2007. Devotions will start again in Febuary 2008.

 God’s blessings to you all.

Basis for Prayer:

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.

You have enlarged the nation

and increased their joy;

they rejoice before you

as people rejoice at the harvest,

as men rejoice

when dividing the plunder.

For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,

you have shattered

the yoke that burdens them,

the bar across their shoulders,

the rod of their oppressor.

Every warrior’s boot used in battle

and every garment rolled in blood

will be destined for burning,

will be fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty

God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace

there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

will accomplish this.

Prayer:

Dear Lord, what a light you have provided in Jesus. That we who struggle with the state of this world, and the state of our hearts can come to Jesus, and know that you will accept us just as we are. Lord we look forward to the day when every authority will submit to Jesus, and how exciting it is to know that this will be permanent. As we talk about the birth of Jesus this morning, help us to understand the wonder it is that you, O God, should take on flesh and be born to a woman. It is because of your gracious deeds that we can be sure of having an eternal relationship with you. As the first visitors of Jesus marveled at the sight of him, may we also marvel with them.

Reading

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

The Angelic Proclamation

There have been some pretty big events in history. Events that have changed our lives for the better, or for the worse. The invention of electricity, the telephone, and developments in computers have made out lives much easier. While other events such as the September 11 attacks on America six years ago has put every one on their toes.

But I want to talk about an event that’s bigger then all these events put together. I want to talk about an event that’s about a baby born in a dirty, smelly animal shelter. Doesn’t sound like much does it? I mean, how many people do you know today who were born in a dog kennel, or a chicken coop? It’s just not the place for baby’s to be born! But this birth caught the attention of the angels in heaven. Those beings who spend there time in constant praise and adoration of God paused in wonder to see what was going on in this dirty, smelly animal shelter.

What was it about this very strange birth that caught there attention? Listen to what they say to the shepherds who were camped near by – “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11). For a long, long time, people had been waiting for the Christ – God’s Saviour. Someone who would undo the effects of sin. Someone who would take every wrong that’s ever been done, including the wrongs you and I have done, and make them right. Someone that would make us right with God and be friends with him. Well guess what? He’s just been born! This is the event that would not only change history; it would change the entire universe. It would change the way God and people would relate. Is it any wonder this birth caught the attention angels in heaven!?

I want us to also notice who the angels were speaking to. The angels spoke this message to shepherds. Now let me tell you something about shepherds in Jesus’ day. They’re not like a civilised farmer we have today. These were fairly rough and ready kind of people. They lived and worked outside most of the time. When you work with animals, and are outside the whole time, you tend to smell. Their language might’ve been a bit coarse as well. And because they were looking after sheep the whole time, they were really able to go to church. Because of these things, people tended to look down on them. They weren’t particularly welcomed in town. People only dealt with shepherds when they had to. Shepherds were people who were marginalised in society.

Yet this is to whom these angels from heaven spoke their message. Why? Why would angels speak to shepherds when no one else would? Because their message was one for the marginalised. For those people who the rest of society is uncomfortable with. And if this message is for the marginalised, this message is for everyone. This message is for us here today. As surely as the angels spoke to the shepherds 2000 years ago, they speak to us today from the pages of the Bible, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

But this message isn’t only universal, it’s personal. Let’s look at how the shepherds responded to such a message. Did they sit on their hands and say “Oh well, that’s nice to know.” No! They went and investigated! Could what they just heard be true??? They wanted to know more. When they found baby Jesus just as the angels had told them, they praised God. This was a message that affected them personally. What a joy it was to them to know it was this baby Jesus who was going to make them right before God. And just as Jesus was the shepherd’s joy, so to ought Jesus be our joy. So to ought we praise God for giving us Jesus.

There have been many events that have changed the course of history. None more so then the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus has changed the way we relate to God. This is a universal message. This is a message for the marginalised. It also a personal message to each one of us. May we be ever thankful for the birth of Jesus.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

December 22, 2007 Posted by | Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Joy of the Gospel

(Romans 5:1-11)

From chapter 3 of Romans we read how God has revealed a righteousness through faith in Christ Jesus. That those who have faith in Jesus will be justified. But how do we know? Where’s the evidence as to whether or not we’re justified? It’s not like we’re given some certification to show we’ve been justified. How do we know we have peace with God? How do we know we’ve been accepted by him? Particularly when life becomes hard and outright unbearable. Does God really care? Does being a Christian count for anything? Is the gospel what it’s cracked up to be?

Romans 5:1-11 forms the introduction of chapters 5-8 on the question of assurance. Paul’s introduction addresses three issues that appear to be a threat to our justification, before moving on to other aspects of assurance. Three issues that would appear as though we haven’t been accepted by God, and says that these things actually confirm we have been justified, we have been accepted by God. Rather than being the source of doubt and despair, we are to rejoice in them.

The kind of rejoicing Paul is talking about carries with it connotations of boasting. It’s the same kind of boasting that the Jews did in the law – “You who brag about the law…” (Romans 2:23). It is the same expression used by Paul when he tells the Corinthians to boast in the Lord – “Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”” (1 Corinthians 1:31). To rejoice means to tell your friends and to base your hopes on what you’re rejoicing about

 So what are the three things which we are to rejoice about? 1) the hope of the glory of God, 2) our suffering, 3) God himself.

the hope of the glory of God

What is this glory of God? Generally it means the intentions God has for humanity. To live in proper relationship with God and in each other. In New Testament terms, the glory of God refers to the image of Christ – “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The glory of God is also synonymous with salvation. Most of us would know the famous benediction “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24). So Paul is talking about the image of Christ that we are gradually being transformed into, and will be completed in the new creation.

Paul mentions that the glory of God is something we fall short of – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). Previously, the glory of God has been a source of grief. We can’t live up to those glorious expectations that God has intended for us. But now that we have been justified through faith in Christ, that has been reversed. We now rejoice in, and anticipate the day when we will share in the glory of God. How can we do that? Because we have been justified. So rejoice in the glory of God.

•1.     our sufferings

We are to rejoice in our sufferings. By “suffering” I think Paul is talking about those inconveniences we experience every day in a fallen world. It could include persecution for being Christian, but I think we need to understand suffering in the broadest sense. It could mean taking the second best job, general rejection from friends, or not indulging in much desired activities. Paul says we are to rejoice in these sufferings.

Why are we to rejoice in our sufferings? It’s not a popular message today. According to the world, if we find ourselves suffering we go and find someone to sue, or spend a lot of money on things that will distract us from our suffering. Why are we to be different? Paul gives us 3 reasons to rejoice in our sufferings: 1) God uses suffering to make us more like Christ, 2) we enjoy the benefits of a relationship with God now, 3) we have been saved from God’s wrath.

  • I. God uses suffering to make us more like Christ

The fact of the matter is, if you’re breathing it’s a pretty good indication that you will experience suffering. For us as Christians, the question isn’t “how do we avoid suffering?” rather, the question is, how are you, who have been justified through faith, who enjoy peace with God and are rejoicing in his glory, how are you going to respond to suffering?

Suffering will affect us one of two ways. Firstly, suffering can corrupt you. That is, you can respond in such a way that you actually become further removed from what God intends for you. We’re tempted to kick and scream demanding our rights not giving a thought to our own responsibility or consequences, not unlike those in Romans 1:28-32. “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” Not to mention how easily we forget the hope of the glory of God.

Or secondly, suffering can refine us to be more like Christ. I read in one book that suffering “…becomes the divinely orchestrated means by which God strengthens … faithful endurance and hope by pouring out his own love and Spirit to sustain or deliver them in their distress”. If we remain mindful of the glorious knowledge that you have “…been justified through faith… have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And … rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2) then the end result can only mean one thing – that you become more and more like the person of Christ, and so strengthens the hope you have of the glory of God.

This is not easy. We want respect, we want recognition, we want acceptance, and when we don’t get it the natural thing to do is demand it. Personally, I find this very challenging. There’s a few people about the place who can testify how much I can kick and scream. But Paul says no. We rejoice in our sufferings. Now this doesn’t mean you become a door mat, and let people walk over you. But it does mean you are to remember that you are justified. You have peace with God. You rejoice in the glory of God. When my bike was stolen nearly 4 years ago, friends of mine, who aren’t Christians, wanted to engage in vigilante activity in revenge.  As much as I would’ve liked that, I said no. Praise be to God, they did what I asked. Did I pursue my legal rights? Yes. Bearing in mind who I was in Christ. Therefore, when you suffer, you are to respond differently.

You are to rejoice, knowing that God has complemented you with another opportunity to grow in the image of Christ, and display his likeness as a witness, as a shameless boasting, of what Christ has done for you.

  • II. We enjoy the benefits a relationship with God now.

This growing in the image of Christ leads to a greater conviction of the hope that we have of the glory of God. However, this hope isn’t a vague distant hope. It is a hope that we experience now as Christians, and it is a hope that will not fail us. Why? Because God is the one who has initiated this hope. It is God who pours out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. How do we know that? Because it was the same love that prompted God to send his son to the cross. Ultimately our hope isn’t founded on that moment of jubilation when we first understood the gospel. Our hope isn’t founded on the number of “Christian” things we did this week. Our hope isn’t founded on how vibrant our church is. Our hope is founded on the fact that Christ died for the ungodly. Christ died for the unworthy. Christ died for you. That is why we have a hope that will not disappoint. Because it’s got nothing to do with us. It’s got everything to do with God. God’s love came to us through Christ in our present condition – while we were warring against God. Therefore we ought to have every confidence in the hope of the glory of God on the basis of what God has done in Christ, and not only persevere with our sufferings, but to rejoice in them.

  • III. We have been saved from God’s wrath

Now, when we talk about being saved, we generally mean by that we have been saved from God’s impending judgement. But Paul has another perspective of God’s judgement in mind. Paul also speaks of God’s wrath being revealed from heaven NOW (Romans 1:18). This really struck me. I don’t know about you, but, I tend to think of the wrath of God in terms of fire and brimstone in the end times. And Paul does talk about God’s wrath in the sense of final judgment – “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5). But there’s also this second sense that God is revealing his wrath now. This is a world under God’s judgment. This is a world that has been condemned by God. This is the reason behind the rampant depravity that Paul lists. God has simply given men over to their desires (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). Wicked men do what they do simply because they do not have that basis of a proper relationship with God.

To give an example of how a world under God’s wrath operates, I was reading “A Beautiful Mind” the biography of John Forbes Nash, a mathematician who studied around 1930s – 1940s. In that book, the author talks about how mathematicians tried to reduce human behaviour down to a mathematical equation. Imagine that. You’re behaviour could be determined by adding up some numbers! This is study without God. This is study without the basis of who God is, or who we are.

But we, as Christians have been saved from this. It is part of being justified. We have the revelation of God, and we have a solid basis of how we’re to relate to the world. We know human behaviour can never be reduced to maths because we are made in God’s image, and all the complexities that go with it. For us who are studying, perhaps this is something to bear in mind. It doesn’t mean you can’t trust what non-Christians say. But it does mean you always ask “Does this fit in with what I know about God?” Again, this depravity finds its way into our entertainment. I must confess I’m feeling proud of my self because I have managed to watch 2 episodes of “Swapping Spouses”. For those who don’t know, it’s a TV show involving 2 families, and the two wives of the two families live with the other family for a week.

Now, at one level, this is an interesting social experiment – to see how someone would cope in a different demographic that they’ve haven’t had exposure to. At another level, it’s outright disturbing. Someone has actually thought that meddling with people’s family life would make a good entertainment. Someone actually thought that this would be a good program to promote and make money.

And it’s not just “Swapping Spouses”, but all these reality TV programs where, from what I can see, relationships come a distant second. Where people are perceived as objects to be manipulated to win the game. How can relationships, the very thing we were made for, be reduced to this? How can such behaviour ever be commended, or even tolerated?  Because God has handed humanity over to their own desires as part of his wrath. But God has grabbed us with his might, and brought us back in relationship with himself. We now have a basis for right living, and right relationships.

Therefore, when you suffer, rejoice, because you know you have been saved from God’s wrath.

we are to rejoice in God

Finally we rejoice in God. Rather then coming to us with judgement, God comes to us with reconciliation. We no longer dread God, but we rejoice in him. It’s because of God that we can have this different perspective on suffering. It’s because of God that we have been saved from his wrath. It’s because of God we have been reconciled back to himself through Jesus. If it weren’t for God, we wouldn’t be able to rejoice in our sufferings or our salvation.

How’s your Christian walk going? Is it bubbling over with thanksgiving and joy? Or is it dry and stagnant? Do you doubt your salvation because you suffer? Do you doubt that the gospel has the power to deliver you from God’s impending judgment? REJOICE! Know for certain that if you have faith in Christ, you have been accepted and justified by God. Take pride in the gospel, and boast about it. It is sufficient to deliver you from God’s impending judgment. We have been given a wonderful gospel, a radical gospel that demands a response of joy. Let’s look at the gospel afresh. Let’s examine our lives and the way we interact with the world, and respond to the gospel rejoicing.

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stewardship – the property manager in us all!

(Acts 4:32 – 5:11)

Stewardship is one of those issues we, as Christians, don’t really discuss. So when we use the word stewardship, what do we actually mean? I looked up steward in my English dictionary, and this was one of the definitions it gave: property manager: somebody who manages the property, finances, or household of another.

That’s an interesting definition isn’t it? Have you ever consider yourself to be property manager? Someone who doesn’t own the property themselves, but they are responsible for the property as if they do own it.

Well, if we are property managers, whose property are we talking about? God’s property! And our basis for us being Genesis 2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Now whenever I read this verse, I end up with an image in my head of Adam with a garden hoe doing the weeding. I think what is being presented here is much bigger then that. Man is being put in charge of everything God has just made. Not just a little English style garden bed, but the whole creation. In 1:28, we’re given a much broader presentation of the same command, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

This presupposes that God created humanity as responsible creatures with abilities to make decisions. It concerns me when I here people talking as though God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit does everything for them, and they expect they will do everything for them. Now, I don’t want to take from God’s sovereignty. God is all knowing, all doing, ever present. God alone is to be glorified for whatever happens. And there is a time to be patient, and wait on God. But within God’s provision, we also exercise responsibility and choice. And I believe that is one of the ways God is glorified. Through us, as humanity, being the creature he made us to be by using the responsibility he created us with, God is glorified in that.

This is why we have this command to fill the earth, and subdue it. Implicit in this command is the idea to expand Eden so it covers the whole earth. Who’s going to do that? God? No. Humanity? Yes, as property managers. Who’s going to get the glory? Humanity? No. God? Yes, because creation belongs to him, not humanity. We see an instance of humanity exercising its authority in 2:19-20 “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.”

In this, we see humanity making decisions in the naming animals. But what is more striking is God’s actions in this. God is getting humanity to be part of his own creation process. Of all the creatures God had made, humanity was the only creature to be let in on God’s affairs, and have mastery over creation as property managers. Further, this responsibility and ability to make decisions is why God is able to give us commandments and prohibitions – “And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17). This commandment again implies humanity is able to make decisions and take initiative. Humanity is able to even make decisions contrary to God’s will. Otherwise, why would we need commandments?

This brings me to my next point – the current state of our stewardship. Humanity did do what is contrary to God’s will, and as a consequence, humanity suffered. Let’s have a quick look at what happened 3:1-7:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'”

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Did you hear the sequence of deception? Allow me to paraphrase: Did God REALLY say that? He can’t have meant that! If God is all good, he must’ve meant something else. In fact, God wasn’t really serious about the consequences. God is just trying to stop me having fun and doing what I want to do. In fact, God is one big party pooper!

And so we get a fundamental shift in thinking (verse 7). We’ve moved away from thinking of how we can honour God and promote his purposes, to what’s in it for me, how can I get something out of it? This way of thinking impacts every facet of life. It impacts the way we think about family, money, work, education, sex, charity, even church. You name it!

This kind of thinking is known as sin. We are sinful, and we live in a sinful world. If you don’t believe me, watch the news. In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul gives a list of acts that come from sin: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Jesus lists a few actions himself: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:19).

As you watch the news, see how many of these acts you can find in the bulletin. It wont be hard. This activity of sin in the world impacts our stewardship. It impacts the way we manage God’s property.

This is why we have the extremely rich, and extremely poor. Why North Koreans starve, while their government makes nuclear warheads. Why we hear of sexual assaults, rape, and murder. Why politicians squabble over votes, and outrages superannuation payouts. Why we would step over a homeless person to close a business deal. If we were to think about them, we’d probably throw out some spare change on the way, and call it ‘charity’. All because there has been this fundamental shift in thinking from how can I glorify God, to what’s in it for me?

However, in Acts 4:32-37, we find something completely different. We find a community of people who turn the effects of sin on stewardship on its head. We find people who are prepared to share their possessions, and not regard them as their own.

What could possibly have such an impact on people that they’re more concerned for the community then themselves? The gospel. The gospel had a profound impact on their stewardship.

In verse 33, we read how the apostles testified to the resurrection of Christ. But they also testified with great power. This meant they didn’t go around with a watered down version of the gospel. They didn’t hold back on the details. They spoke the gospel with all its fullness, and it impacted they hearts and minds of believers.

How is it that the gospel had such an impact? The death and resurrection of Christ has changed the way we approach God and each other. We can now approach God as forgiven people, with total confidence in the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. And the resurrection of Jesus assures us that there is much more to live and hope for. For in the resurrection of Jesus we anticipate our own resurrection and inheritance of eternal life. A life of everlasting fellowship with God. We no longer live for this life alone, but we live for the life to come. Therefore, we now live as the people of God now.

This impacted the way they regarded they’re own property. They no longer saw their own property as something that belonged to them, but they saw their property as a tool for helping the needy: “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:34-35).

Now, I want to pause here and ask, to what extent this passage is an example for us to follow? Are we to sell all our belongings and take a vowel of poverty? No I don’t think so. note the clause in the verse. “from time to time.” This wasn’t the norm. Rather, it was the exception. The selling of property only occurred in response to need.

However it is an example to us in terms of attitude to possessions. Luke goes on to give two case studies to illustrate that property management is an issue of attitude, not action. There is no “get holy quick scheme” to be had in charity. Case study no.1: Barnabas. He sells a field and places the money at the disciples feet, presumably for distribution. No problem. Case study No.2: Ananias and Sapphira. They did the same. But the outcome is somewhat different. They both end up dead.

What’s the difference? The difference was one of attitude. Barnabas gave out of concern for the poor. Ananias and Sapphira did it for a show. They did it for applause. The problem wasn’t that Ananias and Sapphira held some back. I’m sure if Ananias and Sapphira went to the apostles and said, “look, we want to help out, but, we need a little something for ourselves”, their wouldn’t have been a problem. But Peter’s questioning reveals the deception. Peter’s question in v4 indicates that there was nothing compelling them to sell their land and give to the apostles. They could’ve done what ever they wanted with the land for all Peter cared! In fact, we have seen from 4:34 that this was not the norm. This was the exception in response to need that aroused. If Ananias and Sapphira wanted the money, they were welcomed to it!

So for what possible reason did they sell their property and give to the apostles? It was to gain the praise of men. Their conspiracy was uncover when Peter plainly asked the now widowed Sapphira, “is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” and she answered, “Yes, that is the price.” And they buried her next to her husband.

Stewardship under the gospel is primarily not about action. It’s not about ticking boxes. I also want to add a pastoral note that self sacrifice does not necessarily equate to good stewardship either. On my way back from holidays, I stopped by a friend’s place. She is severely disabled with rheumatoid arthritis, and though she is a fully grown adult, her body is the size of a five year old. As a consequence, her body can only handle small quantities of food. She cannot sit down to a full size meal like most people. So allot of her time is taken by eating lots of small meals. She also loves the Lord dearly, and longs to serve him. However, she feels that her dietary requirements are taking up to much time that she could be spending with the Lord and other people. Her resolve has been to skip meals. This may have an adverse effect on her health and she may even die. I spoke with her about this, and encouraged her, very strongly, not to skip meals as this would be counter-productive in her service to God.

Stewardship can be a very complex matter, and prayerful consideration must come before self-sacrifice. Stewardship is about a heart felt attitude in response to eternal life that Christ has won for us. Stewardship under the gospel is a concern to honour God and promote his purposes, specifically, to promote the gospel.

As Christians we should not be preoccupied with the Genesis 3 question – “what’s in it for me, how can I get something out it?” Rather we should be asking the gospel question – “How can I honour God, and promote his gospel?” I want to close with two challenging questions:

Question 1: Do you perceive all of your possessions – material, financial, physical, intellectual – as belonging to God, and you’re just the property manager?

Question 2: Are you concerned to see the gospel being promoted? Again, I’m not suggesting that we should take a vowel of poverty, or give huge sums of money to the church; but are you prepared to use what you have, with prayerful consideration, to promote God’s gospel?

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment