The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

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

What does it mean to be in a relationship with God?

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion.

Preparation for Prayer

Psalm 63:1-11

O God, you are my God,

earnestly I seek you;

my soul thirsts for you,

my body longs for you,

in a dry and weary land

where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary

and beheld your power and your glory.

Because your love is better than life,

my lips will glorify you.

I will praise you as long as I live,

and in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;

with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;

I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help,

I sing in the shadow of your wings.

My soul clings to you;

your right hand upholds me.

They who seek my life will be destroyed;

they will go down to the depths of the earth.

They will be given over to the sword

and become food for jackals.

But the king will rejoice in God;

all who swear by God’s name will praise him,

while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

Prayer

As we meet as your people, it is our desire to thank you for all you’ve done for us, to pray to and to learn from you. Lord, we want to reflect upon the great love you have for each of us. We can often think that being in relationship with you is all about getting into your good books, and we miss the point of what it is to be in relationship with you, and how much you really love us. As we look at what Jesus taught about your love, help us to understand and take delight in your love.

In Jesus name we pray.

Luke 15:11-32

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”

What does it mean to be in a relationship with God?

What does it mean to be in relationship with God? It’s an interesting question. Being in a relationship with God could mean different things to different people. But the passage we just read is fairly specific about what it means.

We should note that when we come into a relationship with God, he is ecstatic! He is over the moon. And it doesn’t seem to matter what we’ve done to offend him. He wants nothing else than for us to come into a personal relationship with him.

We see this in the way the father in the passage welcomes back his rebellious son. Now take note of how this son rebels. He virtually tells his father, “Dad, I wish you were dead!” He takes his share of the inheritance, packs his bags and leaves home, squanders the money on parties and wild living, and ends up working a job that no one at that time in their right mind would want to do. This son has done just about everything he could possibly do to be rebellious! What do you think his father should do? Not welcome him back? Sounds fair after all he’s said and done. But what does the father do? When he spots his son at a distance, he goes running down the road to meet him. He gives him a great big hug and a kiss, and throws a party. He is ecstatic to have his son back!

This is what God is like. When we come to God seeking a relationship with him, he embraces us, and welcomes us. God doesn’t sit on his throne thinking, “hmmm, maybe! Do some good things first and I’ll think about it.” Or, “do this or that first and then come back.” No! God is ecstatic when we come to him seeking a relationship.

But to re-enforce the point, Jesus tells us about the other son. He’s been home the whole time, doing the right thing. But, unfortunately he’s missed the point of what it means to be in a relationship with his father. He thinks the relationship with his father is all about work, and doing what’s right. When he sees the party going on for the other son, he gets upset. He can’t understand why his father hadn’t done anything like that for him who had always done the right thing. The thing was, he could’ve had anything! All he had to do was ask.

What does it mean being in a relationship with God? Well, it doesn’t mean trying to earn our keep with God. In fact it means the opposite. It means acknowledging that we are dependant on God for all of our needs, and we need to be trusting in him in a personal relationship.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

November 16, 2007 Posted by | Devotionals, Parables, Religious | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Much is Heaven Worth?

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion.

Preparation to Pray

Psalm 19:7-11 (ESV)

      The law of the Lord is perfect,

          reviving the soul;

     the testimony of the Lord is sure,

          making wise the simple;

      the precepts of the Lord are right,

          rejoicing the heart;

     the commandment of the Lord is pure,

          enlightening the eyes;

      the fear of the Lord is clean,

          enduring forever;

     the rules of the Lord are true,

          and righteous altogether.

      More to be desired are they than gold,

          even much fine gold;

     sweeter also than honey

          and drippings of the honeycomb.

      Moreover, by them is your servant warned;

          in keeping them there is great reward.

Prayer

Lord, again we thank you that we can gather in your name and meet as your people. As we meet as your people, it is our desire to thank you for all you’ve done for us, to pray to and to learn from you. Lord, we are so blessed in our lives to have so much choice. There seems to be no end of entrainment and other things to amuse us. And we acknowledge this blessing comes from you. But Lord, so often we falter and pay more attention to the things we’re blessed with, rather than you who blesses. Help us Lord to value what you’ve promised us. Like the Psalmist, help us take unbridled delight in your word, and to get excited about you. As we look at what Jesus teaches us may we know the true worth of heaven, and the true worth of following Jesus, and want that more than anything else.

In Jesus name we pray.

Matthew 13:44-46

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

How much is heaven worth?

How much is heaven worth? Ever thought about it? What would you be prepared to give up for heaven? It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

Speaking of how much things are worth, let’s think about shopping. We all been shopping, haven’t we? Do we like it? There’s nothing like a good shop and finding the one thing you’ve been looking for. What I like is finding a really good bargain and getting something dirt cheap. I get a real kick out of it.

I had a shopping experience like that recently. I had been looking for another bike for a while, and these particular bikes aren’t cheap! I saw one advertised for a really good price. The only catch was it was in Hobart! But it was such good value, I thought it was worth dropping everything I was doing, flying from Sydney to Hobart to spend the money I had and buy this bike. And I did.

Well, Jesus says that’s how we should think about heaven. We should be prepared to give up a whole lot for the heaven. Because heaven is going to be a hundred times better than what we have to give up. Jesus tells two stories of two different men who had a similar experience to me when I bought my bike. One finds buried treasure, and the other spots a pearl. They’re both big finds, a once in a lifetime opportunity. To get what they found, they sell everything they had! They had to sell the house, their clothes, the family goat, the kitchen sink, the whole lot had to go! There wasn’t anything more precious to them then what they had just found.

Jesus is saying that is what the heaven is like. It’s precious! It’s worth more then everything else we own, or hope to own. And while heaven is living with God for eternity, it’s also about following Jesus now. And we’ve been saying that following Jesus means forgiving others when they do the wrong thing by us; listening to what Jesus teaches us; to tell others how much God loves us, both in what we say and what we do; and to trust God for everything we need. Following Jesus is also about trusting in his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. It’s only because of what Jesus did for us that we can even think about going to heaven! Jesus is the one who will get us there. All the more reason to follow Jesus.

Here’s the challenge: Are we following Jesus, or are other things getting in the way? If we’re letting other things get in the way, then we’re saying those things are worth more than following Jesus, and that’s not true. Following Jesus is worth much more! I wasn’t going to let a few essays and a plane flight get in the way of a good buy of a bike. Neither should we let other things get in the way of following Jesus. Heaven’s worth it!

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

November 2, 2007 Posted by | Devotionals, Parables, Religious | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How much is too much?

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion.

  

Preparation for Prayer

Psalm 37:1-7, 16-17

 

Do not fret because of evil men

or be envious of those who do wrong;

for like the grass they will soon wither,

like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good;

dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Delight yourself in the Lord

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;

trust in him and he will do this:

He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,

the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;

do not fret when men succeed in their ways,

when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Better the little that the righteous have

than the wealth of many wicked;

for the power of the wicked will be broken,

but the Lord upholds the righteous.

Prayer

Lord, again we thank you that we can gather in your name and meet as your people. As we meet as your people, it is our desire to thank you for all you’ve done for us, to pray to and to learn from you. Lord, we want to confess to you this morning that it’s easy to get swept up in getting more and more stuff. That we see the things that other people have got, and be jealous and want what they’ve got. Help us to see the bigger picture, Lord. Help us to put our trust in you, and seek out your purposes.

In Jesus name we pray.


 

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”  

                                                     

When too much is too much!

Who would like more stuff? More music, more clothes, more jewelry, more money? If you could have more of any one thing, what would it be? I certainly would like more stuff, and I’ll put my hand up for more money any day! But is this what we should be on about as Christians?

Now, I want to get one thing right from the outset. There’s nothing wrong with having stuff. There’s nothing wrong with having money and being rich. The Bible says that God can and does bless people with riches. There are plenty of rich people in the Bible. There are also plenty of poor people in the Bible, so God doesn’t bless everyone with riches. But the point is there’s nothing wrong with having stuff. What counts is our attitude to our stuff – whether we’ve got a whole lot or just the shirt on our back.

Jesus tells a story in response to some people squabbling over wealth. The story involves a farmer who’s just had a bumper crop season. He’s got more grain then he knows what to do with! “Praise God!!!” we might say. Not this guy. He sees his bumper crop and thinks “Early retirement! YIPPEE!!!” and starts making measures where he can put his feet up, and party every night.

Again, I want to say there’s nothing wrong with putting money aside for the future. It’s a good idea! But it’s a serious problem when we put our faith, our confidence in the stuff we have and not God. You see, all that stuff is temporary. It’ll all disappear one day. And we certainly can’t take it to heaven! It’s just foolish to think having stuff will solve all our problems, and God just thinks it’s a bad joke.

This is why Jesus says we’re to be rich toward God. We’re to put our faith and confidence in him. When life gets tough, which it will from time to time, we’re to turn to God, and ask him for help. We’re to seek God’s purpose in our lives by serving people and telling them about Jesus, and not our own desires.

What, or who, are you trusting in? Do you trust in your stuff? Are you hoping to get one more thing, and then everything will be ok? I hope not, because all that stuff will disappear and not be of any use to us at all. Or do you trust in God, and in what Jesus has done for you. I hope you trust in God and are seeking out his purposes, because it’s that relationship that will last, and go on forever.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

October 19, 2007 Posted by | Devotionals, Parables, Religious | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Publication of Devotions

For the past 5 years, I’ve been doing church services from the Spastic Centre (Allambie Heights, Sydney) on a fortnightly basis. Each time I distrbute the a print out of the passage we use and my talk. As you might imagine I have dozens of these little talks by now. They’re exactly what I hand out at the Spastic Centre, so as devotions they’re a bit rough around the edges, but I think they still have value.

Feel free to use or distribute these any way you see fit. I expect to be publishing these once a fortnight. Continue reading

October 19, 2007 Posted by | 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

Questioning Times

(Psalm 44)

As Christians we are aware of God’s many provisions. And because of Jesus we can especially testify to God’s goodness towards us. So when hardship comes our way we are at times perplexed as to why bad things happen to God’s people.

Most Christians have been there. We’ve been cruising along in our Christian lives, and without warning, disaster strikes. A debilitating illness, financial difficulties, a relationship breakdown, a major accident, they all seem to strike randomly when we are least expecting it. We all struggle to understand the reasons behind disasters. We all struggle to incorporate it into our theology, and what we understand of the Bible.

But one thing is sure, we are not alone. In they heyday of the Kingdom of Israel, the Psalmist in Psalm 44 grapples with the same question. We don’t know what the disaster was, or when it occurred, but it was a disaster of exilic proportions (v13). The greatest blessing Israel had ever received was occupancy of the Promised Land, and there was no greater disaster that could have happened to Israel then to be driven from it. Whether or not the Psalm refers to the exile is debated. Nonetheless, we’re meant to understand that this disaster posed a major problem to Israel.

The problems of understanding how the disaster could have come about begin with the identity of Israel. You see, Israel was no ordinary people! These were people that God himself had brought out of slavery. He took this people from the Egyptians which treated them like dirt, to be his treasured possession. God took this people who, in human terms, had no special purpose in life, and set them aside for his eternal purposes (Exodus 19:5-6). This involved living under God’s rule as their King. To this end, God gave them a land where this could be done (verses 1-2).

So why on earth has a disaster come on Israel if they were set aside for God’s purposes? Well, maybe because the King made cuts in the defence budget. Maybe the technology wasn’t up to date. Maybe there wasn’t enough new recruits in the reserves. But this can’t be right! The Psalmist openly recognises that though they were out there on the battle fields of Canaan, their efforts would have been futile if it weren’t for the sovereign provision of God (verses 3-8). The most formidable weapons of the day in the way of the sword, bow and arrow, don’t rate a mention in what contributed to Israel’s victories in battle (v6). It was all God! All the praise and glory arising from and victories could only be given to God.

So why the sudden role reversal? Before, it was Israel’s enemies that were on the retreat and being humiliated (verse 5, 7). Now it’s Israel’s turn. They’re the ones on the retreat. They’re the ones being humiliated (verse 10). What about their relationship with God and being a treasured possession set aside for God’s purposes? It’s as if they’ve been sold out, and God’s getting the raw end of a bad deal (verse 12). An Israelite couldn’t even walk down the street without attracting criticism, or being the butt of a joke by other people (verse 13-16). What’s happened? They might as well have been thrown into exile (verse 11).

          Well, maybe exile has got something to do with it! God did decree if Israel was not careful to observe all the regulations set out in the law, God would scatter them among the nations and into exile (Deuteronomy 28:25, 64; 30:17-18). But things don’t add up on this account either. According to the Psalmist, they had been faithful to the covenant (verse 17); they hadn’t gone off exploring alternate lifestyles (verse 18); they hadn’t forgotten God, or what he had done for them by worshipping other gods (v20). In sum, they had been faithful just as God requested them to be! There was no obvious reason as to why Israel should be suffering.

Failing to come up with a logical explanation for what has occurred, the Psalmist comes to an amazing position of faith and realises two important facts.

Firstly, the Psalmist realises that for all the confusion and suffering, in some way God will be glorified, and his purposes will be achieved (verse 22). The Apostle Paul picks up the same verse and uses it in his letter to the Romans (Romans 8:36). In this part of the letter, Paul is saying despite the most trying sufferings, we will never be cut off from fellowship with God, which is God’s ultimate purpose for each of us. God’s ultimate purpose was perhaps not known to the Psalmist. But what he did know was that the disaster was not outside of God’s control, and nothing was going to thwart God’s purposes.

Secondly, because God was in control of the situation, there was nothing they could do to remedy the disaster (verse 25). But this also meant there was every reason to petition God to reverse the situation. In verses 9-14, the personal pronoun “you” is used six times in reference to God. The Psalmist is fully aware that this was God’s doing. And if God can get them into this mess, God can get them back out of it. It’s to God alone that the Psalms looks for a resolution to the disaster. But on what basis? Because of whom they are as God’s people? No! Because the Psalmist has just offered a lavish sacrifice in the temple? No! Because it would be really neat to walk down the street without hearing someone say, “Did you hear the one about the Israelite who…”? No! God is petitioned on the basis of his great love. On the basis of his character and who he is (verse 26).

No amount of theological reflection can ease the pain and struggles that often accompany disaster. Just ask anyone caught up in the recent bombings in London. To justify suffering would seem to go beyond human wisdom. Particularly when the reasons behind a disaster elude us. However, as Christians, we have fellowship with God whose purpose it is to reconcile people to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul says, “God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32).

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

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