The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Enough with the Rainbow-fart: A plea for compassion

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This image of a unicorn passing a rainbow-fart pretty much depicts  what I think of the quality of debate around same sex marriage (SSM) from both sides. I believe the biblical term is σκύβαλα (skybala). The word is found in Philippians 3:8, and its meaning is much stronger then the NIV’s translation of ‘rubbish’. It’s a debate that really hasn’t benefited anyone.

My summary of the debate thus far is to say peace-loving progressives are being militant, while the well-considered conservatives are just being stupid and insensitive.

From progressives we have seen reports of people being denied employment for opposing SSM, calls for other public figures to be denied employment, and opponents of SSM being verbally abused. Progressives and SSM proponents have been assuring the public that SSM will have no impact on freedom of speech, religion, and education, while the experience of nations that have passed SSM demonstrates these areas are impacted.

Meanwhile, conservatives are putting forward arguments which, in all honesty, can’t really be sustained. Lachlan McFarlane wrote a blog explaining that though he’s a conservative Christian, he intends to vote ‘yes’ to SSM (https://lachlanmcfarlane.wordpress.com/2017/09/04/im-a-christian-and-i-intend-to-vote-yes-to-same-sex-marriage/). While I disagree with his conclusion and find his view of marriage lacking, his criticisms of many of the arguments put forward by conservatives are worth considering. It’s concerning that some conservatives have also resorted to violence.

Then there’s the suggestion that LGTBI+ people are just confused. My view is that LGTBI+ people have already been through massive amounts of confusion, and have had to work through a lot of issues. To reduce their complex experience down to a one sentence explanation, or a platitude, or to say they’re just confused is insulting, and does them a disservice.

No matter what the outcome of the SSM survey on November 15, there will not be any winners. Only losers. Don’t think the announcement of the outcome will put an end to the matter either.

The question I want to raise here is, after all the damage has been done, who is going to pick up the pieces? Where are people on both sides of the debate going to find healing, now and many years into the future as the debate continues and the great rainbow-fart keeps being contributed to? As the debate continues well after November 15, more people will struggle as they come to terms with their own sexuality, and sexuality in general.

My concern is the church should be the place where people can find reconciliation and healing. However, for those people who struggle to conform to the biblical ideal for sexuality, the church can be a very difficult and threatening place. Phil Campbell explains in his article, Somewhere Over the Rainbow (https://australia.thegospelcoalition.org/article/somewhere-over-the-rainbow-1), that, “Most Christians have had a poor understanding of the LGBTIQA community.” I want to state that more strongly and suggest most Christians don’t have a clue about alternate forms of sexuality and sexual expression. Sexuality is rarely discussed in Christian forums or from the pulpit. Sadly, the rare thing that is said about sexuality fails to address the issues that some people are having to struggle with. It should scandalise us Christians when those with sexual struggles are finding solace in a pseudo-maxist postmodern philosophy rather then find healing in the gospel. That is, to find the final resolve to our struggles in the resurrection of Jesus – new life for eternity. Instead, the rejection of the gospel often provokes us Christians to be judgemental, which is all the more tragic.

It’s not only same sex attracted people who struggle with sexually. It’s also people who are single for one reason or another. Those who struggle with a “different” form of sexual expression. My concern is that anyone who’s sexuality does not conform to what is expected of sexual expression in the Christian culture, they are feeling the effects of the debate more than others. It also seems to me that the church needs to develop an understanding and an appreciation of the diversity of sexual expressions that exist with in the community.

It may be said that Christian’s shouldn’t struggle with sexuality. That somehow they are to embark on a Platonic ascent, rising above their carnal desires, and thereby resolving their sexual struggle. Such ascents are mere fantasy. If you are a Christian and you do not struggle with anything, I’m compelled to ask you, where have you compromised? If life isn’t difficult, what fantasy world have you constructed for yourself that affords you the luxury of pretending that you have your life together? Nowhere in the Bible does God command his people to embark on a Platonic ascent. Christians struggle, and fantasy worlds come crashing down. That’s life!! Christians struggle with relationships, finance, addiction, greed, materialism, disability, sickness, mental health issues, and so on. The area of sexuality is no different. Instead, Christians are called to persevere in their struggle. Christians are to persevere in furnishing their faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1:5-7), and part of this is being reminded of the grace God has given us (vv3-4). Perhaps another part of this is having God’s grace spoken directly into the areas where people are struggling, and being grace to them.

The impact of having grace spoken directly into a persons struggles can be dramatic. I know of two different men who struggled with their alternate sexuality for many years. The first man never felt there was the opportunity for him to talk about his struggle. As a result, he never received the pastoral care he needed. He didn’t hear God’s grace applied to his circumstances, and stopped persevering as he had been, which also impacted negatively on those around him. The second man was able to find a listening ear. He did receive pastoral support, and has been able to explore how God’s grace applies to his circumstance. He has been able to persevere, grow in faith, and continues to serve the Christian community in many ways. He still struggles greatly, and the Christian culture can be very difficult for him at times. But he knows that he is supported. Taking a cue from Rachel Gilson, in discussing her struggle with lesbianism, she explains, “Heterosexuality is not the end goal; faithfulness to God, and the joy that comes from relationship with him, is what we run for.” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/october/i-never-became-straight-perhaps-that-was-never-gods-goal.html?share=44rkqx2CuX6frhIrpgLL8EM5B6hZ7KAm). While the struggle is different in all three cases, the point to be pursued is the same – faithfulness to God. The importance of pastoral support cannot be overstated for those who struggle with sexuality and alternate sexual expression.

So I want to make an impassioned plea for compassion – Christ’s compassion. I’m not asking people to endorse lifestyles and behaviours that don’t conform to the Bible. But I am asking Christians to stop contributing to the rainbow-fart. To start appreciating the fact that people are struggling. Seriously struggling! James Parker, a former gay activist, explains when he began to take an interest in Jesus and the Bible, no one confronted him about his homosexuality. No one told him, “You can’t be doing that.” Instead, they accepted James as he was, and focused on establishing a solid relationship with Jesus. As he grew in his faith, he began to realise what he was doing was inconsistent with the Bible, so he turned from his homosexual practice. Same-sex attraction is still an issue for him, but having come to understand what it means to be the man that God created him to be, and out of his love and faithfulness towards Jesus, he does not engage in those practices. Establishing people in a relationship with Jesus, and encouraging them in their Christian faith, and reminding them of God’s grace in relation to their sexuality needs to remain the focus.

It’s not just LGBTI+ people who struggle. It’s also straight people. It’s people with disabilities. It’s people who are divorced. It’s people who have buried their spouse. It’s people who may never marry. As this debate continues, more and more people are going to struggle. So we as Christians better figure out how to start loving them, and how to speak God’s grace into their lives.

I don’t know all the ins and outs of how to do that. But a constructive conversation must start with appreciating that people are struggling. That’s a conversation I’m keen to see started.

© The Student’s Desk

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October 27, 2017 Posted by | Bible, Religious | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Theological Approach to Relating to People with Disabilities

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

© The Student’s Desk, September 2011

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

Times of Change (Christmas Message)

Isaiah 40:1-5

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

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

Times of Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Student’s Desk, 2009

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

Easter 2009 – The purpose of the Christian life…

Read: Psalm 16

Prayer:

Who is like you, O God, who provides for all our needs before we ask? You have given each us our tasks in life, and made our lives secure. We thank you that you are a God who speaks, and you counsel us in all matters. We thank you for Jesus, that in dying you did not leave him, nor let him see decay. But he became the path of life for us that we may know your eternal pleasures. As we consider what resurrection is, may we understand afresh what Jesus has done for us, and help us grasp hold of that wonderful promise we have in Jesus.

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

It’s Easter! A time when we stuff ourselves silly with chocolate and get incredibly fat. Is this really why we have Easter? Easter is the time when we remember and celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Hold on a sec! Did anyone notice what I just said? I just mentioned Jesus’ death and resurrection. How do we think about that? How do we conceptualise that? I think most of us have been to a funeral. Either the curtain closes, or the coffin is lowered down, and that’s the last we see of the person. We’ve got the death bit figured out. But the resurrection bit… what does that look like?

The Bible gives us some clues. One of those clues is from the created order. When we look around the world, we can see different things have different sorts of bodies. Think of a tree, for example. A tree begins is life as a seed. Yet the tree and the seed look nothing like each other. In fact, the seed needs to be buried before a tree can grow. And we know that there are different kinds of bodies. A person looks nothing like a dog, and a dog looks nothing like a bird, and a bird looks nothing like a fish. So it is with a resurrected body. It’s different to the body we have now.

How is the resurrection body different? The bodies we have now a weak and frail, and will eventually die. They are also shameful. We know we do things that displease God, and we can often feel ashamed of our sin. It’s just natural for us to do things that God does not want us to do. But the resurrection body is different. The resurrection body is imperishable; it won’t become weak, frail, and eventually die. It will be honourable, and will be able to do the things that God wants. It won’t be attracted to sin like the body we have now. The bodies we have now, the Bible calls ‘natural’. The resurrection body the Bible calls ‘spirit’.

Well, where do these bodies come from? The first man that was made was Adam, so we’re all descendants of Adam. We’re all born of Adam. And this is where our natural bodies come from. But more importantly where do our spiritual bodies come from? Jesus! Jesus is the one who came from heaven, so he has a spiritual body. But how are we born of Jesus? By believing in him!

Why is this so important? Because our natural bodies can not handle heaven any more then a fish can walk on dry land. We must have a body that is fit for heaven. Our mortal, perishable bodies must be replaced by immortal, imperishable bodies.

Well, how does that happen? God gives us these new spiritual bodies in Jesus. Jesus is the one who took death head on and defeated death. Jesus has made it possible for us to receive new, spiritual bodies that are fit for heaven. It is by believing in Jesus that we receive new bodies when our current bodies die. And these new bodies will be imperishable, strong, and glorious.

Now let me speak personally for a moment. I’m 34 years old. And I’m finding the older I get, the more aware I become of my limitations. And the more aware I become, the more frustrated I become. Sometimes I’m not even aware of why I’m frustrated. I just am. Yet when I recall this passage, I am reminded of the tremendous hope we have in Jesus. That our frustrations aren’t all there is to life. There will be victory, and the victory has been won by Jesus by rising from the dead.

How are we to respond to such a promise of victory in Jesus? By standing firm, remaining faithful to Jesus. Nothing we do for Jesus, no effort we make, will be wasted. It may feel like it! I feel that quite allot. But it’s not true! Here it is in the Bible, “know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Wow! What a promise!!

The idea of resurrection may be difficult for us to understand. Nonetheless, there is a new, spiritual body made available to us. Jesus has made this body available to us in his own resurrection, so we can have bodies that are fit for heaven. Our task is to remain faithful to Jesus.

© The Student’s Desk, 2009

April 10, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Message for 2008

Read Philippians 2:1-11

Meet your Saviour!

As Christians, we talk about how Jesus came to save people from their sins. For this reason, I keep on reminding us of the importance of believing and trusting in Jesus. But, how do we know Jesus can save us? How do we know that Jesus can sympathise with us? How do we know that Jesus can meet us exactly where we are in life, and raise us up to eternal life with him, forever? 

I mean, Jesus was born 2000 years ago. That’s a long time! He was born in a different culture, in a different country, in a different time in history. How could Jesus possibly know about life in Australia in the 21st Century? What would Jesus know about drug dependant young adults, alcoholic parents, pregnant teenage girls living with their boyfriends, mortgage repayments, machines that don’t do what they’re suppose to? What would Jesus know about being disabled, and being stuck in a wheelchair with a speech impairment? What would Jesus know about my life??? 

Jesus knows all there is to know about not just your life, but everyone’s life. When Jesus came into the world, he was born fully human. Not part human. Not a modified human. But fully human, with all the difficulties that it entailed, yet without sin.  

Jesus knew what it was to be poor. Do you know what Jesus’ first bed was? A cattle trough (Luke 2:7)! A wooden box that only a few hours before big, dopey animals were slobbering in. Later on in his life, someone came running up to Jesus and said, “I’ll follow you wherever you go!” Jesus effectively told this man, “Mate, I got nowhere to go. Foxes and birds are better off than me!” (Matthew 8:19-20). Jesus knew what it was to be poor.

Jesus knew what it was to be frustrated. He spent so much time teaching he disciples, and so often they’d look at him, “huh?” At the start of his ministry, he teaches in a parable. At the end of the parable, Jesus effectively says, “Unless you have understood this parable, you’re not going to understand anything else. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Later on, the disciples came to Jesus, “err, please explain?” (Luke 8:8-9). How frustrating! Or at the end of his ministry, when after three long years of teaching his disciples about God, one of the disciples said “Jesus, show us the Father.” (John 14:8). Had it all gone in one ear and out the other? Jesus knew what it was to be frustrated.

Jesus knew what it was to mourn. When one of Jesus mates died, Jesus actually wept. Even though Jesus had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, and he went to Lazarus’ tomb specifically to do so, Jesus felt all the pain, all the anger, all the confusion of seeing a loved one die. (John 11:35). Jesus knew what it was to mourn. 

Jesus knew what it was to be angry. He went to the temple one day and was utterly disgusted by what he saw. The temple was where you want to pray to God, offer sacrifices, and learn about God. Instead of a prayer place, Jesus found a market place! (Matthew 21:12-13). Can you imagine trying to have a church service in the middle of the local shopping centre at Christmas time? It would be utter chaos! People coming and going in every direction, noises drowning out every word and thought. This would be the kind of scene Jesus came across. Is it any wonder Jesus got angry? 

My personal favourite is Jesus knew what it was to be misunderstood. Not that the Bible says that Jesus had a speech impairment. In fact, Jesus probably had good, clear speech. But he wasn’t always understood. Like when he told his disciples to be aware of the yeast of the Pharisees. The disciples thought he was upset with them because they didn’t have any bread with them. He wasn’t talking about bread! He was talking about the teaching of the religious leaders of the time (Matthew 16:5-12). Or when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the need to be born again. Poor Nic was scratching his head wondering how a grown man could crawl back inside his mother’s womb! Jesus wasn’t talking about physical birth, but spiritual birth (John 3:5-8). Jesus knew what it was to be misunderstood.

Jesus knew what it was to be betrayed. Do you know who gave Jesus over to the authorities? One of his best mates who had been with Jesus from the beginning, Judas (John 18:2-3). You think you know a guy, don’t you? 

Jesus knew what it was to be abandoned. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus begged his disciples, “please, stay up and pray with me.” Yet every time he went back to his disciples, he found them sleeping (Matthew 26:36-46)! The next morning another of Jesus closest mates, Peter, would deny that he knew Jesus at all (Matthew 26:69-75). Jesus knew what it was to be abandoned. 

Jesus knew anxiety like none of us can imagine! As he prayed that night, alone, drops of sweat came from his head that looked like blood (Luke 22:44). 

Jesus knew what it was to be rejected. For a time, Mary and Joseph had to hide with Jesus in another country, so he wouldn’t be killed by the local governor (Matthew 2:13-15). He was rejected by the very people who he grew up with when he tried to tell them about the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:53-58). Occasionally he was rejected for healing people and doing good (Matthew 12:10-14). Not to mention his rejection at the end of his life when the crowds shouted in anger at the top of their voice “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Matthew 23:18-23). 

Jesus knew what it was to be abused. As he was being led to the cross, people spat on him, struck him, taunted him, called him names, and made fun of him (Matthew 27:17-31). 

Jesus also knew what it was to have a body that doesn’t function. Joni Eareckson Tada who suffers from paraplegia realised Jesus knew exactly what it was to have a body that could not move when he was fastened to the cross, unable to move (Matthew 27:42). 

Wherever we are in life, Jesus knows about it. There is nothing that we will experience that Jesus has not. Jesus has been there, he’s done that, and he is able to meet us in that place, and help us. 

So know you might be thinking, “ok, I get the idea that Jesus experienced all there was to being human. But, what can he do about my situation?” Jesus can do plenty, because Jesus is also fully God. God himself (Mark 2:7). That same power that created all things from nothing – that formed the earth, put the stars, sun, and moon in their places, that filled the sky with birds, and the land with animals and made plants and trees grow from it, that breathed into a handful of dirt and created a man (Genesis 1, 2) – that same power is in the person of Jesus. The power to re-create! 

We see this in Jesus’ ministry. He heals the sick (Mark 1:29-31; 3:3-6; 5:24-34; Luke 5:12-13; John 4:43-53), raises the dead (Mark 5:38-42; Luke 7:12-16; John 11:32-44), drives out demons (Mark 1:24-26; 5:1-13), restores sight to the blind (Matthew 9:27-31), hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb (Mark 7:32-37), and makes the lame walk (John 5:5-9). He feeds the hungry (John 6:1-5), welcomes sinners and outcasts restoring relationships (Luke 15:1-2). Not just once or twice, but a continual part of his ministry. Miracles were an every day event with Jesus. Yet, all this was just a foretaste of his future ministry, because at that time, Jesus will come and restore all things, even you and me. It will be a re-creation. 

This ministry has already begun. It began on the cross. By Jesus dying on the cross as he did, Jesus remained absolutely obedient to God in a way that none of us can. And because of Jesus’ obedience, a way has now been established to cancel sin once and for all (Hebrews 10:12-14). Because of this, the most important relationship has been restored – our relationship with God. 

It’s by Jesus that people stand or fall with God. Because of Jesus’ obedience, God has made Jesus the authoritative figure when it comes to our relationship with God. There is no alternative. On that day of the great restoration, everyone, regardless of what they believe or think about Jesus now, will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord!

Well what about you? Do you acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord? Do you believe Jesus is able to meet you exactly where you are in life, with all the warts, and all the difficulties, and all the shortcomings? Do you trust in Jesus promise of restoration? Not just in the future, but now, knowing your sin and wrongdoings have been dealt with once and for all, and you are able to enjoy a right standing before God now?

This is what the Bible proclaims about Jesus. Let us be encouraged by this, and be comforted by God’s love for us. That Jesus was born, fully human, fully God, that we may enjoy eternal life with him.

December 12, 2008 Posted by | Devotionals, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon on the Mount: Jesus shows off ‘showing off’…

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 147:7-11

Lord, we thanks and praise you for the great love you have for each one for us, and you bless us day after day, not only with the things that we need, but with things to enjoy. Lord, your word teaches us that you are not impressed by what people can do. Instead, you take great delight in those who put their hope in you. Lord, in the light of this, we confess that there have been times when we’ve showed off. When we’ve tried to impress others and you, and make ourselves out to be better than what we are. Lord, as we look at what Jesus taught, humble our hearts, and help us understand. Enable us to do things not to show off, but to honour you.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Jesus shows off ‘showing off’…

Read Matthew 6:1-8

We’ve all seen show offs haven’t we? Perhaps we’ve showed off ourselves. I’ve been called a show off a number of times, and probably not without reason. Why do people show off? To draw attention to themselves. To be noticed. To make themselves out to be better then what they are. Jesus reckoned people showed off so people would say how good they were. They might give a whole lot of money so someone might say “Fred, you’re the most generous man I know!” Or they might pray in public so someone might say, “Wow, he must be so holy to pray like that!!”

But this doesn’t impress Jesus at all. Jesus says if all you want is for people to tell you how good you are, then that’s all you’re going to get. You have nothing more coming from God. You have received your reward in full. Because the faith of such a person is not sincere. They aren’t focussed on God. They’re just looking to show off.

So what does a since faith look like? When it comes to giving, not just money, but anything – even our time – we’re to do so with our left hand not knowing what our right hand is doing. In other words, we’re to give without expecting anything in return. In this way our concern is the other person, and not scoring points with other people or God.

It’s the same with prayer. We ought not use prayer as a way to impress others. Instead we ought to pray in private. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray publically. The Bible often speaks of people getting together to pray. But when we pray publically, there might be part of us trying to impress the others. When we pray in private, there’s no risk of that happening. Even still, we need to be careful with our private prayers that we don’t end up trying to impress God. When we do pray, we shouldn’t feel we need to use big, fancy words to get God’s attention. Or say the same prayer over and over and over again to score points with God. God knows what we need! He doesn’t need us to tell him. And we pray in Jesus’ name who made us right with God, so there’s no sense in trying to score points with him. Instead we should simply ask God for what we need.

Living Christian lives is not a matter of showing off. Following Jesus is about having concern for others and having a sincere faith in God knowing that you have been made right with him by Jesus.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

September 23, 2008 Posted by | Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Religious, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon on the Mount: Going the extra mile, and beyond…

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 18:20-30

Lord, as we have been looking as the message Jesus preached so many years ago, we have come to see that living Christian lives is very different to the world. For you do not judge as the world judges, nor value what the world values. Often you despise the things the world values, and we think little of what you ask of us. Help us see the wisdom in Jesus’ words this morning that we may live different lives, radical lives, so people know that we belong to you.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. 

Going the extra mile, and beyond…

Read Matthew 5:20, 38-48

This is perhaps one of the hardest teachings of Jesus. And we’ve heard it that many times, it’s become a cliché – “turn the other check”. Yet it still makes us uncomfortable. Jesus seems to be asking the impossible here. Are we suppose to get around butt-naked for the sake of others and literally give the shirt off our back?

Well you don’t need to look too far today to find people interpreting the Bible for their own gain. In Jesus’ day, it was exactly the same. Way back in the Old Testament when God made his people into a nation, he gave them a law that said if someone deliberately injures another, then they should have the same done to them. So if I broke your leg, you would have the right to break my leg. The whole point of the law was to limit payback. I have heard in some indigenous cultures there’s a system of payback. One person does something to another, then the other person does something worse to get back at them. It goes on and on, and there’s no end to it. This law was given to stop all that nonsense, and to give respect to people, even nasty people.

Some people in Jesus day had a different take on that law. They used this law to justify payback. They didn’t respect people. They weren’t concerned for there welfare. They just used God’s law to justify their own selfishness. It was pathetic! It is against this abuse of God’s law that we need to understand Jesus’ teaching.

By teaching what he does Jesus places the emphasis back on respect for the other person. This doesn’t mean we need to strip naked every time someone demands something of us. Jesus is using exaggerated language here. He is actually saying to go beyond the minimum standard, and actually do something positive for the other person, even if they’ve cost us or offended us.

In Jesus’ day, a person’s cloak was very important, particularly if the person was poor. It may have been the only thing they had to keep them warm at night. So to give away your cloak was no small thing. Why would Jesus make such a wild statement? Living life upside down and following Jesus is about thinking about the other person and not to be so selfish. When we start jumping up and down demanding our rights, who are we really concerned about? Ourselves! Are we thinking of the other person? Hardly!

So this teaching of Jesus isn’t about going around butt-naked. Jesus is using exaggerated language to show what it is do deny ourselves and put others first. After all, it was Jesus who denied his very life to put us ahead of him so that we would enjoy eternity. 

Jesus presses the issue again we he tells people to walk the extra mile. Have you ever been asked to do something, and you do it only because you had to? I have. I drag my feet and don’t do any more then what I have to. Jesus isn’t impressed with that. Jesus says to think about the other person, and to do the extra work. Again it was Jesus who did the extra work for us, work that we could not do, in obeying God perfectly. It’s in Jesus that we can experience God’s blessings.

We have been blessed so much as Christians. May we show others how blessed we are and bless them by thinking of them. Even if it means putting them first.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

September 7, 2008 Posted by | Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Religious, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon on the Mount: Jesus take on anger management – How do we do it?

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 51:10-17

Lord, living the way you want in this life is hard work. It seems temptation is around every corner, and we are always seeing and hearing examples of behaviour that you don’t want us to do. Like the Psalm Lord, we pray you would create in us a new heart, one that rejoices in your ways so people may learn about your great love from us. Lord, teach us to be humble when things don’t go our way. May we even seek the needs of others, even when they’re against us. As we look at what Jesus taught, help us to understand what is taught, and help us to respond.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

Jesus take on anger management – How do we do it?

Read Matthew 5:20-26

We’ve been talking about living life upside-down, living differently to the rest of the world. So far we’ve said the unlucky people by worldly standards are actually the lucky people by God’s standards – they have God’s blessing. We’ve also talked about what we can expect from living lives differently to other people. We said that we might cop a bit of flak from others, but we can also expect people to turn and praise God for what the see in us.
But how do we live life upside-down? What does an upside down life look like day in and day out? That’s what we’ll be talking about the next few times we meet, starting today.

There are plenty of people around today that think being Christian is about observing a minimum standard of behaviour. That so long as you don’t commit any big sins like murder, and live a good life, you’ll be right. And they’re partly right. Responding to the gospel and following Jesus demands a change in behavioural standards. But their mostly wrong. Because Jesus takes that standard of behaviour, and takes it to a whole new level. Jesus raises the bar.

How far does Jesus raise the bar? There were a number of religious groups in Jesus’ day and one of them was called the Pharisees. These people knew the law of God really, really well. They were religious nutters! When it came to being devoted to God, they were pedantic! There was not an area of their life that their devotion to God affected. Anyone could spot a Pharisee from 100m away. Their devotion to God was that obvious! And to all this religious devotion and 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.” Now that is a shocking thing to say. Anyone would’ve thought if anyone was going to go to heaven, it would be a Pharisee. Jesus says, no chance!

What’s the problem with the Pharisees? The problem with the Pharisees is the same problem we can have today – that living life the way God wants is about ticking boxes, like on a check list. We can start thinking that so long as we’ve done our Christian quota – gone to church, said our prayers, read our Bible – God will be happy with that. Jesus says no! It’s a lot more than that. And if you haven’t understood anything I’ve been saying, I want you to understand this, and keep this in mind: Living Christian lives is not about keeping a check list of a behaviour standard. The Christian life is about doing the most you can in service to God, and in service to others. After all, Jesus gave everything he had for us, by dying on a cross for our sins so we can be friends with God. The only appropriate response is to give everything we have, and give the most that we can. Even to the point we ask ‘how can I do more?’ when we’ve done everything. Some will be able to do more than others. That’s ok. God doesn’t expect us to all be the same. But he does expect us to do what we can.

Jesus puts this in very concrete terms for us by talking about murder and anger. Now, I take it there aren’t any murderers amongst us. Just in case there is, and I’ve offended you, I am really, really sorry, and there’s no need to meet me in the back ally afterwards. But we do get angry with people, don’t we? We might start calling them nasty names and holding grudges against them. Has anyone done that? I have. And we might start thinking, “I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t actually murdered them… yet!” Well, Jesus says you have done something wrong. God isn’t happy with your behaviour. You need to do something about it. You need to stop bearing a grudge and say to the person, “look, I’m sorry. Can we talk about what happened?” That’s what living life upside-down looks like. That’s what living Christian lives and following Jesus involves. It’s not easy. But it is worthwhile.

Again, living Christian lives is not about keeping a check list of a behaviour standard. The Christian life is about doing the most you can in service to God, and in service to others in response to the love Jesus has shown to each of us.

 

 

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

August 23, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Religious, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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