The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

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

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 36:5-9

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

Living life upside-down – What can we expect?

Read Matthew 5:11-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

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

Sermon on the Mount: Living life upside down

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

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

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

 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 32

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

In Jesus name we pray.

Living life upside-down

Read: Matthew 5:1-10 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

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

Saved by Grace!

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 111

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

In Jesus name we pray.

Saved by Grace

Read Exodus 12:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behold your God and Saviour!

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Editor’s Note:

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

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Isaiah 45:22-25

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

In Jesus name we pray.

Behold your God and Saviour!

Read Exodus 6:1-9

Or extended reading Exodus 7 – 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

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

God has a plan, but…

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 145:1-13

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

In Jesus name we pray.

God has a plan, but…

Reading Exodus 3:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

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

Beliefs Page

Page added – Beliefs

Here I outline concisely what my core beliefs are as a Christian so visitors may know the theological framework for my papers.

February 6, 2008 Posted by | Religious, Site News, Theology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

Religious Vilification in Australia

Synopsis:

The following essay addresses the issues of religious tolerance in Australia. It briefly explores the ethical theory that makes religious pluralism and multiculturalism possible before rejecting this theory for its incompatibility with Christianity. An alternate ethical approach is then developed based on the Bible exploring Old and New Testament attitudes to alternate belief systems, and their theology behind them. It is found that the Old Testament had little tolerance toward alternate belief systems, while the New Testament was more tolerant, though not within the church. The reasons given for this are the identity and mission of Israel, and the theological changes that occurred with Israel being personified in Christ. On the basis of these theological changes, there is now no biblical basis for the suppression of other belief systems, yet still recognises the need to limit religious freedom, though finding a basis for such demands without a Christian framework may prove difficult.
——
Australia is recognised as a country with ethnic and cultural diversity with no state religion.[1] This implies that within Australian society there is representation of a large variety of beliefs and religions. As such, civil values include the ‘respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual’ and ‘freedom of religion and secular government’.[2] That is, Australians are able to choose to practice any religion of their choice, or none at all, and not to harbour intolerant attitudes to other religious groups. Australians are also to share equality under the law regardless of ethnicity, culture, religion or political background.[3]  Such civic values pose interesting questions for those who believe the Bible as the authoritative word breathed by God, and wish to advance Christian beliefs and values. Issues of maintaining the exclusive claims of the Bible and advancing Christian beliefs in a multicultural and pluralistic society come with difficulties. While falsehood is a concern for those who are zealous for their beliefs, fairness between religious groups also needs to be maintained so that one group does is not subjected to vilification by another, or one group is shown favouritism over another. The underlying issue is in such a pluralist society is one of truth. Religious intolerance would restrict the advancement of falsehood, although this would also imply the advancement of Christian beliefs and values would need to be forfeited. Religious toleration would not restrict the advancement of falsehood, although presumably, Christians would share equal opportunity to advance their belief and values. Hence a tension exists between the claims of the Bible, and the rights of an individual. In order to establish an ethical response from a biblical perspective, the Bible’s attitude toward other religions in both the Old and New Testaments needs to be considered. However, it is also necessary to consider the ethical theory which has developed the contemporary values of Australian society.

The ethical theory which multiculturalism and pluralism have come from is most likely situation ethics as many of the features are consistent. Joseph Fletcher developed the theory in response to the failures of legalism and antinomianism.[4] The principles of this ethical theory are: 1) pragmatism – the criteria for discerning right answer is love. This principle is recognised in the representation of tolerance between belief systems. 2) relativism – the avoidance of absolute statements. This can be clearly seen in with religious toleration as it does not recognise any one group of having the truth in any absolute sense. 3) Positivism – that a person comes to faith through the exercise of reason or free will. 4) Personalism – the benefit for people is prioritised.[5] It is these measures which allow differing religions to co-exist. Such an ethical theory presents difficulties for Christianity. To be able to resolve these difficulties, a biblical ethic needs to be developed.

According to Song, The Christian church historically has not been tolerant of other belief systems. He cites Augustine arguing for the ‘use of coercion for the sake of the salvation of souls’; Thomas Aquinas arguing that the of ‘rites unbelievers and Jews should not to be tolerated’, and that heretics should be ‘constrained both for their own sake and the protection of others’; and John Calvin maintaining that part of the purpose of civil authority ‘included the protection of the outward worship of God and the defence of sound doctrine and the standing of the church’.[6] John Stott also mentions briefly the atrocities committed in the Spanish Inquisition as an indication of the intolerance that has occurred historically.[7] The commands in the Old Testament for the destruction of the Canaanites and their religion (Exodus 23:23-24; 19:1; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 31:3-5) have been used in the middle ages to justify such intolerant positions.[8]

However, to use a deductive method to apply Scripture to the contemporary context has serious faults. Such methods do not give consideration to the context in which the Scripture was written, thus allowing the Scripture to be applied any way the reader sees fit; and neither does it give consideration to the contemporary context where the Scriptural and contemporary contexts can be compared and contrasted. Rather, before Scripture can be applied and thus deducing an ethic, a biblical theology of the Old Testament followed by the New Testament, through which the Old Testament is to be understood, must be developed.

To understand the purpose of the commands to destroy the Canaanites and their religion, consideration must be given to God’s relationship to the world, and Israel’s role in that relationship. The Bible asserts first and foremost that there is one God who made the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). This allows for ethical simplicity in that humanity is not answerable to competing authorities, thereby causing confusion. Rather, there is one God to whom humanity must give an account (Genesis 9:5; Psalm 33:13-15; Proverbs 5:20). Secondly, the world has fallen into sin through the rebellion of humanity (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 8:21). Instead of destroying what had been spoilt through sin, God chose to redeem creation (Genesis 3:15; Romans 8:23). It is the second point that is most crucial, as it is within this that the program of redemption of Israel and God’s commands to Israel are to be understood. Israel was raised by God out of slavery in Egypt in fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant, and would become the people in the land as a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:1-3). The way Israel would fulfil the Abrahamic Covenant was through her identity and moral obligations (Exodus 19:4-6). As a kingdom of priests, the entire nation of Israel assumed a mediatory role between God and the nations. It would be through Israel that the nations would come to know God and come to God. This implicated Israel’s moral obligation as a holy nation. In order to fulfil her mission as a kingdom of priests, Israel had to remain distinct from the other nations. This had implications for not only Israel’s religion, it also had implications for every aspect of her nationality. Israel’s distinctiveness ought to be attributed to her mission rather then her race. It would be through Israel’s nationality and relationship to the other nation that God would be revealed.

If the nation of Israel was to be a blessing to all nations, it seems contradictory that God should command Israel to destroy the Canaanites. However, Wright asserts that God’s blessing in eschatological terms and “… does not eliminate his prerogative to act in judgement on particular nations…”[9] Similarly, the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants did not prevent God from taking against future generations of Israelites in judgement. In fact, the destruction of the Canaanites was consistent with Israel’s mission. The purpose of God exercising judgement was that the God would be known (Ps 9:16; 59:13; 83:16-18; Isaiah 26:9; Ezekiel 11:10-12; 12:16), and making God known was part of Israel’s priestly office. The Canaanite nations and their religions contravened the first principle of biblical ethics by denying their accountability to God by worshipping a plurality of god’s which is inconsistent with the assertion of Scripture. This needed to be demonstrated historically. It should also be noted that it was not only the Canaanites who were liable to such judgment. In similarly manner, those within Israel who worshipped other gods were judged (Deuteronomy 13), and should the nation as a whole disobeyed the decrees set by God, they would be ‘vomited’ from the land as the Canaanites were (Leviticus 18:24-29). At the very least, these commands are not to be thought of as ‘racist’ or a basis for religious bigotry. Rather, they should be perceived as having their primary concern in the revelation of God.

However, despite the biblical-theological framework given for the Old Testament, these commands can not be directly applied to modern pluralism and multiculturalism for two reasons. Firstly, these commands were directed against a particular people group, and lack application to any other people group. The most likely reason for this is the destruction of the Canaanites had been anticipated from the days of Abraham for their sin (Genesis 15:16 [referred to as Amorites]). Secondly, in the course of redemptive history there has been a shift in the definition of the people of God and the locality of Divine revelation. While Israel defined the people and the locality of the revelation of God in the Old Testament, they failed in their mission through sin and rebellion (Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20-21). It was only when Israel was personified in Christ that the identity and mission was fulfilled. Therefore, the people of God and the locality of the revelation of God is no longer political or national, rather they have been personified in Christ. It is Christ who has become the blessing to all nations, and not a political initiative. For this reason, Jesus refrained from political activity (John 6:15) and separatism (Luke 15:1-2; Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 5:25-34), taught extensively that the Kingdom of God is not what people expected (Matthew 13:1-52), and that it is not of this world (John 18:36). However, Christ did make political comments (Mark 12:14-17; John 19:11). Instead, he advanced his kingdom through preaching and teaching (Mark 1:38).

This shift in the definition of the people of God and the locality of Divine revelation influence the New Testament church. Nowhere in the New Testament is the church found to be lobbying political pressure, or suppressing a people group or belief system outside their own. While it needs to be acknowledged that the first century Roman Empire did not allow for such political lobbying, and the church’s numbers were small in comparison, the theological reasons based on the person of Christ cannot be overlooked. The result in influence was different belief systems became an opportunity to explain the gospel (Acts 17:16-34), and while partaking in sacrifices offered to idols is forbidden, eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol then sold at market is left to a question of conscious (1 Corinthians 10:18-33). Therefore, a greater extent of tolerance is present in the New Testament.

However, this new founded permissiveness does not allow for theological ambiguity. The Old Testament’s concern for the people of God was for their purity of life and doctrine, and the New Testament share’s the same concern. Throughout the New Testament, reprimands can be found against those who live impurely (1 Corinthians 5; James 3:5-12), and those who would introduce false doctrine into the church (Galatians 5:1-12). Leaders of the church are also told to guard their doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 2:1). Such instruction is not extended to those outside the church.

The fact that these instructions do not extend to those outside the church does not deny the relevance of the gospel to them or the impending judgement against them. However, it is no longer the prerogative of the people of God to enforce this judgement as it was in the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 4:5). It is now Christ’s prerogative to execute God’s judgement (Matthew 3:12; 25:31-34).

Considering that the Old Testament expectations have been fulfilled in the person of Christ, who now is the only one who has the prerogative to execute God’s judgement, there is no biblical basis for justifying religious intolerance against non-Christian groups. Anti-vilification laws for religion should be understood as compatible with the Christian ethos, not because of the legitimacy of other belief systems, rather, because of the limitation of jurisdiction of the church. Instead, the church ought to focus its attention to its own purity of life and doctrine. Yet, this does not mean the church ought to be isolationist in its attitude since the New Testament church was involved with welfare (Acts 6:1-6). Apart from this, it is very difficult to deduce from Scripture how rights to religious expression are to be limited. Clearly the church can not indorse such practices as murder, mutilation or infant molesting. Yet without a Christian basis it is difficult to refute such practices. In Australia, such practices have been outlawed, so there is a basis for agreeing what is ethical. However, there are issues, such as homosexuality, on which there is no agreement in law. In these situations, the New Testament church simply aimed to persuade people’s opinion through appeal (Acts 17:16-34; 1 Thessalonians 1:3). While there are difficulties in such a method, this is perhaps the best way the Christians can advance their beliefs and values, while maintaining the dignity and respect for others.

Bibliography:

 

Adam, P. H. J.                   ‘Jesus’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

                                          Becoming an Australian citizen. Commonwealth of Australia, 2007.

Cook, E. D.                       ‘Pluralism’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Cook, E. D.                       ‘Situation Ethics’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Hill, Michael.                      The how and why of love: an introduction to evangelical ethics. Kingsford, Australia, Matthias Press, 2002.

Sherlock, C. H.                  ‘Holy war’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Song, R  J.                         ‘Religious Toleration’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Stott, John.                         New issues facing Christians today. London, Great Britain: HarperCollinPublishers, 1999.

Vardy, Peter and Paul Groesch, The Puzzle of Ethics. London, Great Britain: Fount, 1994.

Wright, Christopher J. H.    ‘Old Testament Ethics’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Wright, Christopher J. H.    Old Testament ethics for the people of God (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004.

© The Student’s Desk


[1] Becoming an Australian citizen (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007), 1, 5.[2] Becoming an Australian citizen, 5.[3] Becoming an Australian citizen, 6.[4] E. D. Cook, ‘Situation Ethics’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 794.

[5] Peter Vardy and Paul Groesch, The Puzzle of Ethics (London, Great Britain: Fount, 1994), 125-126.

[6] R  J. Song, ‘Religious Toleration’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 851.

[7] John Stott, New issues facing Christians today (London, Great Britain: HarperCollinPublishers, 1999), 55.

[8] C. H. Sherlock, ‘Holy war’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 448.

[9] Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament ethics for the people of God (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), 473.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Essays, Ethics, 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