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Abrahm Gunn

Committing to the truth

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It was only a matter of weeks before the new church plant in Thessalonica began being persecuted and slandered by the surrounding community.  Motivated by an influential and aggressive minority, many ordinary people began attacking these new followers of Jesus without really understanding why they were doing it.  One man named Jason, who had opened his home to Christians, was dragged before the local courts and had to face legal expenses on behalf of those he had shown hospitality.  It was unfair and unjust and if we read about it in today’s news we would be angry.

This is an exhausting story that finds itself repeated in the life of churches throughout history.  For us, perhaps it’s closer to home than ever before.  How did this little church in a big city manage to stand up for the truth amidst threats, insults and attacks?  The answer is found in the opening chapter of the letter that Paul wrote to encourage this church after they’d faced the initial hardship.  God had worked in them through his Spirit and these believers genuinely believed in Jesus and loved him.  They believed that Jesus was the truth and so convicted of the truth they stood up for the truth in the face of aggressors that would like them to put truth aside and follow something else instead.

It’s always been hard to stand up for the truth. I remember doing it once and friends, who I thought were good friends, attacked me and ridiculed me and turned the group against me.  But the truth was the truth and people would suffer if the truth wasn’t communicated.  Though it seemed that everyone was against me, some people listened and believed the truth.

I wish one story of standing up for the truth described all my stories, but unfortunately it doesn’t.  I hope Jesus helps me be even more faithful to the truth no matter what the cost. If no one stands up for the truth then justice, fairness and love will not be stood up for either.  We would not hear the message of salvation offered by God to humanity.

The Church should be the leaders in standing up for truth.  We can only do it, if we genuinely believe it and love it.   The letter of Thessalonians is an encouragement to love Jesus with all our hearts and believe genuinely that he is the truth while we wait patiently for his return. In short, it means to have genuine faith.  To go the distance with Jesus will be a challenge, but if this little church, loved by God, can remain faithful then we can too.

Will you eat with them?

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Today we reach the conclusion of the book of Jonah and our six-part series. Over the weeks we’ve explored the difficult struggle Jonah faced when God offered forgiveness and mercy to Israel’s (and therefore Jonah’s) violent and corrupt enemies. I praise God that such an easily relatable book was included for our benefit and growth for I have also struggled at the idea that I am just as bad as some of the people I read about in the Herald Sun (or more commonly now in my newsfeed online.) We are habitually self-righteous and God continues to challenge this attitude as he did with Jonah.

The Pharisees response to Jesus in Luke 15:1-2 was the same as Jonah’s and it prompted Jesus to tell the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Lost Son.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Jonah’s reaction was just like theirs. He was just another Pharisee that failed to see the love and value God has for every lost person. This is a danger for us too. If we sit long enough in the Christian world without deeply and regularly reflecting on how wonderful it is that we were once lost but now found and how ignorant we are of the true reality of our sin, we will quickly (or perhaps slowly and unconsciously) join their ranks.

What amazing challenges to us! The compassion of God expressed for the Ninevites he dearly loves and the compassion of his son Jesus who welcomed and had dinner with sinners. It shakes our heads and hearts and encourages us to replace our anger at the injustice and ignorance we see in the world with compassion for the lost things that God loves deeply. Remember, you were once one of those lost things of incredible value.

Should God forgive? Maybe we don’t always want him to, but he’s forgiven us and he wants more lost people to come home to him. Will we help him find them as he’s asked us to? Will we invite the people we struggle with the most to eat with us?

Running From Good

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Today we begin a series on the book of Jonah. It’s the story of the prophet who runs away from God. Jonah avoids doing the good thing that God had asked him to do and heads in the opposite direction. Now there’s something we can all relate to.

Surprisingly, people love running away from good things. It’s almost like we do it for fun. The dentist wants us to floss more, but we don’t. The physio wants us to do the exercises that would help us but we don’t do them. Our doctor wants us to eat healthier but we don’t. God wants more time with us, but we’re too busy. We want to see our family more but we don’t organise it. We have a few hours in the evening to work on achieving our dreams, but we watch Netflix instead.

Why do we avoid the things we know are good for us?  Why do we avoid good things that will help others? Why do we avoid good things we actually want and are allowed to have!? Running away from good is often easier because it doesn’t require any change. Change on the other hand is harder because it brings discomfort and may even put us at some risk (exposure, pain, failure, humiliation).

Jesus died to overcome our love of running away from good things. He died to change how we think about the purpose of our lives. He died to save us from self-destructive behaviour. In Jesus, we find more good for ourselves and others than we can fathom. Through Jesus change is
possible. After all, he made the difficult change of leaving his Father’s side to pursue us and bring about the greatest good in our lives. He knows what it’s like to go through difficult change so that good will be done.

It’s not easy pursuing the good he has for us and the good he wants us to do for others, but it’s possible because he has the power to be with us and to help us. In the story of Jonah, God was always with him even in his failure to do the good asked of him. The story is an encouragement to us that no matter where we run to, Jesus is always with us, helping us to both do and value the good he wants for us.

 

 

10 years of the iPhone

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It was a special anniversary this year for Apple. The iPhone, released initially in 2007, reached its 10th year of production. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been patiently waiting for the revealing of the 10th iPhone, iPhone X.  Even if you hate Apple products and think they’re overpriced luxury items (they are by the way and yes, I still buy them), you might have at least been interested to see if they did anything dramatically new with their 10th phone. I can’t wait to get the new one so I can watch cat videos on a retina display and scroll through facebook faster than ever (I am joking. I think).

What you may not have known was that this year also marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, an event that probably made even iPhones possible (I’m not joking). The positive impact the Reformation had on education, government, healthcare, literacy, science and life in general has been hard to quantify (immense is a good word to describe it). Most of all, the Reformation threw off the layers of false religion that covered the Gospel and gave people access again to its true content – that salvation comes only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I understand why people care more about their phones than what happened in 1517. It takes a lot off effort to figure out how the past brought us to where we are today and 1517 was a long time ago. But for our church, and in fact for the world, the Reformation is a far more significant event than iPhone X. You might even say, that for that brief moment of history, the fate of a large portion of humanity depended on its outcome.

iPhones really did make a dramatic change to civilisation as we know it. For one, it gave you a device that could pretty much access most of the world’s information with the touch of a screen and it fits in your pocket. So, how about for a brief moment today you put aside the cat videos and use that incredible piece of technology to consider something that really matters – the moment when the life-changing Gospel of Christ was placed back in the hands of everyday
people like you and me.

 

Hope

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One thing we have in common is that we all have hopes for the future.  Holidays, a relationship, a family,  a new possession, success in our pursuits, better health—as people we can’t help but hope. In fact, even on the most ordinary of days, we’ve hoped for more things and in more ways than we probably realise (I hope the trains run on time tomorrow. Not all hopes are rational).

Proverbs 13:12 offers this reflection on hope: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  When what we hope for comes true it really can make life feel wonderful. When it doesn’t, it can put a dampener on everything. Life will see some hopes obtained and others withheld and that’s one thing that won’t change for a while yet.

Philosophies and religions have made similar assessments that death is the ultimate hope stealer. When life ends, so does hoping in anything and hope itself is quenched by the reality that our lives will not go on forever. This is part of why the resurrection of Jesus is so strongly emphasised in the New Testament. It really was the foundation of the first Christians’ hope. They understood that unless the problem of death was somehow solved, all hope in all kinds of things was utterly pointless.

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, hope becomes sensible. If death can be overcome, then it’s possible that good things we long for may not only happen, but last. The death and resurrection of Jesus gives Christians a valid reason to hope in every way. Death is no longer the ultimate hope stealer. In fact, in Jesus, life ceases to be transient. Death becomes transient, a mere moment, while life with Christ carries on into the future.

Make life after death with Jesus your most cherished hope. Hope for it more than anything else. Most of the particulars of our current life will not last. But life in the most satisfying of senses can and will last forever if you go through Jesus. You will not be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

Tell People the Truth.

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We want the good news of Jesus Christ to be the clearest message that our church communicates. We want it to be clear because it’s the most important message we can communicate. Nothing else is as important as the truth about Jesus.

People can only get to God through Jesus. People must believe in Jesus Christ if they are to receive forgiveness for their sin, avoid the judgment of God and come back to life again after they die. People can only believe in Jesus if someone tells them about Jesus and what he did for them by being crucified. In light of all this, we have to share the Gospel and do it with actual words.

Today’s passage reminds us that if a church ceases to be focused on communicating the Gospel then that church will quickly cease to be about Jesus. It may use the name Jesus, but they can’t possibly be about Jesus if they are not interested in sharing the good news about his death and resurrection with other people. This, of course, challenges us to pursue that focus as much as any other church.

You can slap the label of a popular brand on all kinds of products, but that doesn’t necessarily make them genuine. Real churches care about the real Jesus and love other people. Because of that they share the real truth about the pathway to God that all people must take.

 

’Esoteric’ and other words we should never use

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”Esoteric” refers to language that is only understood by or meant for a select few who have special knowledge that lets them understand it. The word itself is probably unfamiliar to most of us. Let’s hope we never have to read it again!

From technical terms used in any specialised field, to in-jokes in a particular social group, we often encounter language that stops us from knowing what is being said (or knowing what people really mean by it.) We can come away from such experiences feeling like that topic or interest is not for me, or that group doesn’t want me to be there.

In Church, we must work hard to avoid any language or actions that can only be understood by those who have been a Christian for some time. This is because we have good news about Jesus that we want others to hear, and most importantly, understand. Words and actions that stop people from knowing what’s going on make people think that they aren’t meant to be here or that it’s not for them.

The earliest Christians knew that Jesus was for all people so they tried very hard to make sure the different kinds of people they spoke to could understand the message. They even dressed
differently if it would make it easier for a particular group to be receptive and listen to them. (Do you know that you can get congee at some MacDonald’s in Singapore?! And KFC also sells rice in Indonesia! Wow! Imagine what the Church can learn from fast food restaurants…)

It can be very hard to weed out language that isn’t easily understood from how we speak about God. It’s even harder to make every aspect of our church service understandable to people who wander in.  It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.

God put in such an amazing effort to reach us—the lost people he loved. He sent a human being to reach human beings. Likewise, we should put in the effort to change some things that may make Christians feel comfortable on a Sunday but exclude the person who’s never stepped foot in a Church. God really wants them to come and know Him, so why should our comfort get in the way?

 

Using your difference

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If you like cooking, chances are you don’t mind letting others eat part of the meal from time to time. If you’re good at administration, chances are you don’t mind organising the odd group outing or balancing a spreadsheet. If you’re good at teaching, chances are you don’t mind sharing what you know, with those who are keen to hear it. If you’re good at listening, chances are you don’t mind when someone comes to you simply needing a person to talk to.

If you’re trying to think of ways to serve others in the Church, you don’t have to start with the thing you hate most. In fact, chances are the best way for you to benefit others, may actually be something you already enjoy doing. Helping others may be as simple as inviting someone else to participate in the thing you love the most.

Contributing to the body of Christ is not limited to structured ministries. There are innumerable ways that we can love others using our particular gifts, skills and interests. We just have to open our eyes and hearts to the opportunities God constantly puts in front of us.

Of course, love requires us to do things we don’t enjoy as well so that someone else benefits. We certainly don’t want to deny that. But remember, God made you a particular way for a reason and now you’re a part of His body. The Holy Spirit made decisions about the sort of person you would be and no one else is quite like you. Why not use what you’ve been given to fulfil its proper purpose?

 

Winning the battle, but losing the war.

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People are always more important than arguments.

People are more important than looking clever on Facebook.

People have true, permanent value before God.

Jesus prayed for his enemies.

Jesus loved his enemies.

Jesus loved arrogant people who were not open to examining the evidence his life clearly demonstrated.

Love covers a multitude of sins and bad arguments.

We may find the perfect argument for why God exists, but people are complicated in their reasons for believing anything and intellectual arguments don’t always provide us the victory we hope for over the other person’s reasoning. Neither does a good argument give us the right to be rude. The war over a person’s soul is a spiritual one and is more important than the smaller battle a conversation may present. Let’s pray for truth to prevail and that as Christian people we will not be the most difficult barrier a person has to cross in order to believe in God.

Giving Way

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Competing self-interest is the cause for many fights and disagreements among people. When someone gets in the way of what we want to have or achieve then we get frustrated with them. Traffic is a great example.  Whenever we experience ‘traffic’ we’re always contributing to the very problem that’s upsetting us. “How come so many other people are trying to get home at the same time as me?” I know it’s surprising, but our goals and routines are more similar to the people around us than we realise. Use a little empathic thinking, and you’ll see that your car is one of the cars blocking someone else’s journey.

Hence, conflict arises from trying to achieve the same thing (getting home), but just getting in the way of each other while doing it (everyone’s home happens to be in a different place unfortunately).

Submission to God means submitting our priorities to him. That means that treating people with kindness and respect even when they treat me badly (by cutting into my lane) is more important than how long it takes me to get home. That doesn’t mean I don’t go home at all—it means the way I conduct myself while heading home is of grave importance, because God has asked me to conduct myself a certain way. Submitting our plans and goals to God means sometimes it is better for us to give way to someone else even if we feel strongly that we have the right to be there. Couldn’t some wars have been avoided if that attitude was adopted by more people? It starts with us.