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Sam Reeve

RUOK?

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This Thursday is RUOK day. It was begun by Gavin Larkin who as a 27 year-old, unexpectedly lost his father to suicide in 1995. His father was his hero and a successful businessman, and Gavin had no idea he was hurting so badly inside. He started his RUOK movement as a simple way of reaching out to the people around us and caring for each other. Not long after starting RUOK day, he died from cancer. Two years later his oldest son also passed away, leaving a grieving widow and mum with 2 young kids. It’s a tragic and inspiring story of a family who in their grief are helping people to value the lives of their family, friends and colleagues by simply checking in on them. I don’t know if they are believers, but they sure value life – everyone’s life.

God’s command to not murder is really his way of telling us that life is very precious to him. Every life is sacred because everyone is created in the image of God, no matter how badly the image is shattered. We know this because God has told us, many times over. But more than that, we know because He has shown us. He gave up what was most precious to him, his beloved Son Jesus, so that we could be redeemed, forgiven, healed, put back together again in the likeness of his Son. Let’s make it RUOK year, rather than just one day. True love can do no less, as we seek to love our neighbour as much as we love ourselves.

 

Life-balance

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G’day, how are you?” What’s the most common answer to this Aussie greeting? I don’t have any research to prove it, but by far the one I hear the most is: “Busy!” It’s almost a badge of honour, or a mark of godliness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against people being gainfully and fully occupied, especially in the great work of honouring Jesus. But if the key indicator of our lives is how busy we are, something is wrong. It’s what we’re busy doing that matters.

Balancing competing priorities or just the business of surviving is not easy. It takes wisdom and skill. Wisdom to know what is really important, and skill to keep focused on what matters. And then a good plan to have our diaries (what we do) align with our priorities (why we do it).

God knows this, so he set the world up so that there are 6 days for work, and one when we stop working, take a rest and reflect – recreation – be re-created. That’s why it’s important that we gather together for part of the rest day – to help one another be re-created in the image of Christ.

This is one of the ways we truly love – the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (as we prioritise serving Him well and resting well) and our neighbour as ourselves (as we serve them well and also give them a rest from us!). That’s what Jesus says is what the law and prophets are all about – loving God and our neighbour. Responding to God’s love to us.

Let’s make sure that our priorities don’t get out of whack, and that what we do with our time reflects God’s priorities for us, our careers, our families, and our church family.

 

Images

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It’s interesting to follow the word image through the Bible. Right at the beginning we’re told that God made us in his image – male and female (Genesis 1:26-27). It’s something that’s not said of anything or anyone else in the created order. Human beings are uniquely made in the image of God – to reflect his likeness. It goes without saying that anything we make is by definition somehow less than us (no matter how complex and clever). That’s why it’s so offensive to God and demeaning to us to worship anything man-made – we’re bowing down and serving something less than ourselves. God warns us against it in the strongest terms, for our own sakes and for the sake of our relationship with him, as we see in the second commandment. The story from the giving of this commandment onwards is mostly a catalogue of God continuing to draw his people into true loyalty and worship, and human resistance to that, and often active constructing of alternatives to worship and serve.

At the other end of the bible, Jesus is referred to as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), or as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “the exact imprint of his nature” (1:3). In Christ we have the full revelation of God. So much so, that to worship him is to worship God, to listen to him is to listen to God. In the end, “every knee will bow to him, every tongue confess that He is Lord” (Phil 2:10). He is the real image of God – one in whom all the fullness of God lives. Worshipping and serving anything or anyone less is idol-worship, whether it’s an image on the shelf or in the head, or wealth, health, power, relationships, whatever detracts from giving Jesus his true place. At the most basic level, Christians are people who declare and live that Jesus is Lord. This is the abundant life, full of all that God intended for us.

True love

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I was a teenager in the 60’s – the age of ‘free love’. It’s when people took up the idea that ‘love=freedom from all restraint’. We’re still dealing with the aftermath, in terms of broken families, shattered relationships, generations of insecure people who have never experienced safe boundaries. It’s like a game of football with no line markings, the referee is either absent or refuses to blow the whistle and there are no fouls. It inevitably ends up with lots of conflict, anger and injury. If you need convincing of this, take a visit to the family law courts and sit in the waiting area. It’s a tragic sea of broken hurting humanity. Unfortunately, many of us know the reality of this all too well without going there.

Thank God that He has not set things up like this. His love for us is so great that He wants us to live in safety and enjoyment of him, each other and the creation He has given us to live in. He has taken the trouble to reveal himself to us in his word and in the person of his Son, Jesus. He has lovingly explained good boundaries that show us how to get the best out of life. He’s also put in place a rescue plan when we make a mess of it, as we inevitably do. Jesus came so that we could have life, abundant life. He is so committed to it that He died to pay the price for our sin and brokenness and open up the way back to God for us.

As we begin our True Love series, opening up the 10 commandments, let’s pray that God will help us to know him better, love him more, and trust Jesus our Saviour more totally.

The Unknown God

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Recently I met someone on Swanston St and we got chatting (he was sitting on the bench opposite the church door – a good place to meet people and chat!). Easter was coming up so we got to talking about what we were going to do over the holiday period. I asked him if he knew what Easter was all about – why we had this 4-day holiday. He scratched his head and ummed and aahed, and finally said that he used to know, but couldn’t recall just now. That led to a good conversation about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and what it means for us. He knew about God (he had lived his whole life within striking distance of churches) but had never heard or understood how he could come to know God personally.

This retired man’s experience is not unique. The majority of people in Australia believe in God or some supreme being. And yet for most it’s not something that impacts their daily lives. Melbourne in the 21st century is not much different to Athens in the first century, where Paul introduced the citizens to the unknown God. The idols that people give their lives to are less conspicuous, and probably more familiar, but the ignorance of who God is and his plans and purposes for the people He created is the same. This is a great challenge for us who have come to know God through Christ. It’s a huge opportunity. If we don’t introduce them to Him, they probably will never know.

May God help and empower us to reach out and show by our lives and our words how they can really know God, whom to know is eternal (John 17:3).

Speak and do not be silent about Jesus

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The 2016 Census results are out and creating quite a stir. The percentage of people calling themselves Christian has fallen again. There are obviously many factors in this: The advertising campaign by militant atheists to encourage people to put down ‘no religion’ on the census form, following their successful pressure on the Bureau of Statistics to put the ‘no religion’ option first in the list; people who don’t have a personal faith being more honest about their lives; the damage of the horrific child abuse perpetrated in some churches, etc. Probably the major factor though is our reluctance as followers of Jesus to speak up and tell people the good news.

In spite of the unpopularity of ‘church’ and institutional religion in many minds, Jesus still rates highly in people’s estimation. According to a Bible Society survey, 54% of Australians believe him to be the most influential person in history. 83% believe that he is a real historical person.  34% believe he is the Son of God and Saviour of the world. These are encouraging statistics for us. They tell us that people are likely to be open to thinking about and talking about Jesus. If you haven’t yet broken the silence and spoken up for Jesus, why not start by asking someone “What do you think of Jesus?”, or “Do you know much about Jesus?”, or “Have you ever read the biography of Jesus?” or a similar question appropriate for your friend that might open up a conversation that points them to the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Oh yes, and don’t forget to think about how you are going to respond to whatever answer they give to your question!

Give it a go and see where God takes you and them.

 

Waiting for our man from Macedonia

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How does God guide us?

In our passage today the Lord gives Paul a vision of a man from Macedonia begging for help. This account has led some Christians to adopt a strategy of not going out to share the good news until they get a clear revelation of the specifics (country, people, place, etc). It points up the danger of using historical narrative to determine theology and mission practice. Whilst we must never discount the possibility that God might appear to us and give very specific instructions, He has made it pretty clear what we need to be doing with the good news he has entrusted to us. “Go therefore and disciple the nations….” (Matthew 28:19-20).  Do we need to wait for further instructions, when there are so many people groups and individuals who haven’t heard yet? Do we need to wait for our man from Macedonia (or Mongolia, Tasmania, Melbourne, next door or wherever) to appear in a vision and call for help? Someone has rightly said, “when you have a command, you don’t need a call”.

The details of the where, who and when may come to us as a matter of clear direction from God, or more likely by being realistic about our gifting, background, interests and passions, along with the advice of mature believers, all bathed in prayer and reading God’s word.

Disciple the nations is a pretty clear straightforward instruction. Why wait for your man from Macedonia (or anywhere else!) when the Man from heaven has already spoken? The nations are all around us, among us, especially here in Melbourne. What a privilege it is to point them to Jesus!

Fight or flight

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When we’re faced with danger, what causes us to either face it or to run? According to Wikipedia (that well-known medical source!) the fight or flight response is largely under the control of the autonomic nervous system, rather than conscious choice. People are often surprised by their own bravery (or lack of it!). They just ‘do what they have to do’.

How did the early messengers of the good news work out how to respond in the face of the many dangers they faced? It seems fairly clear from the accounts in the book of Acts that what drove their actions and decisions wasn’t instinct, but what was good for the gospel. Would the spread of the gospel be helped or hindered by staying or fleeing? We see this in action in the passage today (14:1-7). Their first response to opposition was to stay even longer, preaching boldly. But then when they got word of a plot to kill them, they moved on (fled is the word used). They had in mind a plan that was much bigger. Getting the gospel out even further to the ends of the earth, and that’s what they fled to. This was God’s plan too, of course.

What drives us in what we do to share the gospel? It’s worth thinking about. Passion for the glory of God and love for those who need the grace of God in the gospel have motivated his people down through the centuries. The treasure of the good news is now in our hands, to pass on. Let’s keep doing it, without fear for our ourselves!

God’s power to rescue

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Generally we give our energy and time to things and people we have confidence in. Family, friends, colleagues, projects that capture our imagination or we think will succeed. For the early Christians, their confidence was in the good news of Jesus. They recognised that this message was what the world desperately needed and had the power to turn condemned sinners into saved saints. As Paul introduces his great treatise on God’s rescue mission (The Letter to the Romans), he lays bare the focus of his great confidence – the gospel. He unashamedly proclaims it to all. From Jews to Greeks, pagans to Pharisees, slaves to sovereigns, his belief was that no-one is beyond the reach of God’s powerful good news. All can come into God’s forever family through repenting of their sins and believing this message of rescue for broken and lost people. And he risked his life over and over again so that people could hear this message and have the opportunity to believe.

How are we going in getting this message out? If we’re tiring of doing it, or maybe not even started doing it yet, perhaps it’s time to do a reality check on how confident we are in the gospel. Do we really believe that Jesus is the only way for people to be made right with God? Do we really believe that God will do his work of convicting and saving people as we proclaim the message? Is it really God’s power to salvation for everyone who believes?

These are serious questions of eternal consequence. The eternal future of those who are yet to hear the good news is at stake. Let’s not let them down.

Christ the Lord is risen today!

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When the apostle Peter was writing to some Christians who were being severely persecuted for their faith in the first century, he made a lot of the fact that they had a “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Christianity is not a dead, musty religion – it is well and truly alive, because its founder is alive.

The reality for those believers who were going through fiery trials was that they had new life – they had been born again to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Even though they were under extreme pressure, their faith and trust in Jesus was being purified and strengthened. Many of them ended up being killed for their faith. In many ways this is one of the strongest evidences for the reality of the resurrection. If Jesus hadn’t been raised, why would they be prepared to give their lives? This is especially so since, before the resurrection, they were frightened and on the verge of giving up. Peter himself went from denying that he even knew Jesus, to someone who was willing to put his life on the line for Him over and over again, and finally died for his faith.

The early Christians rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Jesus because  they knew that the hope they had in him was real and living. The bible says that the temporary sufferings of this life are not worth comparing to the glory of the eternal future with our risen living Saviour.

What a great and certain hope we have in Him! Let’s live it out.