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Sam Reeve

When we are forgotten

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One of the saddest lines in the Joseph account is at the end of Genesis 40. “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (v23). This is the third in a series of great disappointments that came his way – being sold as a slave by his brothers, being thrown into gaol on false charges, and now being forgotten by someone who had the power to plead his case. Joseph had helped the cupbearer, and even asked him to work for his release, but the ungrateful beneficiary just forgot him! It seems like he is even more alone than ever before.

One of the commonest human fears is that our lives will end up being of no consequence – that no-one will remember us, that we will be forgotten. And humanly speaking, it is a real fear. There are plenty of unmarked graves in cemeteries, or gravestones that are indecipherable with the course of the years, and no-one seems to bother. If we confine our view to this time-space world, the outlook is not overly cheerful. But that leaves the eternal perspective of God out of the picture. His view is infinitely bigger and longer.

God had not forgotten Joseph. As with most of the people God used to advance his purposes to redeem a people for himself, Joseph was still in the place and time where God was preparing him and forming him to play a vital role in his good plans. It must have been incredibly frustrating and disappointing for him, as God had not given him a timetable, or let him in on the details of his plan. Only in retrospect could he see that God meant it for good.

In the meantime Joseph gets on with the daily grind of prison life, living for God in the midst of extremely trying circumstances. For most of us, a fair portion of our lives are marked by this kind of living. But God is working out his good purposes to bring us to his eternal home, and until then, to use us to bring his message of salvation to others.

Jesus promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age – let’s live in the light of that reality.

When our lives run off course

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Joseph’s doings in Egypt are fascinating and dynamic reading. In the passage we are looking at today (Gen 39), he goes from slave to trusted estate manager to jailbird to head-jailbird in a breathtaking zero to hero to zero to half-hero in 23 verses. The time-span is longer than the racy narrative suggests, but we are left with the impression that his life is a roller-coaster. Sound familiar? I’m sure for many of us that is the case – there are times when we can feel and see the Lord’s hand on our lives to bless us and give us success, as there clearly were for Joseph. But there are also other times when it seems to be totally the opposite. It may not be that we end up in jail, falsely accused, like Joseph, but it seems like our lives have run off course and are anything but successful.

The one constant in this story is that the Lord was with Joseph. In the successes, and in difficulties. The Lord was there and he was actively bringing about his plans and purposes. The bible doesn’t encourage us to believe that our lives will always be smooth and ‘successful’. It’s great when it does happen. But God does consistently tell us that whatever happens, He is in control and bringing about his good purposes, and fulfilling every promise to bring all his people home to his eternal new creation.

Whatever 2015 holds for us individually and as a church we can be confident that God will continue to work out his good and loving plans, and that we can trust him no matter what. May we increasingly align our understanding of ‘success’ to the view that Joseph ended up with – living in line with God’s plans and purposes regardless of the circumstances – a view that expresses itself in the confidence that “God meant it for good”. The Lord of history will continue to work out His story. The question for each of us, and for us as his people at CrossCulture is: how willing are we to live out our lives in trust and obedience to him?

By his grace, may we increasingly live lives of bold faith and confidence in him and his good will.

The greatest gift ever

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Someone has said that you make a living by what you earn, but you get a life by what you give. Or to put it more simply “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Jesus – Acts 20:35). Jesus ought to know – he gave the biggest gift that humanity has ever had – his perfect life for our imperfect ones. By giving up himself, he opened up the possibility for forgiveness, a new start and a perfect life forever with God. Paul talked about it in these terms “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor 9:15). It is hard to find words in human language to describe that kind of undeserved generosity. And it is offered in the face of human indifference, or even open rebellion against our Creator and his claims on our lives. Inexpressible indeed!

Christmas is rightly a time for giving, because it reminds us of God’s remarkable generosity to us. As we share in giving and receiving over this Christmas time, let’s give thanks to God for his inexpressible gift, and let’s not keep the news of this remarkable eternity-altering gift to ourselves. It is literally the difference between life and death for those yet to hear.

Have a blessed Christmas!

Learning to live the contented life

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Christmas is a time of the year when the advertising world does its best to bombard us from every angle. Whether it’s the latest gadget that is a must-have, or the hassle-free feast that will be delivered to your door, or the luxury holiday that you so richly deserve, it’s all aimed at luring us to buy what we didn’t know we needed until they advertised it. It’s what might be (perhaps cynically) called the discontentment industry. Advertisers and marketers know full well that you won’t change your spending habits and buy their product unless they can make you dissatisfied with what you already have in terms of possessions, lifestyle, who you are, what you look like, etc, etc. Of course that’s not the only part of their equation, but it is a significant factor in how it works.

Paul, as he writes to the Christians at Philippi, says “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Phil 4:11). At the time he was chained up in gaol, not knowing the outcome of his case. Execution was a real possibility, and did eventually become his lot. What he says indicates that contentment doesn’t come to us naturally. It’s something we have to learn. In my experience I have to keep learning it. Going back to the cross frequently and being filled again with awe and wonder and thankfulness at the abundant generosity that God has shown to us in the death of Jesus in our place is a great antidote to the dissatisfaction with our lot in life that so easily fills our horizon. The assurance that we have as believers that the future is secure, that we have been put right with God, helps us to be more content with whatever situation God has put us in, and to live thankfully through it.

Of course there are some things that we ought never be content with – like the sin in our lives, or our selfishness and a whole host of other things that we know only too well. With them we need a holy discontent that drives us to be more like our Saviour and to live in a way that honours him and what he has done for us.

As we rev up for Christmas, let’s take stock of our contendedness level and worship again the One who “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).

Lay your requests before God

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It is good to be back after the time away connecting with what God is doing through the work of Asha Kiran Society in India and the Seymour family in Hokkaido in Japan. It was very encouraging to see how God is moving amongst the people that AKS has been working at reaching for almost 25 years through health, education and agricultural programs. Groups of believers are beginning to form and grow and witness for Jesus. The scriptures are being translated and used. The vision has expanded to reach out into another unreached people group in the area. AKS continue to value our prayer support and encouragement as they serve the Lord in a fairly difficult part of India.

Greg and Shireen send their greetings to everyone and are encouraged in their work. Whilst the living conditions are good, the work of penetrating the culture with the good news is not easy. It was great to meet faithful believers who are following the Lord, and also some who have come to faith recently and are enthusiastic in reaching out. They have many Christmas outreach programs which it would be great to pray for.

Today I trust we will all be challenged and encouraged to stand firm in our faith as we continue our studies in Philippians. Paul address some of the things that often hinder our perseverance and growth in the Lord – unresolved conflict with other believers, lack of joy, anxiety, and fixing our minds on the wrong things. One of the challenges he gives here is to make our requests known to God. This is the answer to the anxiety that so easily overtakes us, as we face many challenges, personally and as a group of followers of Jesus. Often these anxieties take on overwhelming proportions and we can descend into a sense of despair or hopelessness. Sometimes this is the result of relying on someone or something a lot less dependable than God. Lay your requests before God, Paul says. That’s what prayer is – expressing our dependence on Him.

Of course, we can have the opposite problem, where we become so self-sufficient and self-reliant that we don’t feel the need to rely on God, and prayer becomes something other than an expression of our dependence on God.

As the Christmas season revs up, let’s keep our eyes and our hearts on Jesus.

To live is Christ

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I wonder how you think of Jesus. Good bloke? Miracle worker? Saviour? Lord? Master? Someone you love and respect? God? Friend? All of the above?

For Paul, who wrote the letter to the Philippians that we are digging into at the moment, Jesus was everything. There was only one reason for living – for Jesus. He was faced with the real possibility of being executed. He contemplates the alternatives – life or death – what would be preferable? He’s hard put to work it out, but he’s in no doubt about what he would do with the rest of his life if he wasn’t executed. It would totally be for Jesus. To live is Christ. By that he meant that he would continue to focus all his energy into living for Jesus and proclaiming him. It doesn’t seem to matter to him where he is; he wants to bring glory to Jesus by proclaiming him and building up his people. In prison, facing envious preachers, on death row – it’s all the same – another situation in which to point to Christ. For Paul, it’s an all-consuming passion. It shows in his life and his language. The word-cloud above tells us graphically where his focus is (it’s from our passage for today).

It’s appropriate for Paul to think and live like this, as it is for every one of us who have been rescued by Jesus, our Saviour and Master. Without him we would still be in darkness, slaves to sin and self and satan. And without him, others are lost – lost forever.

May the Lord empower us to live passionately and courageously for Him so that those who still don’t know him hear the good news and respond to Jesus.

Together with Christ

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What a great day we had last week, celebrating God’s faithfulness and all that we have in Christ! Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make it a special time.

Today we’re embarking on 8 weeks of learning what God has to teach us from the letter to the Christians in Philippi. It never ceases to amaze me how much we can learn from something God wanted to say to a bunch of believers who lived in a much different place to us almost 2,000 years ago. I hope that as we dig into this letter we will be inspired, encouraged, and challenged to live for Jesus in our context and time.

The relationship Paul had with the Philippians is a very warm one. They supported and encouraged each other in getting the message of Jesus out there to everyone who needed to hear it. He calls them “partners in the gospel, from the first day until now” (1:5). The term ‘partners’ was used for a commercial partnership in which the parties sacrificially pooled their resources in order to achieve their common goal. In this case, the believers in Philippi had joined together (or rather had been joined together by Christ) so that the good news of Jesus would be released into people’s lives. They literally put their resources and their lives on the line to make it happen. This is much more than friendship, or even fellowship. It is deep bond with the greatest purpose that anyone can have – to promote the message of the grace of God in Christ and thus be ‘to the praise and glory of God’ (1:11).

Let’s ask God to help us as we partner with him and each other to get the message of Jesus to the people He has placed us amongst so that they might be forgiven and find peace with God.

To Him be the glory!

Let’s celebrate

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What a great day this is! Celebrating 149 years of God’s faithfulness and blessing to our church. I’ve only been here 8 months, but I have a strong sense that we all are very privileged to be part of what God is doing here.

It’s very appropriate that we celebrate and rejoice over what God has done, and give thanks for the people he has raised up over the last 149 years. In many ways we stand on their shoulders. They have faithfully witnessed here in the CBD, taught and learned and lived out God’s word and pointed people to Jesus.

For generations people have come to know Christ, grown in Christ and proclaimed Christ through the ministry of Swanston St Church of Christ, and now CrossCulture. God has used this place to send hundreds of people throughout the world to take the Good News to people who haven’t heard. We have a good and godly heritage. Let’s celebrate and party!

But let’s also think about how God wants us to build on what we have. The need for people to know Christ, grow in him and proclaim him is still as urgent as it was in 1865. There are many more around us than there were then, and most of them know very little of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. The facilities and resources we have at our disposal are even better than they were then, and we have many more people to carry on this great work.

Let’s pray that God will help us as we seek to focus our efforts on working together to build up the body: in bringing people to trust in Jesus and in helping one another to grow to ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:13)

Happy Anniversary!

We serve a risen Saviour

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It must have been remarkable to have been there to see the risen Jesus. More than 500 people had that privilege, according to Paul (1 Corinthians 15). It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like. No wonder that they seem bewildered and didn’t quite know how to respond to him. I guess we would have been the same, had we been there.

According to John, Jesus appeared to his disciples at least 3 times. In all the appearances, His concern was for them – that they have his peace, that they believe, and that they carry on his work.

Remarkable and unique as the fact that Jesus is alive is, the command and commissioning Jesus gave his followers it that we bear witness to him and carry on his work of seeking and saving the lost. The fact that He is alive tells us that his work on the cross to pay the price for sin was effective and accomplished all that He and God planned. It means also that He lives to intercede for us – that right now He is asking God to bring about his good purposes in our lives and in the lives of those we reach out to. It’s a great comfort and impetus for us to live boldly as his ambassadors. We have been entrusted with the wonderful message of forgiveness and new life.

Let’s not withhold that life-giving message – it’s the power of God for salvation for our friends, family, neighbours and whoever He sends us to.

The Crucified Christ – stumbling block, foolishness, or wisdom?

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The death of Jesus is something that demands a response. The event itself was surrounded by all sorts of machinations, political wranglings and power struggles. People on the day responded very differently, even amongst the Jewish leaders. The majority screamed for Jesus’ blood. “Crucify him!” was their shrill cry, over and over again. They manipulated the spineless Pilate to bring it about, in spite of his instinct that it was unjust. But there were a few who thought otherwise. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both leaders of the Jews, were prepared to go public in their support of Jesus. They made sure that he had a proper burial.

The apostle Paul, reflecting on it when writing to the Christians in Corinth, reminds them that the core of our proclamation is Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23). To the Jews it was a stumbling block. Something they tripped over. They couldn’t conceive of a Rescuer/Messiah who would end up dying as a criminal. For the Greeks, it just didn’t make sense – it was foolishness. That is the response of many in our godless age. Why should someone innocent be punished for the sins of the guilty? A good question indeed!

Paul continues in the next verse: but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24). Through the death of Jesus the power of God is displayed in dealing with sin and Satan – overthrowing their hold on those who believe. Also the infinite wisdom of God – it is at the cross that the justice of God is totally satisfied, his holiness supremely displayed as sin is completely paid for. And in equal measure, his infinite love, compassion and grace is perfectly expressed as Jesus dies, the innocent for the guilty, the worthy for the unworthy. How wonderful to be a recipient of that kind of love and mercy.

I trust we all have a week overflowing with thankfulness as we continue to ponder on the sacrifice of our great Saviour, and live out our trust in him.