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Sam Reeve

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.

Walking towards the cross

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When you read the account of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, the one thing that strikes you is his clear-sightedness and determination.

Attempts to shield him from the coming sacrifice are swept aside. He tells those who come to arrest him to let the disciples leave (John 18:8); he tells Peter, who wants to fight off the corrupt people who are after him to put his sword away and rebukes him “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (v11).

In the face of the most obvious lack of any coherent case against him, he makes no protests or defence. The nearest he gets to giving an answer is to say that his kingdom is not of this world. It’s clear that he hasn’t done anything wrong, but the clamour of the crowd is to crucify him.

Jesus knows that it’s the plan and purpose of God to save his people through his sacrifice on the cross, so he keeps walking toward that sacrifice – unswervingly, deliberately, lovingly. And he keeps on doing it, right to his last breath.

How we need to thank Jesus for being so determined to open up the way back to God, the way of forgiveness and rescue from sin. We live every day experiencing the benefits of his extreme obedience. And we bask in the warmth of his unconditional love.

Let’s keep on living out our thankfulness to him in what we do and say and think, and so point others to our great Saviour.

It’s to your advantage that I go away

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This statement (John 16:7) is amongst the parting words of Jesus, as He prepares his disciples for the separation that must soon come. It must have been hard for them to hear that. What possible advantage could there be in Jesus leaving them after three years of sharing his life, preaching the kingdom of God, seeing him do marvellous things, all of which showed them that He was the beginning of something big. How could it possibly be advantageous for him to disappear at this vital point?

The first and biggest advantage is that He is going to open up the way for them (and us) to be forgiven and have all the benefits of his perfect life, sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection. To do that, He has to go away to the cross.

The second is that, after the resurrection, He is going to the Father. There, as the God-man who has been tempted in every way just as we are, He will sympathetically plead our case with the Father. He lives forever to intercede for us. Heb 4:14-16; 7:25)

The third advantage (the one he talks about in John 16) is that when He goes, He and the Father will send the Spirit, the Advocate, Helper, the One who comes alongside, the Counsellor. He will not just be with a limited number of people for a short period in time/space, but will be with all his disciples – always and forever.

We are the fortunate and privileged recipients of these wonderful advantages. Let’s thank our great and generous Lord, and live and witness in the power of the Helper He has given each of us. That’s how we’ll bring him glory in a dark and difficult world.

Without me…

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Jesus makes a remarkable statement to his followers just before he goes to die on the cross. Apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). If this was to come from the lips of anyone else, we would take it as extremely egotistical and self-promoting. On what basis is Jesus making such a massive claim? The answer is in the other things he says when he makes that bold claim.

He talks about them being made clean by the word that he has spoken. His unique role as the one who will make the sacrifice that will bring cleansing from the guilt and power and penalty of our wrongdoing means that without his intervention, we are eternally lost. In a real sense, in terms of becoming pleasing to God, we can do nothing without him. Whatever we do to fix up our present and past shortcomings and rebellion will never deal with the problem. We need him to clean us.

But it’s more than that for those followers who will carry on his work in a hostile world. They need his life and empowering to live for him and to bear the fruit that will last. That is why he urges them so strongly to remain in him. Apart from him they will shrivel up and die and never bear the fruit that he appointed them to bring forth. With his life surging through them by his Spirit, they will bear lots of fruit – their own lives transformed as they abide in him and live for him, and the lives of those that he will reach through them.

This is the reality of following Jesus – we are totally dependent on him. That is why our vision as a church – to know Christ, grow in Christ and proclaim Christ, has him in every part of it – apart from him we can do nothing. Let’s keep him central to all that we do individually and together.