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Growing in Genuine Care

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Have you ever had a concern for someone that it occupies your mind night and day? Have you ever lost several nights of sleep because you cannot stop thinking or stop worrying about something? If you want to know what or whom someone cares about, you can simply look at what they pray about and over what they lose sleep.

Imagine parents who have just left Melbourne after sending their daughter to study in Australia for the first time. If the parents really cared for their daughter, they would try to contact her every week, if not every day. If possible, they would love to see her as often as they can. They would think about her and pray for her at nights. At times, they might even lose sleep when she is not doing well.

That’s exactly what Paul went through after he left Thessalonica. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, particularly at the end of chapter 2 to chapter 3, Paul’s heart for the young Christians in Thessalonica is unmistakably clear. Like a parent who loves his children very much, Paul longed to see them and to make sure they were doing well in the midst of the challenges they were facing.

Christians can learn a lot from the way Paul cared for the Thessalonians. By God’s grace, we can grow in our care for one another so as to encourage each other towards maturity in faith. Paul’s prayer at the end should be our prayer for one another too:

12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13)

Am I my brother’s keeper?

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This is an ancient question. After the first recorded murder (Genesis 4), God asks Cain where his brother Abel is. Cain’s answer betrays his deep-seated self centredness and lack of love for his brother.

We live in a culture that is fanatically committed to individualism – the idea that what I do, or believe, or think has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s none of their business. But our media is full of reports of instances where the actions of individuals have seriously impacted the lives of others (For example, the recent Flinders St incident). And we know from those close to us that we impact each other’s lives all the time (for better or worse!).

God is much more realistic than our prevailing culture. He’s set up His world so that we need one another, and have the potential to deeply impact each other’s lives for good. In the body of Christ it is even more so, as God’s Spirit works in and through us to empower all of us to contribute to God’s great plan to present each other mature in Christ.

As we launch into this year of helping one another to grow in Christ, let’s use every opportunity to love and care for those around us in a way that really helps us all grow more like Jesus.

Yes, we are our bother and sister’s keeper, and what a privilege it is to be instruments in God’s hands to help each other to become more like our great Saviour.

 

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.

Christmas Angels

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It’s interesting to track the appearance of angels in the Bible. The first time we see one is when Adam and Eve are excluded from the Garden of Eden after deciding that they didn’t want to live God’s way. God places and angel with a flaming sword at the entry to paradise – a ‘keep out’ sign clearly posted.

Other appearances of angels throughout Scripture are mostly just one angel, usually designated ‘the angel of the Lord’. They are sent at key times to warn, or to guide and encourage,  or to bring the Lord’s message.

When it comes to opening up the way back into the garden, into God’s loving presence, the largest gathering of angels ever recorded is mustered. The announcement is heralded by myriads of angels giving glory to God. How many is a ‘myriad’? Too many to count! It’s by far the biggest announcement in the Bible. And it’s to humble shepherds, people on the margins of society.

So important is this turn of events that God gets together the most spectacular heavenly choir ever to accompany the announcement. Throughout the life of Jesus, God’s rescuer, angles appear over and over again (mentioned more than 50 times in the gospels), particularly around his birth, death, resurrection and ascension. There is no doubt that God is putting a big signpost here that Jesus is the focus of history. Who He is and what He does matters – more than anything else. He opens up the way back to God, the way to a joyous and blessed eternity.

Joy to the world!

The leadership and staff teams and families join me in wishing you a very happy Christmas. We trust you are blessed refreshed in every way over this Christmas period.

 

 

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?