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From The Heart

Calling on God

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How’s your prayer life? What does it look like? Is God like the fire brigade to you – you make a panic call whenever something goes “wrong”, or is He more like a trusted friend and mentor that you want to connect with regularly and hang out with often?

So far in Jonah, he’s been totally avoiding talking with God, even though everyone around him is, including pagan sailors. But God brings him to a place where his only option is to cry out for his help. It’s when he’s staring death in the face that he finally calls out in desperation.

There’s nothing wrong with crying out to God in our distress, in fact there’s everything right with it. He’s all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing so it makes total sense to do throw ourselves on him. The tragedy is that if that’s the only time we call on Him, we miss out on so much. God wants to guide and direct and help us in all circumstances. His plan is that every part of our lives reflect his glory and point people to him, not just our disasters.

That’s what it means to have Jesus as our Lord and Saviour – accepting and joyfully living out his rule and rescue in every circumstance.

 

 

He’s a Jonah!

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We sometimes hear this expression for someone who seems to attract trouble. Every time they’re in the car, the boat, on the team, something goes wrong. It’s as if they bring bad luck with them (and that’s often what is meant when the expression is used). The saying comes from our passage today (Jonah 1). Whilever Jonah is on board the ship, the storm rages harder and stronger. Toss him overboard, and all is calm, all is bright!

But it’s not a case of bad luck, it’s a case of bad living. The storm comes not because Jonah is unlucky, it’s because he’s wilfully running from God’s good plan and purpose – for him and the people of Nineveh. The storm is not punishment, but part of God’s loving plan to rescue Jonah, the sailors and many others. Sometimes God takes pretty drastic action to get our attention and bring us back into line with his good plan for us and his world. Is God trying to get your attention now? Are you ready to listen, and follow his good direction for your life? It could be the difference between life and death, eternal life and death, for you and many others.

If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve been given a message to bring to a lost world, just like Jonah.  It’s easy to dodge that task, or just not do it, or pretend it’s someone else’s job, or even actively avoid it, as Jonah tried to do. But God is relentless in pursuing people, even his enemies. That’s why Jesus came to earth – to die, so that we could live and take this life-giving message to the nations. Let’s do it!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Open House, Open Heart, Open Heaven

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Welcome to CrossCulture Open House! We’re so glad you could come today and hope that you find your time with us inspiring and encouraging. Please take advantage of the many things that are on today to get to know us and the church better. There are tours that will give you some idea of what goes on here and why we’ve been here for the last 152 years. We’d love you to stay around to enjoy some food and friendship too.

We try to be open-hearted to everyone who comes, not just on Sundays but throughout the week as many people come through our Open Chapel and other programs. We hope you will find open-hearted friendship here today and whenever you choose to come.

The reason we want to be open in these ways is because God is like that. He’s keen for us all to get to know him – so much so that he came to visit planet earth, in the person of Jesus. Jesus ‘went about doing good’ the record says, and finally did the ultimate good of opening the door of heaven and relationship with God forever. That’s worth celebrating!

Enjoy our 152nd birthday party!

 

Where to CrossCulture?

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152 years ago today our forebears in the faith formed this gathering of God’s people now called CrossCulture. By the grace of God, the witness has continued and grown. The light of the good news has gone out, thousands of lives have been changed, hundreds have gone out to other parts of the world to live and to proclaim the message of Jesus. To God be the glory!

What about the future? Our context has changed a lot. (Former pastor Alan Webb recalls that in the 1970s Swanston St was deserted on Sundays – there was nowhere open to even buy a coffee, and Christians probably wouldn’t have done it anyway, even if there was!) Today is very different. Tens of thousands of people go past our church daily. Many are indifferent or even hostile to God. But many are open to hearing the good news of Jesus. All need to hear it, as do the people in the communities where we live and work.

God’s vision of his church is people shining like stars in a dark world, holding out the word of life, as we humbly and sacrificially follow our Master. It’s not an easy life (Jesus never promised that it would be), but the good news is the only hope for lost and broken people. More than ever we need to be praying and living so that people will see and hear the wonderful and powerful message of Jesus – God’s only remedy to the darkness. Let’s shine like lights!

 

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.

 

The green-eyed monster

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One of the strongest drivers of human behaviour is envy or jealousy – the green-eyed monster (apparently the expression originates with Shakespeare). Wanting to have a better car, kitchen, phone, career, relationship, body, education, family, hairstyle, etc, etc – the list is endless. Of course wanting these things is not necessarily wrong. It’s what drives the desire that’s the problem. If it’s to be bigger and better than others that’s driving it, then of course ultimately it’s self-directed and wrong. Envy is a dangerous thing. It’s a pernicious form of self-promotion – evidence that our self-interest has been frustrated.

Jesus tells us not to worry about getting ahead of the rest (Matthew 6:25-33). God knows what we need, and doesn’t hold back in providing it (Check out he birds or the flowers, he says). What He wants us to have at the top of our priority list is to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness. In other words his loving rule over our lives and the lives of others, and to seek to reflect his goodness and purity in our lives – to be like Him. This frees us up to be like Him in other ways. To really seek the good of those around us. With envy on the back burner (or switched off altogether!), love and generosity can flourish and grow on the front burner. This is God’s great plan for his people. Let’s not get sidetracked on lesser things.

 

True Love is Honest

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We know that lying to one another is wrong (Leviticus 19:11), but what about telling white lies? A white lie is a small lie—just stretching the truth a little. We don’t mean to hurt anyone, in fact we do it so that we won’t hurt the other person.

Lying is telling something that is not true, with the intention to deceive others. White lies, on the other hand, might be partly true, or we just don’t mention everything. After all white lies seem polite, and it’s not like we personally gain anything much from it. White lies can help ease relationships between people, reduce agitation and bring peace. Besides, what other people don’t know won’t hurt them.

So, is a small sin like telling a white lie no big deal? For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); we know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning (1 John 5:18). All sins are equally offensive to God and we should avoid it in our lives.

Perhaps we think that the “ends” justify the “means”. But God does not leave any room for doubt—all lying is wrong, no exceptions (Proverbs 6:16-19). Besides, who determines that the ends are justified, and who is it good for exactly?

Do we tell white lies just to make others feel good and not hurt their feelings? Lying to people is a very disrespectful way of not hurting their feelings. In the end, you just become known as a liar who cannot be trusted. If you tell one lie, you have to tell more lies to cover up the original lie. We also often use white lies to help ourselves. It’s part of our desire for self-interest (1 John 2:16). However, peace and truth can come together, it’s just that truth needs more work.

Those who lie, even telling small white lies, damage their own credibility. Truthfulness is precious to God (Proverbs 12:22), and it should be precious to us too.

 

 

The grace of generosity

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One of the first things we learn is to try to get what we can. Anyone who has had a toddler knows that the word ‘mine’ gets used regularly and loudly, pretty much as soon as it’s learned. We learn fairly early on in our lives that we can (often relatively easily) get what is not ours, sometimes without anyone knowing. Someone has said that a thief is someone who regularly confuses ‘mine’ and ‘thine’. God’s instructions to us are very simple. Don’t steal (Exodus 20:15). In contrast to the vast volume of our ownership laws, God is very brief. Just 2 words!

Wanting what’s not ours is a pernicious and prevalent disease. What is the antidote? God has given us the lead in this. The context of the giving of the 10 commandments is one of grace. The grace of God, who rescues his people. They have already been rescued from slavery, and now He’s telling them how to respond to his rescuing love. His generosity is vividly apparent. Even more so to us, who have had God’s grace lavished on us through the sacrifice of Jesus. Imitating this generosity of our Lord and Saviour not only benefits and lifts up those in need, but it turns our eyes off ourselves and helps us experience the joy of the Lord, the One who for the joy set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).

Let’s excel in the grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7).

 

Till Death Do Us Part

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For those of us who are married, if you used the traditional marriage vow, or if you used more modern vows, you would have used these or similar words – “till death do us part”. This is the promise we make to our spouse. These are the words we use in our commitment to them. That is the promise we are making. Till death would part us, if that is the promise you make, then that is the promise you should keep.

So, if anything but death is an option for you to end your marriage, then why would you say these words, “till death do us part”? Why not tell the truth, promise what you mean? Perhaps you should say something like – Till adultery, or abandonment, or abuse do us part.  But you can’t because the Marriage Law doesn’t allow for that.

In Matthew 19:3-12, Jesus speaks about marriage, and says;”Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5). The man and the women are now one flesh. Marriage is an institution made by God, for all humanity, at creation.

The two become one flesh through sexual union. God made us to be to together in that way, and for life. So it says; “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate”, (Matthew 19:6). When divorce breaks a marriage, it is against how God made us to be. Divorce breaks one of the most intimate relationships on earth. It harms children in the relationship, no matter how old they are. It also harms society—the adultery of one person will affect at least two immediate families, and many other family members and friends.

Jesus said that faithfulness in marriage is an image of His faithfulness to the church. Ephesians 5:31-32; “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Let us reflect the faithfulness of Christ to us, in our faithfulness to our marriage partner.