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From The Heart

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.

 

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.

 

To Respect Our Parents

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What does it mean to respect another person? The dictionary tells us that respect is a feeling of deep admiration or having a sense of esteem or of great worth for another person. In his first letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:3-8), Paul emphasises one aspect of children and grandchildren looking after the physical needs of their parents and grandparents. If your parents are old and cannot look after themselves, then their children should be the first to look after them.

Let children be kind to their parents. This may mean providing for them financially (e.g. helping them with their financial affairs, paying bills for them), but it can also mean looking after them when they cannot look after themselves (e.g. taking them to medical appointments, arranging for the care they need,  taking them into our home and caring for them there).

”Let them first learn to show godliness to their own household” (1 Timothy 5:4). The emphasis here is that since your parents supported and nourished you when you were young and helpless, so you should support them when they are old and need to be cared for. Parents should not be left to the care of the church or the government when they have children who can care for them. How can we be kind to others if we do not first show kindness and care to our own family?

Then comes the statement in 1 Timothy 5:8, if you don’t look after your own family, you have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever. If we profess Christ as Lord, then we do what He tells us to do. As a Christian, our faith is also shown by our actions (James 2:26). Our faith is so often seen by our actions. We are to be kind towards other people, particularly to those in need.  So when it comes to our own family members, this requirement is even more glaring. True love respects; so our parents need for respect should come first and foremost, always before us.

 

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.

 

Let’s Be Honest

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In Acts chapter 5 we have the story of Ananias and Sapphira. When Peter confronts the two he does not accuse them of greed or materialism, but rather of lying. Then, Peter does not accuse them of lying to the leaders of the church, but rather, lying to God (Acts 5:4). So it is saying here that lying to the church is equivalent to lying to God. No wonder it says that the whole church was in fear about this (Acts 5:11).

In the church today we do not believe in killing people for lying. We are too nice and pleasant with each other for that. We would rather lie and keep things pleasant than tell the truth and make ourselves as honest before men as we should be before God. Yet in this first century church, they believe that being a truthful community before God is so important, it’s a matter of life and death.

In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus speaks against making oaths. An oath was used as a way of confirming that what I say, I will in fact do. Something like, As God is my witness I will do this… But the Pharisees had worked out ways around this. They said that if you swear by other names, e.g. by heaven or earth or Jerusalem or by your own head, as long as you were not directly using God’s name to swear by, then if you break such an oath, that was OK, because you did not formally swear by God’s name.

But Jesus says all these things belong to God anyway, so they should not be used to make a false oath, or allow you to break your oath. In fact Jesus is saying that you should not need to use an oath at all. You should be a person of integrity. Your reputation should be such that people know when you say something or make a promise, you will always keep your word. Honesty should just be part of our nature. If we make a promise to God or to people and we don’t live up to it, then we are using God’s name in vain, because as sons and daughters of God, our character is to be like His, always truthful.

 

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.

Speak! Do not be silent!

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“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

That is the word of Jesus Christ to Paul in Corinth. Obviously, Paul was afraid. In his letter to Corinth, written years later, he revealed to the Corinthians that he was in fear and trembling when he was in Corinth. The repeated blows of persecution, the constant hurls of insult and ridicule that he had to endure in each city he went to, and the discouraging response from his own countrymen – all of them had taken a toll, physically and emotionally, and perhaps to some level, spiritually as well. So, you would not blame Paul if he began to pack up and thought of leaving Corinth. So, Jesus’ encouragement was very timely and was a breath of fresh air for Paul. He decided to stay on for another 18 months.

What about us now here in Melbourne? There are more than 4 million people in Melbourne. No doubt, Jesus would have said the same thing to us that He has many people in this city of Melbourne whom He wanted to save.

Jesus said this in John 10:14-16, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Will we go on speaking the gospel? Or will we be silent?

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.