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From The Heart

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?

When God doesn’t do what we want

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Jonah’s big frustration was that God didn’t do things his way. If Jonah had had his way, the people of Nineveh would never have heard God’s message, and certainly wouldn’t have believed it. Nor would they have changed their ways. And God certainly wouldn’t have forgiven them. He wanted God to destroy them, not save them.  But God has other plans.

A lot of our frustrations come from the fact that deep down we want to create a god after our own image. An all-powerful pet, who will always be at our beck and call, and always do what we want. The trouble is, God, by definition, revelation and experience is not like that. By definition God is infinitely powerful, holy, knowledgeable, loving. We are limited in all these characteristics. God has revealed himself as our sovereign creator and ruler. And our experience tells us that his ways are not our ways (at least a lot of the time). That’s what produces the frustration.

We do well to remember that we aren’t the potter and He’s not the clay. It’s the other way around, and He is fashioning us into the perfect image of Jesus. That process, in his loving hands, will necessarily involve some breaking down, some kneading, re-shaping, some time in the furnace, before the final product is ready. Let’s cooperate with him as we move toward that day when we will be presented without spot or blemish.

Revival – Proclaim and Pray!

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What happens in Jonah Chapter 3 is what most Christians long to see. Widespread heartfelt turning away from evil and turning to God. The people of Nineveh, on hearing God’s message, repented as one – from the king down. The whole population. How we long to see such things happen in our time – for people to be transformed by God’s gracious intervention.

Two things came together in Nineveh. Firstly, God’s message was proclaimed. The reluctant prophet finally did his job. And when God’s explosive message was released it impacted the whole city. There have been times when the message of the good news of Jesus has been widely proclaimed in our city. In 1959 719,000 people attended meetings to hear Billy Graham proclaim the good news (about 40% of the population at the time). Secondly, They realised their need of forgiveness, and God answered their cry for mercy. In Ninevah, there was national repentance. Similarly in Melbourne in 1959, more than 26,000 people responded to the call to follow Jesus.

In the end, this is a sovereign work of our merciful God. It flows from who He is – the God of mercy and love. We are dependent on him to revive us, our city, nation, world. Let’s keep crying out to him to have mercy and empower people to believe the good news and turn from going their own way to going God’s way. It’s the great need of our time. It’s the only hope. Or rather, He’s the only hope. Let’s proclaim his message of repentance and faith, and pray for his powerful work in our city.

 

 

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.