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From The Heart

When things looked their worst

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Joseph is one of the greatest role models in the Bible. We see a man of integrity and spiritual sensitivity; a man who was a slave and rose in power to become the ruler of Egypt.

Rachel was the love of Jacob’s life, and when she finally gave birth to Joseph, Jacob was over 90 years old. Joseph became Jacob’s favourite son. This favouritism was clear to his older brothers and caused tension within the family. When Jacob gave Joseph a colourful long sleeved, ankle length robe that looked like a royal garment, it became the breaking point for the older brothers. They seethed with hatred and anger and could not even have a civil conversation with Joseph!

Two dreams given in our scripture text today add fuel to the fires of jealousy in the hearts of Joseph’s brothers. Both the dreams were easy to understand and involved having Joseph rule over the other family members. The second dream was told to Jacob, who at first rebuked Joseph, but then thought that perhaps it was a revelation from God, and so kept the interpretation in mind. Jacob suspected that this message had come from the Lord but he did not know how it would work out in the lives of everyone in the family, especially Joseph.

We have a chapter where God’s name is not mentioned once. But the theme of this chapter, as with all subsequent chapters, is about God accomplishing His sovereign purposes in the life of this man in the teeth of enormous hostility and opposition. When things looked their worst, God was there in control in Joseph’s life. Nothing was happening to Joseph by the whim of men or by mere chance.

We learn from Joseph that what matters is not so much the events or circumstances of life, but our response to them. We do not have to be a victim of our past. With God’s help, any situation can be used for good, even when others intend it for evil.

God meant it for good

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Adam and Eve sinned and banished from ‘paradise.’ Death began to reign over the earth. Their son killed their other son because his fruit and vegetable offering did not go well. The good creation beginning quickly deteriorated into chaos and mayhem. Cain’s descendants were not good role models either. Human beings were so evil that God sent the flood to ‘restart’ the world with Noah and his family. After the flood though, Noah got drunk and the hangover did not look good at all. The peak of human wickedness was at the Tower of Babel when they decided to challenge God directly. God did not want them to destroy themselves like that. So He intervened. He dispersed them and confused their languages. The situation seemed to be hopeless and irredeemable until one day… God chose a man, named Abraham.

The promises of land, people, and blessings were given.

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

We are starting a new series today on the life of Joseph: “God Meant it for Good.” The call of Abraham provides a crucial context to what’s going to unfold in the coming weeks. In Genesis 12:1-9, we learn that God is the God who initiates, communicates, and promises. He crafts the plan, He declares His purposes, and He ensures their fulfilment. Abraham needs only to respond, to trust, and to obey.

May you start your new year with a new appreciation toward and a proper response to God’s character and His faithfulness.

Remembering God’s faithfulness

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As we finish unwrapping Christmas presents, we suddenly find that it’s time to begin wrapping up the year. And what a year it’s been. On a global scale, this is a year that has been full of triumph and disaster, hopefulness and despair. A quick search online will bring to mind some of the best and worst faced in 2014.

On a personal level many will relate to the variety of experiences, good and bad, that were faced in 2014. Though the details may differ, each of us has faced our own versions of the struggles and victories we’ve read about in the news and like every year, we must choose what our hearts and minds will dwell on in the light or dark of it.

As a nation, ancient Israel also went through events that brought both rejoicing in the faithfulness of God, and more often than we realise, a deep questioning of whether he was really there beside them.

For them, reflecting back on God’s mighty acts of redemption was a way of fueling perseverance in trusting him. Psalm 77:10-11 captures this in a song, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.”

It’s the same for us. In all that we experience, we are called to make a habit of bringing to mind the truth of God’s character and salvation expressed in the history of the Old Testament and the revelation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This intentional remembering of God’s faithfulness should not be an annual event, but rather a life discipline.

Though it may not always be up-front in our minds, God has acted in a mighty way to save us through Jesus. A life grounded on this truth can interpret and respond to difficulties in the right way. It’s not the quality of the house, but the foundation that plays the biggest role in keeping it standing (Matthew 7:25).

God is faithful and we can trust him through the good and the bad. May we remember how he has been faithful to us in the past and continue to bring to mind what God he has done for us through Christ Jesus in the coming year.

The greatest gift ever

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Someone has said that you make a living by what you earn, but you get a life by what you give. Or to put it more simply “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Jesus – Acts 20:35). Jesus ought to know – he gave the biggest gift that humanity has ever had – his perfect life for our imperfect ones. By giving up himself, he opened up the possibility for forgiveness, a new start and a perfect life forever with God. Paul talked about it in these terms “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor 9:15). It is hard to find words in human language to describe that kind of undeserved generosity. And it is offered in the face of human indifference, or even open rebellion against our Creator and his claims on our lives. Inexpressible indeed!

Christmas is rightly a time for giving, because it reminds us of God’s remarkable generosity to us. As we share in giving and receiving over this Christmas time, let’s give thanks to God for his inexpressible gift, and let’s not keep the news of this remarkable eternity-altering gift to ourselves. It is literally the difference between life and death for those yet to hear.

Have a blessed Christmas!

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.

Leave our qualifications at the door

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One of the ways in which Christianity differs from all other religions is in its view of human nature. All other religions teach that people are basically okay. We just need some rules, some guidance, some instruction to live by and everything will be alright. Following these rules and rites, it is believed, will tip the scales in our favour, earning God’s approval and securing our eternal destiny.

Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that human beings are corrupt and sinful to the core, unable to achieve the sinless righteousness God requires. Apart from the mercy and grace of God there would be absolutely no hope for rebels like us, but the Bible rings true with the amazing news that, in his incredible grace, God has himself provided the remedy we need through the work of Jesus.

Despite his impeccable credentials as a faithful Jew, Paul came to discover his utter worthlessness before God when he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. From that time on Paul gave up any attempt to become righteous before God through his own efforts (such an attempt was itself a distortion of the purpose of the law cf. Galatians 3) and began looking outside of himself for the righteousness that only God can provide.

The righteousness we need to stand before God on the final day is gift from God, secured by the faithfulness of Jesus and given to those of us who put our trust in him. What’s more, meeting Christ radically altered the way Paul viewed his so called ‘qualifications’ and ‘achievements’. What he once looked upon with pride and had thought to be for his benefit, he came to realise had blinded him from seeing his need for Jesus and the righteousness only God can supply. Unlike most earthly corporations and institutions, entrance into the kingdom of God requires each of us to leave our qualifications at the door.

Imitate Jesus

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Imitation is fun. At least, it is for my 5 year old daughter as she plays Elsa from Disney’s Frozen… ‘Let it go, let it go…’, but already I digress.

Imitation is also normal, for not only what I do but also how I do it has been shaped, in large part, by others. Imitation, however, can be dangerous. We live in a fallen world where value and status are often attached to things like education, wealth, glamour, and power. The pursuit of these things as ultimate invariably involves a rejection of God, destruction of community and dominance over others. To imitate our first parents, Adam and Eve, is to destroy any possibility of real unity, fellowship, and community.

Being a Christian – living in a manner worthy of the gospel – doesn’t mean giving up imitation, but adopting new models to imitate. Jesus is first and foremost our Lord and Saviour (Philippians 2: 11; 3: 20), yet his riches to rags story of becoming a man and dying on a cross also provides us with an example of humility and obedience to follow. Though he enjoyed all the privileges and power that come from being equal with God, Jesus refused to use these privileges for selfish ends, opting instead to give not get, to serve not be served, to obey not dominate (Philippians 2: 6-8). The call to have the mind of Christ – to imitate his attitude – means nothing less than being humble, united, loving, and willing to put the interests of others ahead of our own (Philippians 2: 2-4).

What if we imitated Jesus with the kind of enthusiasm and simplicity a child imitates their favourite Disney character? Not in the sense of imitating his saving work, for that we are not called to do, but in the Philippians 2 sense of adopting his attitude. Such an idea might seem too childish for some. However, C.S. Lewis once argued that if a believer pretends to be like Jesus – say, in the way my daughter pretends to be Elsa – what tends to happen is that the moment they begin playing they discover ways in which the pretence could become reality.

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!