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From The Heart

What drives you in life?

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What drives you in life? What’s your highest priority? For some the answer to those questions might be tied to work, while for others it may possibly be family life, or friendships. The list could go on and on. Of course, how we answer those questions reveals a great deal about what we think is most important.

Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus has made many references to his ‘hour’. Everything in Jesus’ life has been moving towards this hour, and now, in John chapter 12, the hour finally arrives. The ‘hour’ is the hour of Jesus’ death. Why was this hour so important to Jesus? In a very real way this hour was troubling to him, so much so that there’s a sense in which he would have liked to have been delivered from it. The pain, humiliation, and self sacrifice of the cross were daunting to face. A moment’s reflection and it’s not difficult to understand why Jesus found it so troubling. However, there was something even more important to Jesus than being delivered from the horrors of crucifixion. Something drove Jesus’ life and shaped his decision – there was a priority by which all others were set. ‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name’ (John 12: 27-28). To bring glory to his father’s name meant more to Jesus than life itself. As Jesus obeyed his father and went to the cross, he brought glory to God by revealing his holy character. There God’s hatred toward sin was revealed. There the ruler of this was defeated. There the grace, mercy and love of God were on display.

As followers of Jesus, we too are called to lay down our lives and live for the glory of God. But, in practice, what does that look like for us? Actually, at a basic level it’s really quite simply. Just as Jesus displayed God’s glory in obeying his father, even to the point of death, we too bring glory to God by listening to his word and following what he says no matter the cost. Let’s encourage one another to live for God’s glory this week by listening to his word and obeying what it says.

Reality worth making known

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Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Too often we attempt to live life in a way that ignores the reality that we are all living in a fallen world under the sentence of death. Of course, such an illusion is hard to maintain for it’s not long before reality hits. A passenger plane is shot out of the sky, war and unrest continue to break out like spot fires around the world, cherished possessions get old and stop working, and relationships with friends break down. Finally the time comes when we’re faced with the reality of our own death – or the death of a loved one – and we’re forced to look death squarely in the eye.

Recently, that time came to my own family with the death of my father earlier this month after being diagnosed with bowel cancer just three months ago. To state the obvious, the death of someone close to you hurts. Death robs us of life and love and all good things. Yet, as Christians we ought not to live life, or encourage others to live life, in a way that ignores the reality of death. Jesus’ stunning words to Martha, whose brother Lazarus had died, calls us not to a baseless hope that something good lies beyond the grave, but to a personal trust in him as the only one who can grant life to people under the sentence of death. Only by trusting in Jesus can we have our sins forgiven and face reality with rock solid hope. For those of us who have turned from our sin and trusted in Christ we see in the restoration to life of Jesus’ beloved friend Lazarus a shadow of our own resurrection to eternal life. You see, the one who cried out ‘Lazarus, come out’, will one day call for us. On that day we will step forward from the grave with transformed natures and imperishable bodies into a redeemed world where there is no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain.

Now’s that’s a reality worth making known.

Safe in the arms of the Good Shepherd

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“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

These are amongst the most comforting words a person can hear. Can there be a safer place than the secure arms of Jesus, the strong safe hands of God? Jesus’ promise that He gives his followers, his sheep, life to the full that goes on forever, is only possible because He lays down his life for the sheep. Being in the care and protection of One who has proven his love to that extent is no small thing. There is no other person in the universe who can claim that kind of relationship with his sheep. No one else has, or could, die for our sins, since He is the only one who lived the perfect life we should have lived and died the death we deserve to die. Amazing love! Total sacrifice!

Jesus clear statement that “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” is so comforting when we are tempted to doubt his presence, or his love, or his ability to see us safe ‘home’. God’s power and persistence and endless love guarantees it. He is greater than all, and He will not divert from his mission to rescue his people.

Does this security mean that we can do whatever we like? The characteristics of the sheep that Jesus talks about are that they hear his voice, He knows them, and they follow him. Hearing his voice means more than just listening, it means doing what He says. It’s a kind of hearing that makes a difference – following him. We all do that imperfectly, and long for the day when we see Jesus and are finally freed from our weaknesses and are made like him. In the meantime we keep listening and following, secure in the knowledge that by his power and grace we will be taken safely home to the new creation where we will praise and serve him forever. Jesus and the Father are one – they are both working to bring this about.

What a privilege to be known and held secure by our Father and the Lord Jesus. Let’s keep hearing and following.

Buying without money

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There’s a great invitation in Isaiah 55.

Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price. (v1)

It has all the hallmarks of a great free banquet (always an attractive prospect!). Similar words are used by Jesus when he stood up in the temple and called “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37). Ultimately it points us forward to the wonderful heavenly banquet when Jesus returns and the new creation is ushered in.

But the notion of buying something without payment is a curious one. Why doesn’t he just say that it’s free? Why retain the concept of buying when there is no price to pay?

It’s because, even though there’s no payment to be made, the banquet doesn’t come free. It’s a very lavish and expensive one. There’s a huge cost involved. The price-tag is way beyond our reach. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it. God himself has paid the price, through the perfect life and sacrificial death of his Son in our place. And because of his endless and unconditional generosity and grace, the invitation is given to come and drink, without money, without price (to us).

What a reason to rejoice and be thankful to our great God and Saviour!

The sorrow of getting it wrong

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It’s been interesting watching a bit of the World Cup (soccer, that is, in case you’re not a fan, or have been hiding under a rock for the last few weeks!). I like checking out the expressions on the player’s faces (except when it’s obviously one that they have been working on in drama school and they are trying to milk a penalty).

Sometimes the expression is one of absolute elation and joy, as they celebrate having helped their country to fame and glory. Often it’s mixed with unexpected surprise, as they had not hoped in their wildest dreams to be in such a great position. The face lights up, the team lifts and the crowd goes crazy.

Often, unfortunately, what’s written all over the player’s face is pain, shame, sorrow, as they realise that they have just done something that means an early exit from the competition is a lot closer. As the reality of shame and disgrace for them and the nation sinks in, the hands often come up to cover the face. And when the final whistle blows, there are tears and regret at what could have been. If only….

It’s a common human experience – getting it wrong, missing the mark, or sin, as the bible calls it. Even for the person who doesn’t know or believe the bible, the sorrow at having not met our own expectations of ourselves, or the expectations of people we love, is real and painful.

Our passage for today (Isaiah 53), says of God’s suffering servant, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (v4).  Isaiah was pointing forward to the work of Jesus. In his death on the cross, He paid the price to put things right – He bore our sorrows.

The biggest problem with our sin is not the sorrow it causes us, or even those we hurt or let down (serious as this is). It’s the pain and sorrow it causes our Creator, who made us to live in a loving relationship with him. Jesus bearing our sorrows and griefs means that He has fixed this most serious of consequences – that we have upset God. Jesus’ death on the cross put that right, so that God no longer regards us as offenders, but as He regards Jesus – perfectly loving and obedient.

What a joy to be recipients of this kind of undeserved grace and love! Let’s live in the light of it.

What is our focus?

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For almost 149 years CrossCulture has been a Christ-centred Church. Recently we have been working on sharpening that focus and at our AGM adopted as our vision: Know Christ, Grow in Christ, Proclaim Christ.

What we want to pursue ourselves, and what we want to happen to people the Lord connects us with, is to know Christ, to grow in him and to proclaim him. To know Jesus is to know salvation forever. There is no other way to be forgiven and come into a relationship with God than through Christ. His death on the cross opened up the way.

The logical response to what God has done for us in Christ is to live the rest of our lives in gratitude to him for what he has done for us: To grow in Christ – becoming more like him, more passionate in serving and obeying him. Our vision is to be a growing mature body of followers of Jesus who reflect his perfection. We’re not there yet, but that is why we meet together – to encourage and help each other to grow in Him.

Because we believe that Christ is the only hope for the human race and that true fullness and freedom is found in a relationship with him, we are passionate about passing this good news on to others. Proclaim Christ is deep in the DNA of God’s church in every age and particularly for us. We long to see people that Jesus died for and who God connects us with here and around the world (through our Global Partners) come to Know Christ, Grow in Christ, and in turn Proclaim Christ.

There can be no greater privilege than fulfilling God’s purposes for us than giving ourselves to this mission. May God help us to do it well.

The Rock from which we’re cut

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Isaiah uses an unusual expression in his prophecy to God’s people in trying to encourage them. He calls on them to “look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (51:1). The implication is to think about your origins, your identity, and live out your life in the light of that. For the people he was talking to, he pointed them to Abraham (v2). They were worried that God had abandoned them – that their people would die out. But Isaiah reminds them that Abraham and Sarah had the promise of God that a great nation would come from their descendants. But they had no kids, and were very old. Yet they kept trusting God, and eventually that nation came into being. God kept his promises then, and he will keep doing it. That is a great message for people who are losing hope.

What is the Rock from which we are cut, what sort of quarry have we come from, as God’s people in Melbourne in the 21st century? The quarry that we have come from is just as squarely based on the promises of God – only we see the fulfilment of those promises much more clearly than the people in Isaiah’s time. Jesus has come and died for our sins and opened up the way for us to be amongst the redeemed people of God. The New Testament speaks of Jesus as the Rock (Romans 9:33, 1 Cor 10:4, 1 Peter 2:8), and tells us that “whoever believes in him will never be put to shame.” He is the Rock that we look to and trust in. Our identity, our origin as God’s people is totally bound up with him. Let’s keep trusting him and living for him as we let his light shine in the city.

Waiting for God

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God’s message through Isaiah is very clear – He hasn’t forgotten his people, and He will rescue and restore them. Big promises, by a big God. But for people who were oppressed by a cruel foreign power who had gutted their country, temple, houses and farms, it was hard to trust those promises. They struggled – they were depressed by their circumstances and the temptation to not believe what God was saying was enormous. Especially so since their situation hadn’t changed for generations. It’s easy for us to condemn their lack of trust in God and faith that He would keep his promises.

But how good are we at waiting for God, especially when life’s circumstances are hard, and it seems like there is no end to the difficulties we are experiencing, or the frustration we go through in becoming more Christ-like? I suspect our patience and trust may not be much better than God’s people in the old covenant. And yet we are much better off than they were. As Peter says, “we have the promises made more sure” (2 Peter 1:19), through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And we have the Spirit of God in us. One of the fruit of the Spirit is patience, another is long-suffering. I guess we usually think of these things as applying to our relationships with others (and they do!), but they primarily apply to our relationship with God. It is the Spirit who empowers us to keep on trusting the promises of God to redeem and restore us, in spite of our difficulties and the pressure to give up.

Eugene Peterson wrote a book describing the Christian life as “a long obedience in the same direction” (That’s the title of the book – subtitled “Discipleship in an instant Society”).  That’s what we do whilst we wait for God’s final redemption and restoration. One foot after the other, following Jesus and believing his promises.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, as the old song says. Let’s keep on encouraging one another to joyfully hang on to the promises of our Lord and rescuer.

God speaks

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We often long to “hear the voice of God”. I think by saying that, we mean that we want God to speak a word that is particularly for me; a message in an envelope that has my name and address on it. Some people spend their whole lives in expectation of this (“If only God would reveal himself to me, I would believe in him”) and end up not realising that He has never been silent and has revealed himself. The very fact that the book of Isaiah exists is evidence of this. In the passage we are looking at this week God says “Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there” (Is 48:16). God made himself known to Adam and Eve right at the beginning, and continued to reveal himself to every person since, even at the most basic level through the creation (Romans 1:20), but much much more than this as well.

The fact of God’s revelation is an act of grace by itself. Given our pre-disposition towards ignoring him, not listening and disobeying what He says, God could quite justly give up on speaking to us. But because He is gracious and loving, He does. He continues to reach out and show us who He is and how we can be made right with Him.

The bible gives an unequivocal answer to the question “Does God speak to us?” It’s a very clear and loud “Yes!” Through creation, through the prophets, and finally, fully and completely, through His Son (Heb 1:1-3). Of all the people who have lived on the planet, we are amongst those to whom He has spoken most fully and clearly. And we have the record of this revelation in the Scriptures.

Rather than “Does God speak to us?” the real question is: are we listening? Are we digging into what God says to us and letting His Spirit change us and mould us into the likeness of Jesus? That is what He wants to happen, and when we do that, we know for sure He is working to bring it about.

Australian Idol

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The people of God in Isaiah’s time got themselves in a lot of trouble when they succumbed to the temptation to put their faith in the idols of the nations around them. There were lots of reasons for it: The idols were targeted at fertility (people and crops) – a big concern for any society. They were more visible than the Lord. And often the nations who worshipped the idols seemed much more powerful than their nation, giving the impression that the Lord was less powerful. Even though they had plenty of evidence of God’s almighty power in their history, they so easily forgot.

Whilst our idols in Australia are more sophisticated than those of the ancient world, the temptation to serve them is no less real. The worship of power, self, possessions and pleasure that is endemic in our culture has a powerful pull on us all. To ‘hope in the Lord’ seems silly when the stability of position and possessions like a solid house (‘real’ estate), healthy finances and superannuation packages is what our society banks on and trusts in.

The answer for the people of God has always been the same: Love for the Lord is to be the passion that drives what we do with all our lives, including our possessions and position. Isaiah’s message that ultimately only the Lord rules and saves, foreshadowed the message of Jesus and the apostles; the Kingdom of God is here, repent and believe the good news.

Serving the Lord involves ridding ourselves of our idolatry and worshipping him alone. He’s the only One who deserves such a place in our lives.