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Saturday, 12 May 2018

Happy Mother's Day

When I think about Mary, the mother of Jesus, I consider her the most remarkable of mothers.
In the time of Christ's conception and birth, Jewish scriptures had foretold that a Messiah would be born who would be the Saviour of the Jewish people. As they were living under Roman occupation, they were eagerly awaiting a Messiah who would deliver them from their captivity, in the same way that Moses had led them out of slavery in Egypt centuries earlier. Therefore many young Jewish women were hoping that they would be the chosen girl to bear God's gift of a Messiah.

Mary was no doubt a young woman of exceptional character, chosen by God. When an angel appeared to her to announce that she would be the mother of the Saviour, she, very naturally, enquired as to how this could come about. She was a virgin, engaged to be married to Joseph. The angel explained that the child would be an immaculate conception, conceived through the presence of the Holy Spirit in her, not a sexual relationship.

"the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."
Luke chapter 1, verses 30-35. 

Mary was honoured to be the mother of Jesus. She and her family and husband Joseph no doubt experienced being the subject of much gossip and slander. Forever after she was chosen to walk a different path to what she would have experienced otherwise. Perhaps her wedding was different. The circumstances of her baby's birth, away from home in a crude stable were probably different to what she had dreamt of. She was aware that her son was destined for greatness, but also for suffering. She was with her son until His earthly end, and endured the agonising experience of His crucifixion. No mother could have loved more.

Mary was a godly example to all mothers, a woman who was obedient to God no matter what the cost, a woman of great love and faithfulness.

Her story reminds us to be faithful to God in honouring our own mothers, and for those of us who are mothers, to pray for our children, to teach them of God's love and to try and live a life which will reflect His ways. It's a reminder too, to care for those women who, through whatever circumstances are doing the tough job of mothering on their own. 

"And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
   for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”
(Luke chapter 1 :46-55)


"his mother treasured all these things in her heart"  (Luke chapter 2, v 51).

Happy Mother's Day 2018 to all the mums near and far.

 

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Passing the baton


I recently had cause, whilst browsing on the internet, to look at some online information about a man that I knew some years ago when he was a teenager. Back then he was involved in church activities and was liked and respected by those who knew him. A born stage performer, he was outgoing and athletic and hero-worshipped to some extent by some of the younger boys.
Wind the clock forward ten years and the man that I saw on the internet was still handsome and athletic, his outside appearance having changed but a little; yet his demeanour seemed so completely different. His online conversation was peppered liberally with foul expletives and his biography indicated that he was living a lifestyle far from Christian principles.
I was filled with great sadness when I read this. We can never know for sure what causes a young person to turn away from God’s ways. No doubt there are often a number of factors. What I do know in this case, however, was that the father of the young man concerned was heavily involved in a church which experienced infighting and as a result lost his church ministry (but not his faith) after being publicly humiliated in a very raucous and bitter church meeting. A church split ensued, a small but vocal group of elders held sway and a large proportion of the youth left.  One can only wonder if the hurt that the church caused his father created a cynical and antagonistic attitude in his son. Yet hopefully this young man will have many praying for him and the foundations of his Christian faith will remain, if clouded for a time, and he will return to his Father’s care.
The root cause of church hurt, of course, is Satan, who loves to create dissention among the followers of Christ, having already in hand the allegiance of the world’s unbelievers. Two of the most readily available tools he uses to this end are criticism and gossip. In the case of the church above there was much of the two behind the scenes. Perhaps there were some valid reasons for concern, but these should have been dealt with privately and respectfully.
We older folk in a church congregation must ask ourselves the questions-
“What messages am I giving to the children and youth in my church?”
“Am I supporting them in encouragement? In Godly example?”
“Do I want things to remain just how I like them, or am I accepting of new ways of doing things?
“Am I willing to release finances for youth/ young adults programs, knowing that many young people are not able to contribute financially? “
“Am I committed to praying and supporting the ministry leaders in my church? Do I pray for my fellow brothers and sisters in my church family, including the young adults and children?”
“Do I speak words of wisdom, praise and encouragement or do I enjoy spreading juicy gossip? Do I find faults in and criticise others in my church?”

As I reflected on the situation of the young man who had fallen away, I was challenged to repent of any times in my church life when I have criticised, carried gossip and failed to encourage those in ministry and young people. May God give me a willing heart to support and encourage others. As one of my online mentors, Pastor Chuck Smith says, the young people are the ones who will be carrying on when we are carried out. A relay race is not won by the final leg runner alone. It's also won by the others who ran their leg and passed the baton on to their successors.


Thursday, 29 March 2018

Where will you stand at the Cross?


“19:23 Now when the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and made four shares, one for each soldier, and the tunic remained. (Now the tunic was seamless, woven from top to bottom as a single piece.) 19:24 So the soldiers said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but throw dice to see who will get it.” This took place to fulfill the scripture that says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they threw dice.” So the soldiers did these things.
19:25 Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 19:26 So when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, look, here is your son!” 19:27 He then said to his disciple, “Look, here is your mother!” From that very time the disciple took her into his own home.”
(John’s gospel, chapter 19: verses 23-27)


It’s Good Friday, and in common with many Christians throughout the world, I attended an early morning service to commemorate the suffering and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We watched a simple drama performed and I was struck anew by the groups of people at the cross, watching the crucifixion.
Firstly, were the Roman soldiers, clad in armour, carrying weapons, those with power and authority. Jesus had already been tortured with scourging. Now they nailed His hands and feet to the cross and hoisted Him upward to die an agonizing death. They mocked and scorned Him and passed the time gambling for His last piece of clothing.
Secondly, there were the true followers of Jesus, those who knew Him personally and followed Him to the very end. They believed all that He had taught. Their love for Him never faltered, despite the threat of retribution from the Romans, despite their fears and confusion, despite the fact that all the hopes they had seemed to be coming to futility. Such was the faith of John and Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and others who were with Him.
What a contrast this group would have been to the Romans. Simply dressed, lacking wealth and status, powerless and sorrowful, oh so filled with the horror and tragedy and loss that was happening before their eyes.
Then there was another group- the crowd who had followed to witness the spectacle. This morning in my church fellowship there was a large crowd watching the drama, as on that day at Calvary two thousand years ago. The only difference now is that we know the events of the following third day.
In the crowd as Jesus was crucified, there would have been many who had seen or heard of Jesus’ miracles and heard His teaching. There would have been many who had welcomed His entry into Jerusalem with hosannas and palm branches just a few days previously.  There would have been some who genuinely believed in Jesus. Then there would be others who had called upon Pilate to crucify Jesus and release Barabbas. Some would have followed Jesus for what He could do for them or give them. Some would have turned away when they thought He had failed to deliver them from Roman oppression. No doubt for some it was a day of great confusion.
Has the world of today changed all that much?
The darkness of this world, the dominion of Satan, is opposed to Christ, mocking His disciples, scorning His teaching, inventing alternative lifestyles, glorifying the idols of power, success, money and sex. In some countries to be a Christian is to be marginalised, discriminated against, fined, abused, jailed and sometimes martyred for your faith.
The light of the world, Jesus Christ, through His Holy Spirit, is still at work through His people, the church on earth. It is the only way to relationship with God and the only true source of peace, happiness and fulfillment for all time.
And there are the crowds who are wondering what it’s all about. Easter and Christmas are traditions with special food and no special meaning.  It is for them that we hope and pray and write and work that they will know God’s loving transformation in their lives.
We are privileged to know the events immediately following Jesus’ death. The curtain of the temple was ripped into two, signifying that Jesus had taken away the barrier between God and humankind. Jesus alone, not the law, not sacrifices, was the only way to our Heavenly Father. The power of God over nature, over death, is revealed. Satan is a defeated foe. An in the words of unnamed Roman soldiers we see that those who oppose and mock Christ must finally acknowledge His sovereignty. 


“27:51 Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart. 27:52 And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. 27:53 (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.) 27:54 Now when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, “Truly this one was God’s Son!”” (Matthew’s gospel chapter 27: verses 51-54).


Where do you stand at the Cross?
I pray that through His grace and His Holy Spirit it will be with those truly devoted to Him.

Photo at Bridgeman Baptist Community Church, Bridgeman Downs, Brisbane Australia. Good Friday service.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Book review: Jesus the Game Changer: the book of the series.


Book Review: Jesus the Game Changer: How the Life and Teaching of Jesus Changed the World and Why it Matters
The Book of the Series
By Karl Faase with George Marriott, Photography by Jane Faase. Olive Tree Media, 2017.

This is a Christian coffee table book, with added oomph. Unlike a lot of coffee table books, this is one you will actually want to pick up and read. When you begin to read it, you’ll want to read it all. Actually, I’m doing it an injustice in some ways to call it a coffee table book. It’s a little smaller and more manageable to hold. But I want it on my coffee table. I want my unsaved family members and friends to see it in pride of place. Because it means far more to me than the latest art or travel book.
Last year on this blog I reviewed “The Book That Made Your World” by noted Indian writer Vishal Mangalwadi and discussed that for a layperson like myself it was a difficult read in places. Not so Jesus the Game Changer. Both books have a similar purpose- to discuss how the Western world has developed throughout history because of the impact of the Bible and the teachings of Christ. (Vishal Mangalwadi is in fact one of the persons interviewed in the book). Both look at the various areas of culture that are transformed by Biblical teaching- education, health, finances, science, democracy and more. As such both are complementary in informing the reader in divergent ways about the massive debt the modern world owes the Bible and the person of Christ.
The book of Jesus the Game Changer is actually part of the resource materials of a media series- a set of DVDs, an associated study guide and this book of the series. My local church, Bridgeman Baptist, has just been involved in a nationwide series involving over 200 churches studying the topic. I heartily recommend the DVDs for informing, inspiring and deepening your Christian knowledge and faith. But one does not need to have viewed the DVD series to read the book. As a book lover, the book is the icing on the cake.
This is truly a beautiful book. It feels lovely. It is full of beautiful photography. The format is clear and it’s easy to delve into different sections. It’s no dry treatise but is peopled with interesting and inspiring “game changers” from history and some living today. How could I resist a book whose first “game changer” is William Wilberforce, one of my heroes, born in my birthplace of Hull, exactly two hundred years before my birth? We are introduced to people who are living out their faith, grappling with issues such as forgiveness, the distribution of wealth and care of the unlovely.
The book records interviews with some of the world’s leading theologians and academics from prestigious universities, Christian apologists and leaders in health care, business, politics, media and more. It includes quotes which are deeply profound and thought provoking. To give just two examples:
“We have gotten so used to the idea of freedom and democracy and economic prosperity, we take it for granted. We have no idea that if it is a cut flower it will continue to look beautiful for a season but ultimately it’s lost the connection to the source of life.”  Eric Metaxas, bestselling author, biographer of Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther, and radio host, New York.

“But I think that there’s a deeper reason here. In the end, giving is a way of protecting your heart, insulating your heart against what we all feel. We all know it’s [money] a seductive thing. It’s potentially an idol. All idols are seductive.” Professor Ian Harper, corporate economist, Melbourne.
This book is peopled with active participants, and in the final pages, the reader is included. The book acknowledges the many Christians who faithfully work and give behind the public eye to advance the gospel in many differing spheres of life. It also gives a brief guide and prayer for the unbeliever to find faith in God through Jesus Christ. We can all be game changers.
I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend this book. It’s refreshing, inspiring and thought provoking.

“Jesus the Game Changer:How the life and teaching of Jesus changed the world and why it matters.
The book of the series.” Karl Faase with George Marriott, Photography by Jane Faase.
Olive Tree Media Ltd. 2017
Available from http://www.olivetreemedia.com.au/shop/