Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Gospel

Put your mind at rest

November-18_MindAtRest_JPG 400px“Grant me sexual purity and restraint, but not yet” – is the famous prayer of a young Saint Augustine. You see, Augustine enjoyed his numerous affairs and hedonistic lifestyle too much to change. Born in North Africa in 354 AD, Augustine described himself as a “slave of lust” before he eventually yielded and put his faith in Jesus at the age of 31. This great event occurred because he was so impressed by the faith of his mother and other Christians close to him.

Augustine’s conversion is famous because he chose to share his story and because he was so insightful about what God was doing in his life. Indeed, great quotes from Augustine have continued to help Christians from every subsequent age understand more deeply what God has done in their life. In fact, Augustine may just be the most quoted Christian in history.

For example, Augustine understood how universal the problem of sin is. He wrote, “There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” And he knew how hard it is to change. Here is another insight, “The mind commands the body and is instantly obeyed. The mind commands itself and meets resistance.”

In the Bible, King David wrote emotionally about how hard it is to face up to God and confess sin. Psalm 32 records his experience of shutting God out.

When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. (Psalm 32:3-5)

When Augustine finally understood this and gave his life to Christ it was the words of Paul in the New Testament of the Bible that convicted him.

Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 13:13-14)

In response Augustine wrote these famous words about his new relationship with God,

Oh Lord, restless is the heart until it rests in you

Bible verse: Psalm 32:3, “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long”.

Prayer: Great are you, O Lord … because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you (from Augustine’s book: Confessions)

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2018

Posted, November 2018


Incredible stories

UFO 4 400pxBob writes incredible science-fiction stories. He knows how to capture the reader’s attention with intriguing characters and surprising plots. Let’s imagine that Bob told these two stories.

The first story

Last night, while my wife and I were watching TV, a UFO landed in our back yard. A green alien got out of the UFO and asked us to join him. So my wife and I got into his UFO, and he took us to his home planet, Jupiter. There he showed us around his home city. We had dinner with his family. Afterward, we got into the UFO and returned to earth. But when we got back, because of the space-time continuum, we went through a time portal, and only one second of earth time had passed.

The second story

Two thousand years ago, God sent us his Son, Jesus. This man Jesus was 100% God and 100% human at the same time. He was born from a virgin! While he was on earth, he healed sick people and raised dead people back to life. And then he died on a cross. If you believe this, he will take away all your sins and forgive you. But he didn’t stay dead. He rose again to life and is now in heaven. If you trust in him, God’s Spirit lives in you right now. When you die, your soul will leave your dead body to be with Jesus in heaven. And one day (the rapture) he will resurrect your dead body to be reunited with your soul. After this you will return with Jesus at his second advent when he comes to set up a kingdom on earth.

The difference

What’s the difference be these two stories? They are both incredible. Will the first story be told in 2,000 years time? Probably not. Will it change people’s lives? Probably not. Will people be willing to die for it? Probably not.

But the second story has been told for  about 2,000 years. It has changed people’s lives. And people are still willing to die for it (Phil. 1:20-23).

Whether or not we believe a story, is influenced by our community (family and friends), our experience and the evidence. Our community is a major influence because it also shapes how we interpret our experiences and how we interpret the evidence. So our community has a powerful role in forming our beliefs. Different communities with the same experiences will interpret them in different ways. And different communities with the same facts, evidence and data will interpret them in different ways. People will find a story more believable if more people in the community (family and friends) also believe the story. For example, the fact that over 500 people saw Jesus alive makes His resurrection more believable (1 Cor. 15:3-8).

Lessons for us

All stories are not the same. Although they may be interesting and entertaining, most stories won’t endure like the story of Jesus.

A Christian’s beliefs are supported if they attend a church (which becomes part of their community). And if they attend a small church it’s good to attend a larger gathering of Christians (like conferences) sometimes so they can experience a larger Christian community.

Evangelism (telling others about Jesus) is more effective if it includes a group of Christians than if it is done by a solo Christian.

Acknowledgement:
This blogpost was sourced from the following book,
Chan S (2018) “Evangelism in a skeptical world”, Zondervan, p. 40-43.

Written, November 2018


Many ways to present the message about Jesus

choose own adventure 6 400pxGospel metaphors

Choose your own adventure was a series of children’s books where the reader choose the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome. This style of writing has been called gamebooks and interactive fiction. Today we are looking at choosing your own metaphors.

The key message of the Bible is the good news (or message) about Jesus, which includes:
– Our sinful state,
– Who Jesus is,
– What blessings God has promised to us, and
– What our response must be.

Various methods are used in the New Testament to communicate the message about Jesus including: parables, letters, speeches, sermons, conversations, and discussion meetings. Today God uses people like us to tell the message to humanity so that they can repent of their sin, trust that Jesus paid their penalty for rebelling and ignoring God, and follow and obey Him (Rom. 10:14-15).

The Bible gives us different ways to tell the message about Jesus to different people. To Jews, the apostles presented Jesus as the risen Savior and they quoted from the Old Testament. For example, Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Whereas to the Gentiles they talked about God’s providence (sending rain, making crops grow, providing food), His creation, and the universal human desire to worship a god. For example, Paul’s preaching at Athens (Acts 17).

Transgression and guilt

In the past we have often explained the gospel message like this. “We have all done things that we know are wrong, and if we break one law, it’s equivalent to breaking all of God’s laws. We stand guilty before God. We deserve to be punished by Him. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will forgive and justify us”. It describes how we can move from sinfulness to salvation.

This worked well in the previous generation for Billy Graham because people were familiar with the Bible. But many people no longer believe in absolutes and they aren’t familiar with the Bible. They see laws as just oppressive institutions, such as governments and churches, wielding power. So, we should probably be looking for other models of sin and salvation to this one of transgression/guilt and forgiveness/justification. Some other models for sin are given below.    

Bancrtoft Smith & Warner 400pxShame and dishonor

Smith, Warner and Bancroft brought shame and dishonor to the Australian cricket team last year for cheating in South Africa and were banned from playing for up to 12 months. They brought the game into disrepute and let down their teammates. When Paul preached to Gentiles, he said that they had been enjoying God’s general creation blessings but didn’t thank Him for them. Because they dishonored God, they needed to repent (Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-31). So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We have not been honoring God” or “We have shamed God”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will restore us.

Defilement and impurity

Women who suffer domestic abuse often feel defiled by what they have suffered. And those who are addicted to drugs can feel defiled and disgusted with themselves. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We feel defiled”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will purify us.

Brokenness

All our relationships have some level of brokenness. This includes our relationship with ourselves, our relationships with others and our relationship with God. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “Our relationship with God our Father is also broken”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can be reconciled with God.

Self-righteousness

We tend to look down on people that are not like us. If we care for the environment, we will look down on those who don’t care for the environment. If we are happily married, we will look down on those whose marriages have failed. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We are guilty of putting other people down and having an elevated view of ourselves”. We feel morally superior to them. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can find our identity in Christ.

Idolatry

God gives us life, freedom, pleasure, success, health, sports, school, work, family, friends, wealth and possessions. But we can live for these instead of the God who gave them. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We become enslaved to what we live for and neglect the giver”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can find real freedom as we worship Him.

Falling short

People are often urged to make the most of every opportunity and be the best they can to make a difference in this world. It’s a common message at school speech days. And we can do lots of good things, but we’re not good enough to be God’s children. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We need to admit we fall short of being a child of God”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we become a child of God.

Needing peace

Because of fractured relationships at home and work, many people long for peace. Every aspect of our lives is affected by disharmony, disruption and despair.  So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We need peace in our lives”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we will have peace with God.

Describing sin

One commonly used definition is “Sin is anything that we think, say or do that is against what God says in the Bible”. It displeases God and separates us from God. And that’s right. But we can also use other words to describe sin. That’s what Jesus did in His parables. In the parable of the rich fool, it’s described as storing up earthly wealth but not having a rich relationship with God (Lk. 12:21). In the parable of the lost sheep, it’s being lost (Lk. 15:1-7). In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, it’s being confident of our righteousness and looking down on others (Lk. 18:9). Also, the meaning of the word “sin” has changed to the idea of a guilty, playful pleasure, like chocolates, ice cream, candy (lollies), or lingerie. It’s something that we have a delightful giggle about. Not something that can have serious consequences. So, some other ways to describe sin are: shame and dishonor, defilement and impurity, brokenness, self-righteousness, idolatry, falling short, and needing peace.

Likewise, we can use other metaphors to describe salvation (see Appendix).

Conclusion

Let’s be creative and use these metaphors appropriately to present the message about Jesus to others.

Appendix: Tabular summary of metaphors for sin and salvation

Sin or sinful state Correct response Salvation (blessings)
Transgression
Guilt
Rebellion
Disobedience
Repentance
Faith Obedience
Justification
Forgiveness
Shamefulness
Dishonor
Honoring God Restoration
Honor
Uncleanness
Impurity
Defilement
Stained
Recognize our defilement Cleansed
Purity
Sanctification
Broken relationships
Brokenness
Recognize our brokenness Becoming a child of God
Inheritance
Self-righteousness
Looking down on others Pride
Calling on Jesus name Have our identity in Christ
Idolatry Worshiping God God’s favor
Falling short (of God’s righteousness) Calling on Jesus’ name Reconciliation
Enemy of God Ceasing our hostilities Peace
Reconciliation
Unfaithfulness Faithfulness Reconciliation
Wandering
Going astray
Lostness
In darkness
Following God’s ways Being on the correct path Restoration
Falsehood
Error
Repentance
Correction
Restoration
Captivity
Slavery
Imprisonment
Debt
Serving Jesus Freedom
Redemption
Liberation
Released
Ransomed
Blindness
Disease
Recognize our blindness/disease Healing
Illumination
Insight
Deafness Recognize our deafness Healing
Hearing
Deadness Recognize our lack of spiritual life Life
Regeneration
Raised
Reborn
Recreated
Renewed
Ignorant of God Listen to Jesus Know God personally
Not a child of God Repentance
Returning
Adoption
Reconciliation
Security
Separation Returning Union
Wickedness Godliness Godly flourishing
Righteousness
Thirsting Recognize our thirst Contentment
Starving
Hunger
Recognize our hunger Contentment
Danger
Sand
Calling on Jesus name Rescued
Delivered
Rock
Burdened
Restless
Calling on Jesus name Rest

Acknowledgement:
This blogpost was sourced from the following book,
Chan S (2018) “Evangelism in a skeptical world”, Zondervan, p. 63-101.

Written, November 2018


Sydney’s biggest billboard

October-18_ForGodSoLoved_JPG 400pxApparently, around the world, the Sydney Opera House is more famous than Australia itself. Whether in sparkling sunshine or on a luminescent night, the vision of the Opera House, with its brilliant harbor setting, has come to represent both a spirit of unflinching boldness and a quest for architectural purity. It features regularly, along with the Pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal and the Empire State building, in top ten lists of the most important and famous buildings of all time.

Recently, Australia’s new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, with his background in marketing, said it was, “the biggest billboard Sydney has”. His insight came amidst a public furore over whether a new horse racing event should have its ‘barrier draw’ splashed across the buildings sails.

The issue really ignited when radio shock jock, Alan Jones, got involved. With interests in the racing industry reportedly in excess of $20 million, Jones threatened and bullied the Opera House CEO, Louise Herron, declaring he’d get the Premier to overrule her that day if she didn’t agree to the display. That same day, the New South Wales Premier did just that.

Sydney has always been a venal city of jostling egos where confected outrage masks vested interests. In Sydney big gambling happily feeds on the suffering of failing families addicted to pokies and ponies. The taxes and donations reaped from both are so huge that Governments dare not reign them in. Indeed, successive governments have been thoroughly compromised and cowed.

So, despite the sparkling lure of Sydney Harbor and its world famous, world heritage listed Opera House, Sydney is a place that desperately needs God. Whether by day or by night, it needs God in its soul. And the most precious, important thing that God can give – indeed has given, is His dear Son Jesus.

Jesus came to die on the cross so that sinners might get a fresh start… even bullies and those who profit from the misery of others, or those who accept bribes and inducements… or those who fail their families by gambling away the grocery money. Really, anyone can get a fresh start by believing in Jesus.

If the Opera House truly is a billboard to the world, then how fitting that God’s offer of a fresh start be writ large on its sails.

Bible verse: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being willing to forgive anyone for anything. Help us to realize just how great the gift of eternal life is that’s available through your Son.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2018

Posted, October 2018


Making a difference

Making a difference 2 400pxLast week I assisted with “Made to make a difference”, a Holiday Camp for children with difficult family situations. The children were encouraged to reach beyond their situation to help others. To change the world! They were taught that they were to make a difference and that they have unique gifts and abilities that can be used to help others. That’s what God created them for. And they were encouraged to be all that God created them to be. Is this post we look at the vision and culture that set the tone of this Holiday Camp.

The vision

God says, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for” (Eph. 1:11Message). Our vision is to see people eternally saved, free in Christ, and inspired and empowered to be all that God has created them to be. We want children to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and to realize that they are loved, believed in and created for a purpose. God has given them gifts, talents and abilities to change the world.

We want children to be able to declare: I am a nation changer! I have been designed and created to change the world. God is my wisdom, courage and strength. He has given me gifts, talents and abilities to use to glorify Him. I am loved. I am saved. I have a purpose. It’s in Jesus Christ that I find out who I am and what I am living for. I am a child of the most High King and it’s in Him that I find my worth. Because of this, I will aim to make good choices in life.

The culture

Those caring for the children at the Holiday Camp were encouraged to behave according to the following culture.

Can do attitude. I will be a part of the solution, never the problem. “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13NLT).

This is not a job, it’s a calling. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).

Serving the Lord with gladness. Not being ruled by our minimum, think answers not problems. “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-18).

Empowerment starts with me. Being uncomplicated, avoiding I don’t knows, pulling people up, not down. “And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!’” (Neh. 8:10).

Gossip is ugly. Keep it light. “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (Jas. 3:17-28).

Bringing people around you on the journey. Bad reflections bite you in the butt, be careful where you dump. If you want to be honored, be honoring. “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences” (Prov. 18:21).

I am the culture. I am the atmosphere. We all affect the spiritual culture at Camp. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Col. 3:23).

My tone of voice is not whiny. Not playing emotional games of silence, speaking words of life and encouragement. “Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing” (Ps. 100:2NASB).

I delegate but I don’t dump. Being aware of the real worlds that people work in. “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Gal. 6:7-9NLT).

My spirituality is attractive. Loving Jesus, sensitive to the Holy Spirit, forming a deliberate family. “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

I demonstrate Christ’s love in every situation. I love like Jesus. “Christ’s love controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 Jn. 3:18).

I welcome children. I affirm their worth, dignity and significance. “One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so He could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering Him. When Jesus saw what was happening, He was angry with His disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then He took the children in His arms and placed His hands on their heads and blessed them” (Mk. 10:13-16).

Summary

Although this vision and culture applied to a children’s Holiday Camp, it can apply elsewhere as well. We were all made to make a difference. So let’s practice our purpose by developing a relationship with Jesus Christ, realizing that we are loved, helping the needy, and encouraging others to do the same.

Acknowledgement: The content of this blogpost was sourced from Inspiring Hope, a humanitarian organization which exists to inspire the hope of Jesus to a hurting world.

Written, October 2018


Leadership that lasts

September-18_LeadershipThatLasts_JPG 400pxOver ten years, Australia has had seven prime ministers. ‘Madness’ said Malcolm Turnbull, the last prime minister to ‘get rolled’. Meanwhile, the media in other countries are describing us as the ‘coup capital of the world’. Here in Australia, voters are wondering exactly who and what they voted for.

The problem with changing leaders so often is that it’s hard for Prime Ministers and governments to implement a long-term vision. It takes time to build trust and relationships. It takes time to develop big ideas and work through obstacles to achieve them. But if leaders are being ‘rolled’ on a regular basis then the general public are entitled to think none of those good things are happening.

Although we Australians feel a little embarrassed about our leadership changes, it’s worth noting that political instability is commonplace in every country. And it’s always for the same reasons. We have a revolving door of Prime Ministers because political parties and the wider general public can’t agree about what the future should look like. Add jealous, personal rivalries and prejudice and you get instability.

But the Bible speaks about a leader whose vision stretches beyond the borders of this country into all of eternity. It speaks about a government where everyone who belongs will be happy and united – including people from all races and tribes.

That leader is Jesus. Here is how two prophets writing thousands of years ago described His rule. The great prophet Isaiah said,
“… The government will rest on his shoulders … his government and its peace
    will never end” (Is. 9:6-7)

While the prophet Daniel spoke not just of an endless rule, but of a safe place open to every tribe and people group,
He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).

If you’re cynical and jaded about leaders then Jesus is a reason to start believing again. If politics have burned you badly then know that Jesus won’t let you down. He’s the true King, the real messiah, a leader you can be genuinely excited about!

Bible verse: Daniel 7:14, “… His kingdom will never be destroyed”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you that Jesus is a leader we can trust and who will lead us home to heaven.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2018

Posted, September 2018


The journey and the destination

Journey 1 400pxRecently I travelled from Australia to Europe to spend time with some family members. It was good to see them after a trip of over 26 hours. The people at the destination made the tiring trip worthwhile.

Before leaving Australia, I attended a funeral where it was said that it’s not our destination that matters, but the journey along the way. This was probably a creative way to say that life is better than death. Or focusing on the present and enjoying the present instead of worrying about what will happen at the end of life.

Bible journeys

Abraham travelled from Mesopotamia to Canaan, a distance of about 1770 km (1100 miles). His descendants, the Israelites, travelled from Egypt to Canaan. This took 40 years and most of the adults died along the way. Later, after their exile in Babylon, the Jews travelled back to Judah. The purpose of these journeys was achieved when the people reached their destination.

Jesus travelled within Palestine preaching the good news about the kingdom of God. Then He travelled to Jerusalem to give up His life sacrificially. After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, Paul and the apostles took missionary journeys across the Roman Empire. For Paul, sometimes the journey was difficult (2 Cor. 11:23-33). Likewise, the purpose of these journeys was achieved at their destinations.

The journey of life

A journey is also a great metaphor for life. Life is a difficult journey and a time of testing, challenges and maybe persecution. Like Job we have many questions about life and its unfairness. But God steers His people through difficult times (Isa. 43:1-7). May God help us trust in Him for what we don’t understand (Job 42:3). And may we take up the opportunities to trust in God’s faithfulness over and over again.

But the busyness of life can distract us from the important things of life like being aware of God’s presence and His willingness to help in times of need. Life is a journey in history, with a past, present and future. As time goes by our present becomes past memories and our final destination comes closer. Death and life after death is our ultimate destination.

Lessons for us

Let’s face the reality of our journey of life. Few of us would think of taking a two-week vacation without any plans as to where we will go or what we will do. But we often forget to consider our personal destination.

Many opinions about this topic are available on the internet. But the best ones are in the Bible because God is the “author” (or “source”) of life (Acts 3:15). And Jesus is the “word of life” and the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:35, 48; 1 Jn. 1:1). These metaphors describe God’s role in physical and spiritual life.

Although the journey of life is better than death, it isn’t better than eternal life. Physical life ends, but spiritual life doesn’t end. And the purpose of life isn’t to enjoy ourselves or accumulate wealth or possessions. Instead our spiritual destination is more important than the journey. Is our future destination secure? At the end of our earthly life journey we will leave everything physical behind. So our enjoyment, wealth, and possessions provide no security for our future destination. But if we put God first instead of material things, we will be rewarded in heaven for the things we do that have eternal value (Mt. 6:19-24). Have we started on that spiritual journey? Do we focus on things of eternal consequence? Do we follow Jesus? Do we help other people to follow Jesus? Do we live by faith, and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)? Are we motivated by what lies at the end of the journey (Heb. 11:13-16)? Are we progressing spiritually (2 Cor. 3:18)? Are we becoming more Christ-like (Phil. 1:20-21)?

Written, August 2018