A poem by Simon Camilleri
When Santa learned the gospel, he first heard it from an elf.
This tiny Santa’s helper had just learnt of it himself.
A child had asked for Christmas to receive a Bible book.
This elf had made one in the shop, then paused to have a look.
He read all about Jesus and the call to follow Him.
He learned how Jesus lived and taught and died to pay for sin.
He learned how Jesus rose again and how He will return
And then this elf read how he should respond to all he’d learned.
He shut the book, put down his tools, then closed his eyes and prayed.
Right there and then this little elf trusted in Christ that day.
The next day he told Santa. It was awkward, unprepared.
He knew he didn’t know that much, but what he knew he shared.
He told Santa the gospel. It was simple. It was short.
But a seed was sown in Santa’s heart, which grew into a thought.
Santa reflected on his life and the message he supported,
Then compared it to the gospel that the elf had just reported.
He’d always thought that everyone was naughty or was nice.
He had them all on two big lists. He even checked it twice.
He’d always thought that you got gifts only if you’d been good.
The naughty kids got lumps of coal. That’s what he understood.
They’d all line up in shopping malls and sit upon his knee
And claim that they were always nice. As nice as nice can be.
Of course, he saw them when they slept and knew when they awoke.
He also knew their nice attempts were pretty much a joke.
Their heads were filled not with nice thoughts of kindness, peace and joy,
But with the never-ending list of their desired toys.
He knew their hearts, but he had thought, “They’re trying to be good.
That’s good enough to make the list. Otherwise no one would!”
So every year their “good enough” with toys would be rewarded.
And every year (he realized) this message he supported:
THE “GOOD” WILL GET THE PRESENTS.
THE “BAD” WILL GET THE COAL.
AND TRYING TO BE GOOD ENOUGH
IS GOOD ENOUGH A GOAL.
That was the message that he knew, but now he knew another.
He had just heard the gospel. So he compared them to each other.
The message of the gospel turned his message upside down.
The good, the bad, naughty and nice, it switched it all around.
“There’s no one good but God alone” he’d heard Jesus concluded.
And those who claim they’re “good enough” are simply just deluded.
If there’s a list of who is “good”, the standard we’ve all missed.
And Santa saw that even he was on the naughty list.
That shook his world. That rocked his boat. That gripped him in his soul.
To think that even Santa Claus deserved a lump of coal.
But that was only half of what the gospel message said.
It also flipped what happened to the naughty on its head.
Instead of being written off as just not good enough.
The message to the naughty list was one of grace and love.
The gospel offered mercy to all those deserving coal.
The gospel offered forgiveness and cleansing of your soul.
The gospel told how Jesus died our death to pay the price
To reconcile us all to God – both naughty and the nice.
This offer was a real gift, unlike presents ‘neath the tree.
It was not earned by being good. It was offered for free.
For all his life Santa had claimed that if you had been bad
Then you would not get presents and your Christmas would be sad.
Santa compared his message with this new one he had learned.
His message said you get the presents your good deeds had earned.
The message of the gospel offered something so much greater…
Jesus had come to reconcile the world to their Creator.
When Santa grasped the gospel, he did not know what to do
And so the elf said nervously, “How ’bout I pray with you?”
Then that night at the North Pole, by the fire in his den,
With a simple prayer led by an elf, Santa was born again.
And now, in Christ, forgiven, free – his new life had begun
and Santa had a new message to share with everyone.
© Simon Camelleri
Posted, December 2017
What a precious thing is a baby! The news that a little tiny human has safely made its way into the world is such a miracle, such a cause for celebration. Even when there is mourning or hardship, a new baby can bring hope.
On the first Christmas when baby Jesus arrived there was the usual joy and celebration. But there was so much more than that. Angels sang in the sky, shepherds dropped everything and came, wise men followed a star… all to honor and worship this new baby.
When God sent His Son into the world, in the form of a baby boy, He did it for us. In John’s gospel it says,
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life“.
This is one of the most famous verses in the Bible, perhaps because it states so simply the most important things. God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to help us. This is why Christmas is special! It’s a time to celebrate the gift God gave to us long ago that shows how much He wants us to join His family. What we need to do is believe in Him.
There is a beautiful Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti that was put to music and became the carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter”. It tells of the unlikely and difficult place where the baby Jesus was born, of angels singing praises to welcome the new King, and of shepherds visiting and bowing down and of wise men who traveled a great distance to honor Him.
The author wonders what she could give to Him as a tribute.
“What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,
Yet what can I give Him,
Give my heart.”
The Wise Men brought gifts fit for a King to honor the newborn Jesus, but there is nothing that we can give that is enough. All Jesus wants for Christmas is YOU!
Bible Verse: John 3:16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life”.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for loving me so much. Thank you for the precious gift of your Son. Please forgive me and help me to worship and honor you all year long. Amen.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2017
Posted, December 2017
Associate Professor David Cohen of the University of New South Wales, Australia, says:
For geologists and geochemists like myself, the planet is a vast laboratory. Our task is to make sense of the physical and biological evidence for the processes that have shaped our planet. We begin by observing and measuring and then we propose models to explain those observations. Our goal is to provide a scientific narrative – a sort of geological book of Genesis – that explains how the world came to be like it is.
Much of the planet’s history can be linked to ‘plate tectonics’. It’s now the commonly accepted view that the world has seven large plates on its surface that move. This model explains such diverse evidence as continental drift and the distribution of earthquakes. While the plate tectonics model seems so elegant, effective and obvious to today’s generation of geologists, there was significant opposition by some leading geologists when it was first proposed. Yet, the evidence for the model is overwhelming, and underpins much of our geological thinking today.
In the same way that I have faith in the evidence for plate tectonics I also have faith that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has made it possible for me to be friends with God forever. But what does the biblical evidence about Jesus demand in terms of a model? And what and why do I believe?
At the end of the famous Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records the response of those who were listening to Jesus:
“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, for He taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.” (Mt. 28-29).
I can relate to that crowd. It’s not just the teaching of Jesus that appeals to me, but also extraordinary events and miracles that reveal His nature and support His claims to be the Messiah promised by the prophets of the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, prophets such as Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, the writers of the Psalms and many others predicted that one day God would send a Messiah, or anointed King who would save people from their sin. Jesus fulfils these promises in convincing ways, which are extraordinary and specific. For example, Isaiah 53 paints a very detailed picture of the sufferings Jesus endured on the cross. Jesus understood that He was fulfilling these promises. He said to His disciples:
“The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that He sent me” (Jn. 5:36 – see also Lk. 24:26).
And Jesus knew that the prophets predicted a terrible execution for the Messiah. But He also knew that afterwards He would rise from the dead. Speaking to His disciples He said:
“We’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man (Jesus) wlll be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence Him to die and hand Him over to the Romans. They will mock Him, spit on Him, flog Him with a whip, and kill Him, but after three days He will rise again” (Mk. 10:33-34).
The reason Jesus gives for His death is that it is a ‘ransom’ or payment for sin (see Mk. 10:45). But Jesus explains that it is essential to trust in Him for forgiveness. He says that He is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ and that we must trust in Him for forgiveness.
Nothing in science beats a predictive model that’s subsequently confirmed by new evidence. My decision to follow Christ was gradual, not revolutionary. It was the result of considering the events and ideas presented in the Bible and observing the faith and actions of other followers of Jesus over some years. I found the evidence in the Bible about Jesus to be compelling proof of His nature as God. This includes His words, His actions, His resurrection from the dead and His appearing before many witnesses.
If the Biblical evidence points to Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, what is the implication for our future? Jesus says this:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying” (John 11:25)
This is the core of Christianity. Not church traditions but a simple set of propositions in the Bible. It’s why I believe.
Bible Verse: John 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying”.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for all the evidence about Jesus in the Bible. Help us to always put our trust in Jesus.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2017
Posted, November 2017
500 years ago on October 31st, 1517, a young Catholic monk called Martin Luther nailed a piece of paper to the doors of the Wittenberg Castle Church. You can still visit this site in Germany today. Luther’s paper contained 95 objections or ‘theses’ that set off a theological earthquake that eventually came to be known as the Protestant Reformation. It bears this name because of escalating ‘protests’ and challenges to ‘reform’ that Luther and others made from this point onwards.
The Roman Catholic Church was earning vast sums of money by selling salvation. For example, the monk, John Tetzel, visited towns and cities selling indulgences on behalf of Pope Leo X. Indulgences supposedly speeded up entry into heaven from purgatory for yourself or your loved ones. But the Bible says nothing about this.
In its corruption, the church was teaching that a person must, through good works, please God. But because every person is sinful this was impossible. Luther saw that the effect on his native German people was to leave them without assurance of ever being friends with God – a situation that grieved him.
Luther’s study of the Bible, specifically Paul’s letter to the Romans, had shown him that God didn’t expect us to try to work at making ourselves acceptable. Rather, in his spectacular generosity, God has already reached down to us offering salvation freely through Jesus Christ.
Luther’s breakthrough was that in the death of Jesus Christ, salvation and forgiveness are free gifts from God. So, there is nothing we need to do accept trust in God. So, good works don’t secure salvation. Rather, they are the response of joyful, thankful faith.
After the publication of the 95 theses Luther continued to refine his thinking and challenge the Church of Rome. Sometime later he wrote:
‘… we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience or works, but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is on the promise and truth of God.’
Martin Luther was a complicated man with many faults. As the leading cause of the split with the Church of Rome, his legacy is much debated. Yet his strident declaration to all the world – that salvation is ‘Sola Fide’ or ‘by faith alone’ in Jesus Christ – was much needed. It was as though a key had suddenly unlocked a door that had been ignored by many for centuries. It was an overwhelmingly exciting moment. But, of course it wasn’t a new discovery; it had been there in the pages of the Bible for almost 1,500 years.
Bible Verse: Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us”.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you that, at the cross, Jesus won salvation for all those who have faith in Him. Help us to always put our trust in Jesus.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2017
Posted, October 2017
We’re the ‘still generation’. Heart rates barely crest the flat line as we flab and sprawl motionless for hours, bingeing on episode after episode… after episode… Most of all we’re bingeing on Netflix – consuming huge amounts of data watching ‘House of cards’ and ‘Suits’ and ‘Stranger Things’. Anything that will take us to ‘fiction world’ where our pulse can race with fear and love and excitement – somewhere better than our own dreary reality.
Some shows are like the mute button on our lives. They grab us so completely that we’re drawn into the very skin of the main character. When our hero sees a threat, we feel their fear. When they see the beautiful girl, we fall in love. When they conquer the world, we feel proud. In ‘fiction world’ there are always people better than we are… stronger, braver, smarter… good looking. A place with heroes we can pretend to be.
But meanwhile, God is keeping the services running – like sunshine, oxygen, gravity, temperature control and so on – things that sparkle and matter if you take the time to notice. And in God’s real world there are urgent responsibilities – to love and care for those around us. Mom, Dad, Gran, the kids, the neighbors… even the dog. The really urgent responsibility though is to spend time with God – someone you can easily forget if you spend all your time online. You see, inside ‘fiction world’ God barely gets a mention or else He’s mocked or taken for granted. But when you turn reality back on – you remember that God is the one in control. It’s His reality. He made it and He promises in the Bible that if we draw near to Him He’ll draw near to us.
Oh, and if you’re looking for an exciting superhero – you know, someone who saves the day, then don’t look to fiction. In reality, Jesus sets the standard in action heroes. When He arrived amongst us humans He came with a terrifying challenge – to give His life selflessly so that we might live. By dying on the cross, Jesus defeated death making it possible for all people to come close to God. Which means your own reality – dreary or not – can feature the most exciting true story of all.
Bible Verse: James 4:8 “Come close to God, and God will come close to you”.
Prayer: Dear God, in a world full of stories – help me to remember who you are and why your Son’s story is first in importance.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2017
Posted, September 2017
When Jesus wanted His listeners to understand how important it was to put His words into actions, He chose to tell a parable…
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash” (Matthew 7:24-27NLT).
Not everyone ends up building an actual house. But we all have to build a life. Which means, in a world that gets harder and more complicated with each passing year, we need to make wise decisions. Decisions about where it’s safe to live, how to earn money, who we can trust to hang out with… and lots and lots of moral decisions. For example, every day there are temptations to lie, steal, slander, be cruel or at least indifferent to someone we can help. And sometimes a terrible test comes along when we least expect it. People have woken up and, without any planning, made split decisions that have landed them in jail… or worse. We can lose our temper in a parking lot or agree to cover up corruption at work.
So, if building a life is like building a house then how do we build wisely? How do we avoid the rain, winds and floods that tear lives apart? Jesus tells us to build our life foundation on His words. When He said this Jesus was concluding the most important and world changing speech of all time – His famous Sermon On The Mount. In it He asks people to be honest with themselves and God. And He challenges people to live their lives to God’s high standard. Deep down we know these things are right.
Are you ready to start a fresh building? Considering this magnificent fact may be a help… Jesus willingly went to the cross and sacrificed His life for the sake of the world. It shows us that His words aren’t empty. On the contrary – they’re solid as a rock.
Bible Verse: Matthew 7:24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock”.
Prayer: Dear God, help me to start my life afresh with Jesus as my foundation.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2017
Posted, August 2017
The earth is in trouble. Forests are disappearing. Rates of extinction for animals and plants are 1,000 times greater than before the industrial revolution. Every minute a garbage truck’s worth of plastic slips into the world’s oceans. By 2050 the amount of plastic by weight floating at various depths will equal the total amount of all fish (World Economic Forum report).
Recently, scientists have started calling our age the Anthropocene era – the first point in history in which humans have become the major environmental influence on the planet. Sadly, so much of our impact on the world is destructive of other forms of life.
Are we pleasing God? When God told us in Genesis – back in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, that we were to: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”. … did God want us to care for creatures other than ourselves? Did He want us to care for plants and ecosystems? Or should we just focus on increasing the human population?
The answer to these questions is found in the same chapter of Genesis. As God looked at each part of His creation He declared it to be good (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and very good (Gen. 1:31). Which means creation is not just good because it helps humans survive and thrive. It is also good in and of itself – having both instrumental and intrinsic goodness. And because we humans have been given the task of ruling creation it’s our responsibility to safeguard this intrinsic goodness. Which is terribly difficult. But then, making hard decisions is the lot of all rulers. As we balance competing interests, sacrifices will be inevitable.
Some may say that, since God promises ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ when Jesus returns, we shouldn’t be too bothered about this world. After all, isn’t it going to pass away? Yet that would be ignoring both God’s command and basic common sense. You see, since we have no timetable for Jesus’s return we must plan for both the short and long term. Indeed, our wait for Jesus could be a long time. Are we really happy to leave a toxic and treeless planet for our children’s children?
If you’ve only just realized the extent of your responsibility to God’s creation then please take action where you can. It’s your duty.
Bible Verse: Genesis 1:28 “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”.
Prayer: Dear God, please help me to be a wise ruler of your creation every day as I wait for Jesus to return.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2017
Posted, July 2017