Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Gospel

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


Fake news

August-18_FakeNews_JPG 400pxDonald Trump points from his podium to the assembled news media and yells, ‘Fake news… They’re all fake news!’

His menacing words and tone are nasty. And because it’s a blanket condemnation, his words are unfair and untrue. Yet, Trump has tapped into a global grievance. According to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer, worldwide trust in the media is at an all-time low. And it’s not hard to see why. The media’s commercial and ideological agendas seem all too obvious.

Certainly, there is a bias directed against Christianity. Too often, media commentators are ill informed and dismissive when they speak about God and the Bible. Many blithely assume the most qualified person to determine the existence of God is a prominent scientist (usually a physicist).

For example, a few years ago on the 7:30 Report, Leigh Sales asked the following question of the cosmologist, Lawrence Krauss, “Why has science not yet done away with belief in God?”. The assumption amongst many journalists is that religion and superstition overlap perfectly – but that, hopefully and eventually, science will do away with God. After all, if He were real, God should be detectable in a test tube or with a large radio dish.

Such boundless confidence in science seems to come from the fact that science keeps providing technological marvels to help us in our everyday lives as well as in understanding the natural world. But God is supernatural and spiritual. Which means, He’s not a measurable part of our natural world. Instead, as Creator, He’s outside its bounds.

Ironically, the one place where God intervened publicly and dramatically is a place where observational scientific methods (such as repeatable experiments) aren’t applicable. That place is the cross of Christ nearly 2,000 years ago. There, God sent His Son to die for the world making it possible for us to return to Him in relationship. This was a historical event, which is more like forensic science than operational science.

However, the cross makes for a pathetic news story. Indeed the Bible says, ‘The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18).

But how do we know what’s fake? Perhaps the Bible itself is fake news? Consider this, when Jesus’s empty tomb was found, the Bible recounts how the chief priests conspired to bribe the Roman soldiers guarding Jesus’s tomb to spread a report that Jesus’s disciples had stolen the body. If the Bible is trustworthy then Jesus rose from the dead. If it’s fake news then that story is spin.

As always, the only way forward is to think carefully (and prayerfully) about the reliability of the source.

Bible verse: 1 Corinthians 1:18, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the way your words in the Bible reveal your integrity and faithful love to all generations.

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

Also see: Using history and science to investigate ancient times


God’s mercy is bigger

July-18_God'sMercy_JPG 400pxIf you look in a newspaper or history book you won’t find the real history of the world. You see our version of history is so different from what matters to God. When we think of great battles in history we probably think of the Napoleonic Wars or World Wars I & II.

But to God, the great battles of history are those waged each day inside a person. The struggle we have to either resist or give in to temptation. God notices when we’re not kind to others or we boast or steal or slander or decide to acknowledge Him as our creator and sustainer… or not. These decisions are, by far, the most significant battles in history.

In the Bible, one of the first Christian leaders, Paul of Tarsus, spoke of his own personal battle with temptation. He said this in a letter he wrote to the church in Rome,

I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway (Romans 7:18-19).

We can all identify with these words. So, can there be any hope when the catalogue of our mistakes is so long and when the cost of our bad decisions to others, ourselves and the honor of God – is so great? The answer is ‘Yes – because God’s mercy is bigger than our mistakes!’ He is willing to forgive.

There’s another way in which our version of history is different to God’s. We keep thinking certain people are more valuable than others. Perhaps those of a particular race, or class or those with wealth, fame, power or good looks. But God cares about every person equally. And He’s prepared to forgive the sin of anyone – no matter how much baggage is in their life.

In a letter to Christians on the island of Crete, Paul spoke with wonder about why Jesus’s death on the cross was such good news. He explained that it means that we can be forgiven by God. He wrote,

When God our Savior revealed His kindness and love, He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.

So, no matter how many your mistakes, take them to Jesus and the cross where He is willing and able to deal with them.

Bible verse: Titus 3:4-5, “… When God our Savior revealed His kindness and love, He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit”.

Prayer: Dear God, please help me to trust that your mercy really is big enough to deal with all my mistakes.

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


The book that reads you

June-18_BibleReads_JPG 400pxIn the months leading up to my decision to become a Christian I read the Bible intensely. I remember being impressed that an ancient book could be so relevant in a modern world. Yet, two things stood out most of all for me.

Firstly, the sense I had that God was present as I read. I had never felt this before with any other book. It seemed as though how I responded mattered to God. And the Bible exposed me. It read me accurately. It knew the wrong things I had done – the selfish thinking and pretending to be somebody that I wasn’t. As I read I struggled with the knowledge that experiences can be manufactured by the mind. Did I want there to be a God? Or was God revealing Himself to me? Over time, my struggle with skepticism decreased.

The second thing that stood out was how impressive Jesus was in the four gospel accounts of His life. At the end of Jesus’s famous, Sermon On The Mount, Matthew, the author of the gospel reports that, ‘crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority’ (Mark 1:22). I can appreciate this sentiment. Jesus really does teach with wisdom and authority. Elsewhere in the gospels people are in awe at His power over the physical world – demonstrated repeatedly with various, extraordinary miracles. Given the integrity of Jesus’s words, it didn’t seem reasonable that those events were clever deceptions.

So, despite the age of the Bible, it read my need and provided a solution – Jesus. It was Jesus who spoke of the possibility of knowing God and it was Jesus who died on the cross to make the hope of a fresh start with God possible.

In the Bible, the book of Hebrews describes what I, and many others have experienced. It says:

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable.

So, if you’ve never read the Bible, then my encouragement to you is … find a copy and begin by reading the shortest biography of Jesus – Mark’s gospel.

Bible verse: Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for speaking to us through the Bible in ways that soften our hearts and move us to you.

Acknowledgement: Written by Malcolm Williams, Director of Outreach Media.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2018


You can trust God with your data

May-18_TrustGodWithYourData_JPG 400pxThere’s good reason to be worried about what happens to our data. Smart phones and computers store so much of our personal information. For example… intimate photos, political opinions, religious beliefs, bank account details. Or those emails from when you were sacked or that argument you had with your mother-in-law. The potential for embarrassment or even blackmail from data in the wrong hands is significant.

But whose hands are the wrong hands? Google, Facebook and Amazon try to profile our every thought and action so they can either sell us things or else sell our profile to advertisers and other companies. Tim Cook, the head of Apple, says, ‘When an online service is free, you’re not the customer – you’re the product’. Recently, Apple has been telling its users that ‘Privacy is a human right’.  But then, can we trust Apple?

And is privacy a human right? It’s certainly a time in history where it’s harder than ever to leave past mistakes behind and start again. In a globalized, connected world, one can’t just escape over a border and disappear to start again somewhere else. The Internet preserves and reveals all kinds of mistakes that we’d prefer to be forgotten.

In case you weren’t aware, since God is our maker, He has access to all our data. In the Bible, King David prays to God and says, ‘Even before I speak a word, O Lord, You know it all’ (Psalm 139:4). Therefore, since God knows about our every evil thought, word and deed, the question is, ‘What will God do with our data?’ Will He punish us by exposing our mistakes and shaming us before everyone?

No. You’ll be relieved to know that God’s radical promise to those who come to Him in repentance and prayer is that He will entirely erase this data. 2000 years ago, at the cross, God put all our shame and embarrassment onto Jesus. And since our crimes have now been dealt with, God has decided to forget about them. In the 8th Century before Jesus came God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying:

I am the One who takes away your sins because of who I am. And I will not remember your sins“.

So, turn to God in prayer, acknowledge all your secrets to Him and thank Him for His kindness to you in Jesus.

Bible verse: Isaiah 43:25, “I am the One who takes away your sins because of who I am. And I will not remember your sins”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for dealing with my sensitive data. Please help me to live a life without shame.

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


Housing crisis?

April-18_ManyRooms_JPG 400pxAustralia has a housing crisis. Tonight, on average, 44,000 homeless young people will sleep rough. Meanwhile Anglicare Sydney reports, “almost 1 in 10 people aged 55 years and over supported through [our] Emergency Relief program are experiencing insecure housing including sleeping rough, in tents, couch surfing and using their family car as a form of shelter”.

Why, in a wealthy modern economy like Australia, is a widowed grandmother being forced out of her home to live on the streets? Yet this is happening. And why are rents so high? In 1960 less than 8% of our income was spent on housing – today it’s closer to 21% on average. And in the major capital cities it’s a lot higher (in Sydney, it’s nearly 40%!).

This is not the place to address the reasons we’re in such stress. But if you’re one of those many people struggling to cope then know this… God is aware of your situation. And, in the Bible, Jesus speaks of a future where God will provide permanent and free accommodation in heaven for all eternity.

2,000 years ago, at a time when things were even more uncertain than ours, Jesus told His followers, Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (The Bible – John 14:1-3).

When Jesus speaks of heaven as a house, He’s reassuring us that God is well and truly able to look after us. His words are so enormously comforting. No matter how dire our situation is now – even if we’re on the street or worse, Jesus promises heavenly security for those who trust in Him. In this bright future God promises to let us live with Him in close friendship and fellowship.

And not just in any old house. It will be a place where, He will wipe every tear … and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever (The Bible – Revelation 21:4).

You know that old real estate cliché about ‘Great potential’? Well that’s you and God. So, trust in Jesus now to secure your place.

Bible verse: John 14:2, Jesus: “My Father’s house (heaven) has many rooms”.

Prayer: Dear God, grant me the faith to trust Jesus’ promise that I am welcome in your house forever.

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