Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Gospel

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


When Santa learned the gospel

santa gospel 3 400pxA 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 Jesus wants for Christmas

December-17_AllJesusWantsForChristmas 400pxWhat 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.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

 


The faith of a geochemist

November-17_WhyIBelieve_ 400pxAssociate 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.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2017


500 year anniversary

October-17_FaithNotWorks 400px500 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.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2017