Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Gospel

What I like about Christianity

Here’s what I like about Christianity. It deals with the most important issues and questions of life. The past, the present and the future. Origins and destinies. How to live and how to die. Our most important problem. Our purpose. Love, freedom, security, hope, joy and peace. Eternity with God. It’s good news that changes everything. And it’s based on the most important person who ever lived. The best hero.

One of the beautiful things about Christianity is that Jesus has done everything for us. This means we don’t have to strive to do anything to please God. Salvation depends on acknowledging and confessing one’s sin. It’s a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). And it’s not difficult to understand or accept.

Christians are part of a world-wide spiritual family with whom they share a spiritual life, union and inheritance that never ends. It’s a relationship that surpasses all other human relationships. It crosses racial, cultural, social, age, and gender distinctions (Gal. 3:28). As Christians are all children of God, they are all equal before God. Every believer has the same spiritual status before God. And they have spiritual fathers and mothers to encourage and help them. Spiritual brothers and sisters to share life with. And spiritual children to nurture. So Christians shouldn’t be lonely. They have a ready-made spiritual family.

Christianity is unique because:
– God reached out to us, whereas other religions involve people reaching up to God and looking for the meaning of life.
– It’s a relationship with God (initiated and maintained by God) and not a list of rules and regulations.
– It’s based on the Bible, which is the written word of God. Most of our deepest moral instincts (like equality, human rights, and justice) come from the Bible.
– Its leader (Jesus) rose from the dead and performed many miracles to prove His claim of divinity. Christians serve a living God, whereas most other religious leaders are dead.

When the Philippian jailer became a Christian (Acts 16:24-35), his immediate problem was solved (he was about to kill himself), his family was helped (they didn’t lose a husband and father), he gained new and better friends (Paul and Silas), he was filled with joy (v.34), and he was assured of a home in heaven when he died. How did this happen? First, he was convicted of his sinfulness (v.30). Then, he believed that Jesus took the punishment for his sin (v.31, 34). How about you? If you are a Christian, you can share in similar benefits. If not, then you can become a believer just like the Philippian jailer.

Written, September 2019


What stops you being with God forever?

Here’s a challenge from Outreach Media.

I used to smoke a lot of marijuana. But the first time I got stoned after becoming a Christian I felt embarrassed in God’s presence. I discovered that dope made it hard for me to control silly thoughts and treat God with reverence. It was awkward and I felt ashamed. So I stopped smoking marijuana and haven’t touched it since. That was thirty-five years ago.

When I stopped smoking dope I gave up something from this world so I could be sure of having life in the age to come. You might think it was no loss. And besides, Christians should obey the law anyway. Well, to that I say, ‘Yes, we should obey the law’ (and I would have acted on that I’m sure), but as for ‘no loss’? Well, that’s simplistic. People smoke dope because they have interesting experiences. I certainly felt a sense of loss in giving it up.

I think I was living out what Jesus meant when He said, “what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”

This world offers all kinds of experiences. Many of them are connected to wealth and power. So was Jesus speaking against money and power? Was He saying only the destitute and feeble can ever know God and win eternal life? No. It’s not wrong to own money or possessions nor have power over others. History records many emperors, kings, politicians and public servants who have been devoted to God.

Jesus’s point is that there’s nothing in this life worth having … if the having of it… means you can’t worship God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. I couldn’t do that smoking dope.

This experience of choosing God over something in the world has continued. In the early years of my working life there were situations where I could have cheated and deceived people for financial gain. Indeed, my stubborn refusal was a frustration to an early employer.

As the years have rolled on, the challenges have changed. These days they’re more likely to be internal. For example, with a particular decision I need to make sure I’m not putting personal pleasure ahead of the needs of others.

So how is Jesus challenging you? Are you being honest with yourself… and God? Have you prayed? Is there something you need to give up so that you can have God for all eternity? If there is, then take action.

Prayer: Dear God, give me a fierce honesty to make sure nothing in this world keeps me from being with you forever.

Bible verse: Mark 8:36 Jesus: “what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted, August 2019


Jesus gives life to the full

There are so many wonderful things in life. The joy of love, family, satisfaction in hard work, the thrill of the race, or the game, admiring the astonishing beauty of nature, the prospect of a new adventure. It is truly a remarkable world.

Yet in all of these things, there’s always a blemish. And the blemish lies in us and in each thing we experience. For example our own cynicism and doubts prevent us properly enjoying goodness in love and work and family. And, as for the objects of our joy and desire – they always let us down in some measure. So, families fracture and fall out. Children forget their parents and live selfish lives. We chase a project with all our energy only to find it wasn’t worth the chasing.

In every part of life there’s always dissatisfaction. Any number of things can intervene to undermine success… from accidents, to mismanagement, to petty politics, injustice, corruption… even our own boredom, or doubts, or distractions.

The greatest enemy to fulfillment in this life is the knowledge that death awaits. It means that whatever we pursue is futile. Nothing can escape it… even the material universe. Everything must pass away.

If only there were a thread of hope dangling down for us from eternity. In the song, ‘Into my arms’, Nick Cave, the Australian songwriter, speaks of an, ‘interventionist God’ who might prevent his beloved from being harmed. Yet he can’t bring himself to believe that such a good God might exist.

But such a good God does exist and the Bible describes His character and ‘interventions’ in human history in great detail. As creator of the world He made us so that we might relate to Him closely. But since creation we’ve resisted this purpose. Yet no matter how hard we resist, He still loves us and wants us to be with Him. The Bible says that God has ‘planted eternity in the human heart’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Clearly, He meant us to spend it with Him.

When our purpose is eternity with God. How did we ever think we could find it in movies or architecture or holidays or skin cream? Whatever we do apart from God is doomed and destined for disgruntlement.

So give way. Give yourself to God’s ambassador, Jesus Christ, whose mighty intervention on your behalf at the cross means you can have life with God forever. Accept Jesus and the immortal words He offers all people.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  

Prayer: Dear God, I pray that I may have life to the full with You through Jesus.

Bible verse: John 10:10 Jesus: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted July 2019


A major problem

Last week I climbed Uluru (Ayers Rock) in central Australia. On the way down there was a man who became very unwell around 3/4 of the way up the climb chain. He was being assisted by two off-duty police officers and two off-duty paramedics. This turned into a major problem when he suffered a heart attack. They performed CPR and used a defibrillator to shock his heart back into a survivable rhythm, saving his life. A few hours later the man was carefully moved down the steep face of the rock on a stretcher using ropes and pulleys. He was treated at Yulara Health Centre before being flown to Alice Springs Hospital by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and then to Adelaide for specialist heart surgery.

This post looks at a major problem faced by a commander in the Syrian army, which is described in the Bible. We will see from this that God can deliver us from our major problem.

Text

Naaman’s problem is described in 2 Kings 5:1-15 (NIV):

1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram [Syria]. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet [Elisha] who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

Context

Author – An unknown Jew wrote 1&2 Kings under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Pt. 1:20-21).

Audience – 1 & 2 Kings was written to fellow Jews who were in exile in Babylon.

Content – 1 & 2 Kings is a selective history of Israel from the time of king Solomon (970BC) to the Babylonian exile (586BC). This is about 384 years of history.

When written (or complied) – 1 & 2 Kings was written after the conquest of Judah in 586BC, probably during the Babylonian exile (say about 550BC).

Kingdoms of Israel and Judah – After the reign of Solomon, the Hebrew nation was divided into two kingdoms: Israel was in the north whose capital was Samaria, and Judah was in the south whose capital was Jerusalem. Israel lasted 210 years until it was conquered in 722BC, and Judah lasted 345 years until it was conquered in 586BC. They were conquered because of their idolatry and disobedience of their covenant with God (Dt. 28:32-37, 47-57, 63-64).

Aram (Syria) – Aram was a Gentile nation north-east of Israel whose capital was Damascus. It was an idol worshipping enemy of Israel.

Date of incident – Naaman was healed in about 850BC, which was about three years after the king of Israel (Ahab) was killed in a war between Aram and Israel.

What happened before? – The incident is preceded by examples of Israel’s sin (idolatry), which was followed by God’s judgment (defeat in battle and death). There are also examples of Israel’s faithfulness, which is followed by God’s reward (victory in battle).

What happened afterwards? – The incident is followed by Gehazi’s (Elisha’s servant) sin (greed), which is followed by God’s punishment (leprosy).

How did God usually communicate to people in those days? God communicated via prophets, whose message is recorded in the Old Testament.

What happened?

Naaman had a major problem – a skin disease like leprosy. This was a serious skin disease that covered his body for everyone to see. As this was incurable, he would have been dismayed and depressed. And he would have felt like someone who had terminal cancer.

But this isn’t the end of the story. The Biblical account describes how, with the help of God, Naaman was delivered from his problem. This involved traveling about 250 km (155 miles) from Damascus to Samaria to receive instructions from the prophet Elisha.

What did it mean then?

What’s the main point?

God healed a Gentile, who was outside the promises given to Israel! All Naaman had to do was to obey the Lord’s message given by Elisha. Jesus explained that when Israel rejected God, a Gentile received the covenant blessing instead (Lk. 4:24-27). For the Israelites, obedience led to physical blessings (Dt. 28:1-14). And disease was one of the punishments for disobedience (Dt. 28:21-22, 27-29). This was a lesson to the disobedient Israelites that they would only receive God’s blessing if they obeyed God.

This shows that God cared for people outside His special people (the Israelites). For example, God also cared for the people of Nineveh who were Assyrians, one of Israel’s enemies (Jon. 4:11). These Gentiles were “without hope and without God” (Eph. 2:11-12). But God’s kindness and grace is shown when He helps those like Gentiles who don’t deserve His help.

What other things did we notice?

There were a chain of people involved in Naaman’s healing: the servant girl-Naaman’s wife-Naaman-the king of Aram (Syria)-the king of Israel-Elisha-Elisha’s messenger-Naaman’s servants. We see that God uses people to carry out His purposes on earth. This includes both the godly (servant girl), and the ungodly (king of Israel). As God intended for Israel, she was a witness to God’s power (1 Ki. 8:41-43). Meanwhile, the king of Israel was worshipping idols.

There was only one way to be healed. Naaman had to overcome his pride and follow God’s instructions to be delivered from leprosy. Naaman thought his cure could be bought with wealth, but Elisha refused payment for what God had done. And Naaman thought that Elisha would heal him in a dramatic way, but it was clear that Elisha was not a healer but God’s messenger. Instead he was healed by the power of God.

After he was healed, Naaman changed from worshipping idols to worshipping the true God. This shows that he knew who had healed him and he was grateful and thankful.

What does it mean now?

What has changed since when Naaman lived?

How has the Bible changed? We now have the New Testament. Since the time of Naaman, Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah.

Who are God’s people today? They are believers in Jesus Christ who are also called Christians, or the church. They can be from any nation – Jews have no special privileges, and Gentiles have no special barriers. They live under the new covenant given in the New testament, and not under the old one given to Moses. The books of Acts to Revelation in the Bible were written to the early church.

Under the new covenant, God promises spiritual blessings to those who follow Him, and not physical blessings like those in the old covenant (Dt. 28:1-14; Eph. 1:3).

What’s the main point?

What’s our major problem today? Is it poverty? War? Terrorism? Global warming? The economy? Destruction of the natural environment? Overpopulation? Or, inequality? Like Naaman’s disease, these are all physical problems.

The Bible says that the root cause of all these problems is human sin. We have all sinned and the consequence is separation from God (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). So sin is our major problem. It’s all-encompassing. It’s like terminal cancer. And it keeps us from going to heaven, which is God’s perfect place for us. But unlike the other problems, it’s spiritual and not physical.

Naaman was healed after he humbly obeyed God’s instruction. At first, he arrogantly wanted to wash in the rivers of Damascus, instead of washing in the Jordan river in Israel. But after he changed his mind and washed in the Jordan river, he was delivered from the leprosy. Likewise, if we obey God’s instruction in the Bible, God can deliver us from our major problem of sin.

What’s sin?

The word ’sin’ can mean different things for different people including the following:

– Something naughty but fun (not too serious – like pornography – even adultery), or
– Something completely normal which religious weirdo’s think is wrong (like dancing), or
– A list of don’ts that an angry fictional God keeps score over, or
– Big ticket moral failures (like murder, theft etc.).

According to the Bible, sin is anything that we think, say, or do that displeases God or that breaks His laws. And it includes not doing what we know we should. Sin is a symptom of humanity’s rebellion against God.

Lessons for us

What’s the application to unbelievers?

Like Naaman, unbelievers have a major problem. It’s called sin. But they can be delivered if they obey God’s instructions by confessing their sin and trusting in Christ’s vicarious payment of the penalty. Like Naaman, there is only one way of deliverance. It’s good to know that God can deliver us from our major problem. But we need to seek His help.

We’re all rebels and God is entitled to hold us to account for our treatment of Him. But judgment isn’t the last word with God. The good news is that, whilst “the wages of sin is death [separation from God]” … “the free gift of God is eternal life [in heaven] through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23NLT). So, while there’s still time, stop and ask Jesus for help.

What’s the application to believers?

Like the servant girl, Christians know about God’s solution to people’s major problem of sin. But do we share God’s way of deliverance with others?

After Naaman was healed, he offered thanks and praise to the real God who delivered him from a major problem. Do we regularly thank and praise God for delivering us from the penalty of our sin?

Written, June 2019

Also see: Continual Thanksgiving


Sin is not as much fun as you think

Why do we sin? Because it’s a chore – of course not! Actually, we do the wrong thing because it’s fun, satisfying or seems too difficult to resist. Why would we bother if it weren’t any of those things? Lowering the car window and letting rip at the stupid person blocking our way… how good did that feel? Revealing that choice morsel of information … everyone in the office deserves to know what happened! Mostly, our sin reveals a lot about the kind of person we really are.

Some years back a newspaper article named seven high profile males (mostly politicians) found to be adulterers. Collectively they had fathered 24 children. The article pondered the damage caused to those 24 lives and the sad ending to public careers.

Why did those men behave so destructively? It’s tempting to excuse their actions by finding fault with sexless or unsatisfying marriages. But let’s not forget the ‘fun’ part. They gave in to what the Bible calls ‘the fleeting pleasures of sin’ (Hebrews 11:25). And even if their marriages were rocky and difficult, was adultery the solution? Had they worked hard, with counsellors, to make their marriages work? Unlikely. But now there was a social stigma to be borne. And not just by them. Wives and children are always caught up as well. Life after sin can be an eternity of regret.

There’s another more important answer to the question, ‘Why do we sin?’ And it’s this. We haven’t taught ourselves to hate what is evil. Are we feeling downcast about sin because we’ve been caught out? There needs to be a better reason. We need to hate evil because it’s evil. And we need to care about pleasing God. If that’s our mindset then, when temptation presents, we’ll feel alarmed, even nauseous at the prospect of betraying God.

There’s a letter in the Bible written by the missionary, Paul of Tarsus to Christians in the city of Rome. It contains a great challenge.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2).

A little later on in his letter Paul writes:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong [evil]. Hold tightly to what is good (Romans 12:9).

None of us have the strength to do this perfectly. We need God’s help. Let’s pray to Him about this.

Prayer: Dear God, give me the strength to say, ‘No’ to temptation so that I can honor you and protect both myself and those around me.

Bible verse: Romans 12:9 “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong [evil]. Hold tightly to what is good“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted June 2019


Don’t let Christians put you off Jesus

Suppose there’s a man in a town with a history of shady business practices and fraudulent dealings. He also happens to be a regular church-goer.

Many people where he lives know the man to be shonky and would say they’ve been ‘ripped off’ as would people in other towns. What’s terrible is that some people where the man lives say, ‘If that man is a Christian, then I don’t want any part of Christianity’. And, at one level, their reaction is understandable.

The story raises questions about what it means to be a genuine Christian and what churches and other Christians should do when people say they are Christian but their actions clearly aren’t. You can imagine that the answers aren’t always easy.

Certainly the Bible says that those people whose lives are grossly hypocritical and who refuse to change ought to be excluded from church. But what if they keep calling themselves Christian in the community? Or they just move to another church and start again?

Or what if a church or a whole movement of people begin to do things in the name of Jesus that are just plainly at odds with the Bible? History is full of appalling things done in the name of Jesus. Some are well known: the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, people burning each other at stakes. Thankfully, it’s simply not possible to justify these kinds of things from the Bible.

So where does the problem lie? Not with God. The very reason Jesus came to earth was because we’ve got a major issue. It’s called sin. And sin is in every person. We all think, say and do things that we should rightly be ashamed of.

Jesus said this about His coming into the world: God’s light [Jesus] came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil (John 3:19).

What we mustn’t do is use the bad example of some ‘Christians’ as an excuse for not worshipping Jesus and coming into the light ourselves. That’s because the only people who can join the Christian movement are sinners willing to repent. So any person in church will always be a moral failure. Including you!

So yes, Christians should be people who try to live changed lives full of joy and good deeds. All of them will struggle in doing this. And yes, occasionally you’ll find some that seem to be really just pretending. But don’t let Christians put you off Jesus.

Bible verse: John 3:19 “God’s light [Jesus] came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.”

Prayer: Dear God, please help me to leave behind evil works and worship you in the light.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted, May 2019


We all need forgiveness

No matter how interested you are in cricket, it’s Australia’s national game. Indeed, when he was Prime Minister, John Howard, reckoned he had the second most important job in the nation after the Australian cricket captain. If that’s true, then a year ago, in March, we had a crisis of national leadership when our nation’s captain, vice captain and another player were caught tampering with the ball.

One year later, on March 29, 2019, the most severe bans ever handed down by Cricket Australia for on field behavior will come to an end. After a year’s forced absence, former captain, Steve Smith, and former vice captain, David Warner will once more be eligible to play for Australia, New South Wales and their Big Bash teams.

When the ball tampering was discovered the almost universal response from media commentators and the general public was that the punishment needed to be significant. One online poll with over 45,000 responses had 91% saying that Smith should lose the captaincy for good.

All of this shows that most Australians not only don’t believe in winning by any means, but they also do believe in honesty and justice. And they want the consequences of justice applied equally – even if it means losing international competitions because our best players are absent through penalty.

However, if we want justice applied equally to others then we need to be willing to have it applied equally to ourselves as well. And that’s going to be tough. Because if we’re honest we’ll need to admit that we’ve all done things that deserve punishment.

And if we’re brutally honest… we’ll acknowledge that the one person we absolutely must talk to about our wrongdoing is God. After all, He’s our maker. Ultimately, we’re going to have to answer to Him. In the Bible, God makes it clear that, ‘everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard’.

God’s standards are much higher than ours. His standard is perfection. Which means He cannot tolerate evil and will not allow it into heaven with Him.

The good news though, is that if we front up to God now about our failings God is willing to offer an amnesty for the penalty we deserve. Instead of punishing us God promises that our penalty has been dealt with by Jesus at the cross. The Bible puts it this way

“Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God” (1Peter 3:18).

So, take the amnesty. Pray now.

Bible verse: Romans 3:23, “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus to take my penalty on Himself at the cross. Please help me to live with you as my Lord.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted, March 2019