Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “Outreach Media

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


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


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


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


Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

February-18_BuyMeAMercedes_400pxWhen Christian hypocrisy is so bad it draws public rebuke in the form of a parody song – there is a deep problem. In her song, ‘Mercedes Benz’, American rock singer, Janis Joplin sarcastically prays to God for a luxury car so she can compete with her friends, “who all drive Porsches”. Next she asks for a color TV, followed by a night on the town. “Prove that you love me, and buy the next round” she sings.

The mind space of some Christians is hard to fathom. Speaking about Himself, Jesus said, ‘Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man (Jesus) has no place even to lay His head‘ (Matthew 8:20). Yet the advert on the back of one Christian magazine boasted, ‘Our pastors all drive late model Mercedes Benz cars’. The point was clear, ‘You can see how much God loves our church, because we’re all so rich!’

But Jesus said that if anyone wanted to be His disciple they should, ‘give up their own way, take up their cross, and follow Him’ (Mark 8:34). Sadly, in the rich West, Christians struggle to give up their own way. It’s so easy to justify the quality lifestyle products, expensive holidays and renovations. Would you rather be noticed as the one who has the most or the least? So Christians join the endless, upgrade cycle of every other Western consumer.

Meanwhile in other parts of the world – or just your own neighborhood – there are people without. The release of Joplin’s song in 1970 coincided with a terrible famine in Nigeria caused by the Biafran civil war. One reason the famine shocked the world is this photo taken by Peter Williams in 1969 showing three young boys looking hauntingly at the camera. Their unflinching gaze asks so many hard questions. In obvious need of urgent food and safety, it’s not clear who will help.

Yet the Bible challenges anyone reading it to help those who are less fortunate. The logic is simple… if God is prepared to love us by sending His son to die for us at the cross, then how can we also, not be generous to others?

The author James in the Bible wrote this about prayer.
“You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure” (James 4:2-3).

It’s right to pray for our daily bread. But let’s also pray for opportunities to be as generous to others as God has been to us.

Bible Verse: 2 Corinthians 9:7 God loves a person who gives cheerfully”.

Prayer: Dear God, please help me to be more generous to others.

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

 


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