Sunday 9th December 2012 – Prepare a way for the Lord… 

The Word This Week:

Thoughts on the Word:

I remember as a child my eager anticipation at the coming of Santa Claus, I would diligently go to bed early on Christmas eve, and be up as early as I thought I could get away with … often times it was still dark when I would sneak out into the lounge room and begin to rummage through the presents looking for mine… What had the big red fella brought me this time?!… Christmas was a joyful time for me, I have some wonderful memories of water fights and back yard cricket on Christmas day, and some great memories of time spent with family and friends.  However it also always had a time of disappointment… that moment when you realised – that’s it, I don’t have any more presents. It is easy to see why people don’t think there is any need for Jesus in Christmas nowadays, we as a society have turned it into a cultural celebration of getting rather than a commemoration of giving.  When I look back now I wonder how much more joyful it could have been if the real meaning of Christmas had been a part of our celebrations, if only I had understood then that Christmas meant that I could accept a gift that would last for eternity…

It is an amazing thing, when you consider the gift which Christ gave us on that very first Christmas.  He gave us himself in human form – in the words of St Paul, he ‘humbled himself’, in order to be born as one of us.   Jesus we must remember was already a part of the Trinity, he was in Heaven, where he had been for eternity – and he chose to become one of us and be born as a human baby in order that he might reconcile us to God.  He knew before he came what the end result would be also – can you imagine the amount of love it takes to make a voluntary choice to remove yourself from a place of eternal bliss, where there is no pain, no suffering… to make a decision to to leave that existence to be born as a helpless infant, knowing that you would grow – going through all the pain, suffering and temptation that all humans go through – and knowing that your reward for this choice would be the tortuous death of crucifixion… what a love is this… and what a gift!

In this week’s readings we see that much preparation went into the offering of this gift… John the Baptist was born with the specific purpose to prepare the way for the Lord, the same Lord which his father sings of in our reading from Luke 1.  Isaiah foretold of his coming and of John’s role in preparing the way…  There was much thought that went into this gift, and much pain and suffering in its delivery.  Yet all we are called to do is accept it – no strings attached.  If we accept this free gift of love offered to us by God, we become not only forgiven – but we become heirs and inheritors of the Kingdom! 

Why then I wonder aren’t more of us who have accepted this gift like John? Why in this world of consumerism are we not proclaiming the Gospel louder than ever? Why, brothers and sisters are we not preparing the way for the Lord?   We have been given a gift – a gift of love greater than anything we could imagine – and we have the ability to pass that gift on to those around us… what is great about this gift is that when we re-gift it we also get to keep it! 

So, as we continue on our journey of preparation for the coming of the Lord – let’s be voices crying in the wilderness of consumerism ‘prepare the way for the Lord’. Let’s ensure that Christmas is not just a happy time of ‘getting’ let’s proclaim the message that it is a commemoration of the giving of the greatest gift ever – what better time than now could there be to give someone the gift of salvation through Jesus?

I pray that the God whose love far surpasses our understanding will richly bless you and yours during this continuing time of Advent.


Sunday 9th September 2012 – Faith without works…

The Word This Week:

  • Proverbs  22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 and Psalm  125 OR
    Isaiah  35:4-7a and Psalm  146 AND
    James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
    Mark  7:24-37
  • Thoughts on The Word:

    James 2:1-17
    My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in,and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’,have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

    You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.
    What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?If a brother
    or sister is naked and lacks daily food,and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

    This week I want us to look at the passage of scripture from James.  It is one of my favourite pieces of scripture!

    James begins by making clear to us that baseless discrimination is not acceptable for followers of Jesus. We are not to make judgements about a person based on their outward appearance.  You see the people of James’ time were much like the people today! They were judgemental, and treated those in society who were in greatest need with disdain.  Those who had power and influence – i.e. wealth – however were worthy of the highest respect and honour!  Now James wants to make clear a concept that is as radical today as it was then – all are equal before God!  It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or what your clothes look like.  It doesn’t matter if you can put $1000 in the plate at church or a penny, and it doesn’t matter if you are influential and respected or are disdained by society and pitied.  In the Kingdom of God all are equal, and for us to pass judgement against another believer because of their social status (or any other baseless form of discrimination) is a grave sin. 

    What James calls us to do then is to be gracious and show mercy – i.e. to follow the example given to us by the one we claim as our Lord! We have been saved by the grace and mercy of God, and nothing more! How dare we then pass judgement on our brothers and sisters, when we are in receipt of such grace! James calls us to live a life after the example of Christ!

    What James wants us to understand is that our faith is not just a matter of intellectual assent to the reality of Jesus.  It is not just enough to say that we believe, and then not act out that faith.   No, for James faith is a verb – it is an activity – not just an understanding or acceptance.  

    Now many over the past two thousand years have tried to argue that this portion of scripture indicates that our works contribute to our salvation, that we are not saved by faith alone, but by faith and works or even siply by works alone!  Howver that is not what James is saying.  The message that we are to get from this is that genuine faith in Jesus is an active and living faith – it is not a one time event of accepting Jesus as our Lord and saviour and then sitting back and relaxing! Jesus calls us to follow him, and James is trying to make it clear that this means active participation in the Kingdom.   

    Is your faith an active and living faith?

    I pray that you are richly blessed this week!

    Fat Baby

    One of my favourite songs as a child was “Fat Baby” by Amy Grant.  I’ve put a clip at the bottom of this post…do enjoy the 80’s clothing!  I have a memory of singing along to this song as it played on cassette in our car.  Mum and I were travelling home from an open garden somewhere.  I was probably 9 or 10 years old.  At the time, I really had no idea what the song was about, but I thought it was a funny subject to sing about!  The gist of the song is this.  You can’t stay a spiritual baby forever, you need to grow up in order to have a real relationship with Christ.  Take responsibility for growth.  Don’t expect to be spoon fed for the rest of your life.  Oh, Amy said it much nicer than that, it really is a catchy song. 

    Having a baby is exciting, but you sure don’t want your child to stay a baby forever!  For the adult in the relationship, babies take a lot of work.  There are glimpses of real connection but for the most part, there are months and months of a one sided relationship.  There is also the joy of watching the baby grow, develop new skills and explore their world.  That’s when it starts to really get exciting!  You move on from offering a completely liquid diet and start offering some texture and chunks.  They start to get physically mobile and you cheer!  They start to walk and you are bursting with pride.  They fall down many times before they get the hang of it.  And all the while, you’re there with them.  Watching, guiding, cheering, supporting.

    The stage is similar in your spiritual life, except it involves less mashed veggies!  God is there with you, watching, guiding, cheering and supporting, and so are your Christian brothers and sisters.  The  bonus here is that you have a say in how fast you move on from the spoon fed stage.  There is a time for listening and accepting what you’re told, but God doesn’t want you to follow him blindly.  God wants a real relationship with you.  He wants you to question, discuss, debate even!  He wants you to share with him when you are happy and when you’re not.  He wants you to cry out to him when you feel like all is lost.  He wants to hear you praise him when you see a beautiful sunrise/newborn  baby/volcano.

    Do  you feel like it’s time to grow in your relationship with God?  There are a few simple things you can do.

    1.       Commit to regularly reading your bible.  It takes about 28 days to form a new habit, so start by promising yourself (and God) that you’ll read every day for 28 days.  Choose a time of day that works for you and schedule it in.  Ask God to help you remember.  If you’re home with young kids, early morning before they’ve woken, or during nap time are good times or if you’re still mentally alert, after you’ve got them in bed.  If you’re out in the workforce, perhaps your lunch break would be a good opportunity, or on the bus during your commute (provided you aren’t the one driving!!)  Pray before and after reading.  Just a simple prayer will do.  Ask God to speak to you through his word.

    2.       Regularly attend church.  Here you will not only be able to hear preaching on God’s word and spend time praising him, but you’ll also meet and have a chance to form friendships with other Christians.  It really is important to be a part of the body of Christ, and it’s much harder to do if you’re on your own all the time.

    3.       Join a group.  If you aren’t already studying God’s word with others, now would be a great time to start.  Ask a leader of your church to suggest a group which might be good for you.  Regularly meeting with a small group to study the bible, share and pray for each other, is a wonderful encouragement.

    4.       Pray.  Spend time with God.  Talk to him and give him a chance to talk back.  You can’t have a deep relationship with someone you hardly ever talk to.  God is ready to work with you on this relationship!

    I would love to hear about your spiritual growth, past or present, and have the opportunity to pray for you.  Do you have any other advice for those who are ready to stop being Fat Babies?

    Sunday, May 13 2012 – Friends with God

    The Word This Week:

    Acts 10:44-48

    Psalm 98

    1 John 5:1-6

    John 15:9-17

    Thoughts on the Word:

    1 john 5:1-6 (NRSV)

    Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

    This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

    John 15:9-17 (NRSV)

    As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

    Today I want us to consider a message that is consistent throughout the both our reading from the 1st letter of St John and our Gospel reading (and also consistent throughout the entirety of scripture). Our consistent message in both readings is that our love of God is demonstrated through obeying his commandments.  So how does that sit with us as Christians who are not under the Law but under grace as explained by St Paul (Romans 6:14)? Well let’s consider for a moment what being under grace means, and why it does not free us from our obligation to follow the commandments of God.

    The grace of God is what saves us from the consequences of our sin.  It is through the grace of God alone that we are saved, and we receive that grace through placing our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus.  The Grace of God is granted to us through faith in order to cover our sins – we are forgiven for for trespassing against God’s commands.  It is something that we often take for granted – we hear Christians say it all the time -‘I’m forgiven’, ‘I’m saved’.  The problem is we don’t often take the time to consider the fact that if we are sinners that need forgiveness, then there must still be a code of law in effect which we sin against.   The commandments of God haven’t gone anywhere, they are still in effect.  Jesus himself told us that he did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets but to fulfil them (Matt: 5:17).  We must remember then that the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross did not remove our obligation to follow the Commandments – what it does is cover our transgressions when we fail to follow them, it enables us to to enter the Kingdom of Heaven on the basis that Jesus opened the door for us through His redeeming sacrifice, and not through our own works.  This is important because it is not possible for us to fulfil any of the commandments of God completely, all of the time. 

    Now some will say ‘well hang on, I have never killed anyone, so I have fulfilled that commandment’ or ‘I have never cheated on my husband/wife, so I have fulfilled the commandment around adultery’.  However when you understand the commandments fully and the way in which God judges them, you will begin to realise why Jesus sacrifice was so important.  Let us examine the two commandments I just mentioned. 

    We will begin with murder, lets read Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:21-26 (NRSV):

    “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable       to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you               insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So           when you  are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,               leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your           gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand               you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get               out until you have paid the last penny.

    Jesus tells us something very important here. While we may not ever actually physically kill someone, we are found guilty of transgressing this command through acts of anger.  When we are angry and wish someone harm, or insult them, or call them stupid or worse, we are guilty of transgressing this command in our hearts.  The standard of God is perfection – to uphold the command perfectly would mean to never even express anger or hate for someone – when we fail to reach perfection we are guilty of breaking the command in it’s entirety.

    If we continue reading Jesus gives us similar advice around the commandment on adultery : Matthew 5:27-32 (NRSV)

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman         with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it         away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right         hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole         body to go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to             you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and                     whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

    We see again that the standard is absolute perfection and that even one lustful thought renders us guilty of breaking the entire command – whether we actually physically commit the sin is irrelevant, God judges our heart, and we are guilty of committing the sin in our hearts when we think …what if? or in the Australian ocker bloke language ‘she’s alright, I wouldn’t mind a piece of that’.  Of course this typical Aussie bloke statement raises a few other problems in treating women as merely sex objects rather than our gift from God – Think about that – Genesis shows us that Women were given to men as a gift – a gift of companionship, partnership and love.  When we as men treat them poorly we sin gravely as not only do we fail to love as God as commanded, but we also dishonour God through failing to care for the great and wonderful gift that he gave us, but I digress…

    So now we see the very reason that Jesus’ sacrifice was necessary, we flawed human beings – the inheritors of a flawed and sinful nature, are incapable of fulfilling the commandments in their entirety, and as a result we could not enter the presence of God in eternal life, without the redeeming work of the cross.  So why then does Jesus tell us to follow the commandments?  Why is it that we see our love for God framed in such a way that it is through following the commandments that we encounter and honour God?

    It is explained for us by St Paul in Romans 6:1-14.  In summary St Paul tells us that if we are followers of Jesus, then spiritually we have died to sin.  Through baptism into faith we are buried with Christ, our old sinful nature is killed, and we are raised to new life with Him.  For us to knowingly continue to sin then (i.e. continue to disobey the Commandments of God) does not make sense.  We are dead to sin spiritually and raised to new life, so we are called to express this new spiritual reality, practically in our daily lives as well. 

    When we put our faith in Jesus we are called to repent of our sin – to repent  means to not only say sorry but to actually turn away from it.  If we turn away from our sin by definition we must turn back to the commandments.  Jesus summed up all of God’s commandments for us into two seemingly simple to follow commands – to Love God with all our heart, mind and soul – and to love our neighbour as ourselves.  I say they seem simple because in reality they are quite difficult in fact they can be a burden, at least for those who have not put their faith in Christ.  However when we do that, when we understand that through putting our faith in Jesus we will not only be forgiven for our failure to fulfil the commands, but we will also be given the grace and support of God to better follow them, the commandments are no longer a burden. In fact rather than being a burden,  through them we conquer the world (and with it the temptation to sin)- as John points out  to us in his letter.  

    In the Gospel reading John goes further, and gives us Jesus’ words around following the commandments.  Jesus tells us that by following His commandments – just as he has followed his Fathers commandments, we will abide in Him, and He in us.  He gives us a new command – to love one another as He loves us. The next statement is profound – Jesus tells us that if we follow his commandments we become his friends.  We are no longer servants (or slaves in some other translations) through putting our faith in Him, by dying to sin and demonstrating this faith and love through following him, we are raised to new life and become friends with God. 

    As friends of God we no longer have a subservient role in the relationship, but we gain a companion, a confidant, we gain the greatest and most loyal friend we could ever hope to have, a friend who’s love for us is so powerful that He willingly lays down his life for us. 

    So lets remember as we move forward with our week that we are dead to sin, called to follow His commandments, which are not burdensome, but bring us the great joy through friendship with the one who crafted the universe from nothing, and lay down his life that we might live.

    Have you become friends with Jesus and through Him been granted eternal life? If you would like to learn more about how to become a friend of Christ please let me know through the comments or via the contact us page.