Yes, you are religious

In Australia people are giving up on religion, so the ABS says. Personally, I doubt it. There may be less people attending church, and a reduction in the number of those who have nominal attachment. But really, everyone is religious. Even the ‘no religion’ response is a religious response.

Those who do not believe in God still offer a response to God – one of unbelief. As those who are agnostic say ‘we don’t know if there is a God.’

Maybe there are just different religious responses.

Those who ignore God, and live as though he doesn’t exist.

Those who avoid God. Who know he’s probably there, who tip toe around his fingerprints, and do their best to think about other things.

Those who manipulate God. Or at least try to. If I

  • work on my broken relationship
  • pray harder
  • get to church more
  • stop that terrible behaviour
  • give to that charity
  • fill in the blank

…then God will do what I ask, bless me, accept me.

Then there’s following God. Receiving his gift of grace, forgiveness and life, and living a life that shows his true intent for life and humanity. This is the life Jesus has come to give.

‘No religion’ is not an option, so which one are you? And how is that working?

Remember: Satan’s Power Is Limited

Whatever happens today, remember that as strong and as ugly as the evil one appears to be, he has limited strength and ability. Jesus Christ, ruler of our universe, has all power and authority. He is on the throne and rules all nations. You can trust this powerful Saviour to be near you and to give you all you need today to follow him.

Rev 12:1-9 “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.”  And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. “

Prayer: High King of Heaven, this strange visit fits our this world. Every news story of misery and corruption is an echo of the dragon waiting like a thief to devour all that is good and to vandalise your shalom. Thank you for the good news that evil has met its match in Jesus, and give me the patience in this day as I wait for its complete end. Amen
(Philip F. Reinders, Seeking God’s Face, p.537 – using material from Belgic Confession, Article 12)

Your Not Always Obvious Opponents

Today’s prayer:

“God of truth and light, my sworn enemies – the world, my own flesh, and the devil – are not always obvious opponents. They are shifty prowlers, usually hidden and wickedly crafty. So make me wise to their schemes but mostly alert to your grace.

In Jesus’ name, amen”

Philip Reinders, Seeking God’s Face, p.523


 

I love how this prayer recognises the presence of sworn enemies ‘in my own flesh’. Ruthlessly honest. The problem is not just ‘them’, it’s also me. As Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn observed, the dividing line between good and evil runs down the centre of every human heart.

Thankfully, God’s grace in us in Jesus is greater than the shifty prowlers in the world.

Seeking God’s Face

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Every follower of Jesus wants to be a person of prayer. That’s what Eugene Peterson suggests in the introduction to Seeking God’s Face. I think he’s right. Trouble is, few of us know where to start or what to say.

This is where Seeking God’s Face  is brilliant. It encourages a daily practice of prayer and reading by providing a structured program throughout the year.

Each daily reading has several sections:

Invitation: A brief passage of Scripture drawing the reader into a mindfulness of God’s presence.

Quiet: The reader is encouraged to be still before the Lord. Turn off. Slow down. Be quiet. “Cultivating a stilled, attentive heart before God and quieting down actual noise and internal noise is a vital step in preparing to hear God’s voice.” (p.19)

Bible Song: Each day has a Psalm to be used a prayer. These Psalms guide the reader to respond to God. It might be confession of sin, praise for His goodness, or magnifying his power. Following these Psalms will take the reader through the entire Psalter twice in the year.

Bible Reading: The readings follow the celebrations of the church year: Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost etc. The readings are for meditation: to hear the voice of God. Since we believe the best place to hear God’s voice is Scripture, this is a welcome alternative to reading what someone else has written, and to hear God’s word directly.

Quiet: The second period of quiet presents an opportunity to move to a more contemplative frame, opening ourselves to what God will say to us in his word.

Dwelling: The reader is encouraged to slowly re-read the Bible passage, listening for words and concepts that stand out as they read. This is lectio divina – listening for God’s voice and seeking to grow in our walk with him. The author acknowledges this may be new for some, but in a world where we are so used to interpreting, studying and analysing the word it is good to train ourselves simply to listen deeply.

Free Prayer: Several prayer points are noted, which are excellent prompts to broaden our prayer focus well beyond our immediate needs and personal gaze. For example: the first time I used this book it was suggested I pray for the continent of Australia. I thought that was pretty good!

Prayer: Each day has a set prayer where the living theology of the reformed confessions is enfolded into the Christian activity of prayer. One of the true benefits of this volume is that it works the faith heritage we know and love into our devotion and praise.

“If we can begin to weave these core Christian beliefs into our prayers, most likely we’ll find them trickling into our minds, embedded in our hearts, and lived out in our lives [.22]

Blessing: a final blessing closes the session, reminding us of God’s good intentions and his gracious provision.

 

Each day is conveniently arranged on a page opening, with a helpful table pointing the reader to the correct reading for each respective date.

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I love the way Seeking God’s Face opens my mind to God’s voice in his word. I love the way it slows me down. I love its depth of content. I love the way it draws me into the reformation heartbeat.

Whether you’re busy and your schedule is overgrown, or whether you’re looking for renewed opportunity to deepen your sense of God’s presence, Seeking God’s Face is just what you’re after.

As a Pastor, I can only dream about how my local church would grow and mature if every person used Seeking God’s Face for a year!

 

You can order Seeking God’s Face from Book Depository, Koorong, or direct from Faith Alive Resources

…and I should point out it’s way cheaper to buy this title through Book Depository.

Dave

Come Thirsty

How do we deepen our walk with God when we’re already maxed out with too many commitments?
I’ve just started a new series at Gateway Church called “Come Thirsty” which seeks to draw us into a closer walk with God through gaining some faith rhythms and changing some of daily habits.
Yesterday’s introductory message considered the impact of our frantic pace of life on our faith. Typical, we are so busy, so fragmented, so glued to the screen that we neither hear the voice of our soul or the voice of God any more.
And when we do connect with God, we come with a list of requests – all the things we’re asking him to do for us, rarely taking the time to love and praise him for who he is.
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If this is the typical tone of our spirituality, then might it be true that we’re only loving God for what he gives, and not for who he is?
In contrast, the Bible presents a heart warming picture of loving God for who he is, and not first and foremost for what he gives . In Ps 131 David says
“…I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” (Psalm 131:2, NIV)
But we’re so busy, so self absorbed, that all were doing is asking and requesting. We’re not weaned at all. And here’s the thing: if we don’t slow down, we’ll never be weaned. We’ll only ever think of God as one who gives us stuff: always at the breast seeking satisfaction.
But Psalm 131 presents a picture of someone who loves God for who he is, and not merely because of what he gives. This picture may be a little troubling, because this ‘loving God for who he is’ is not often our experience.
So, in order to hear our soul’s thirst for God, our challenge for the next two weeks is this
  • Find one block of 30 minutes per week for the next two weeks
  • As you enter into that 30 min period, simply pray “Lord, reveal yourself to me anew, let me feel my own soul’s thirst for you. Open my heart, my eyes, my ears to you. Let me love you for who you are.”
  • Do nothing else during that time: no reading, no prayer, no phone (turn it off!!), no writing, no speaking. Just wait and listen to your soul.
  • After 30 mins, write down your thoughts in a journal or a notes app
  • Sometime during these next two weeks , share your experiences with a friend

 

The full text of my message can be found at SermonandStudy.com and audio is available from our iTunes feed and from our webpage

The Case for Christ – Review

Why would anyone move from hard atheism to a place of Christian commitment? More: what if that person is a recognised investigative journalist with a major US daily newspaper? What if that person’s workplace had a banner over the open office “If your Mom says she loves you, check it out!” Simple question: how do the claims of Christianity square with laws of evidence that any court would accept?

The Case for Christ chronicles the journey of Lee Strobel in his role as a journalist with the Chicago Tribune. His strong opposition to the Christian faith become apparent when, after a life threatening event, his wife is drawn to Christianity and eventually makes a faith commitment.

Strobel sets out on a journey to disprove the ‘myth’ of Christianity. His journalist craft has him seeking out leading experts in archaeology, medicine, philosophy, and legal practice. As Strobel works his way through his ‘key witnesses’ the dominos of his atheism start to fall over. Strobel is not prepared to give in, or give up. Tensions mount, and the turmoil is evident as his once vibrant relationship with his wife starts to look shaky.

As the plot develops, we’re exposed to a significant array of evidence supporting Christianity and its core truth: the resurrection of Jesus. We’re taken through the reliability of the eyewitness accounts; the powerful documentary evidence supporting the accuracy of the New Testament; the medical evidence supporting the actual death of Christ on the cross. Strobel is confronted with a wall of facts which he finds impossible to scale. So the man who set out to demolish what he regarded as a myth finds himself undone by the compelling truth about Jesus Christ.

The Case for Christ is well produced, accessible, and engaging. While there were a few  melodramatic moments, t is an excellent portrayal of Strobel’s journey from atheism to faith. The movie is also a wonderful resource as presentation of the truth of the Christian account. Churches, Home Groups, and individual Christians will be keen to use this to open up the reality of the good news, and to show the truth of Jesus Christ, who is the centre of it all.

The Case for Christ in cinemas from May 04. The book, The Case for Christ is available at major book sellers like KoorongThe Book Depository and Amazon

Is your faith really that attractive?

This is a troubling question. Who is supposed to find it attractive? And what would if mean for faith to be attractive? Is everyone supposed to agree with what I believe?

We know enough about life with God to know that not everyone agrees with us. Some find faith disagreeable, even odious.

But God calls his people to be different, set apart, focussed on living the life he had graced them with before a watching world. They were to reflect his character. They were to be holy, as he is holy. They were his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). No surprise that Jesus called his followers salt and light (Matt 5). No surpise that when Jesus ministered through the towns of Judea thousands flocked to him and hung on his every word. His words were winsome, his faith was attractive, his Kingdom is what they wanted to see.

Opposition was real too. There were some who hated his works and viewed his works as demonic. Opposition grew, he was rejected, abused and crucified. So, people did not always accept Jesus, either. That did not stop him loving them. His death and rising again meant new life for those who believe him. Something happened when people came under his rule: they became an attractive community, so wonderfully new that they enjoyed the favour of all the people (Acts 2:47). Jesus’ call to love one another was coming to beautiful expression. Even when persecuted, those who did not share their faith would sometimes remark, ‘See how they love one another!’ And then, as Peter writes to the scattered, persecuted church, he reminded them how the original call to Israel now belonged to the church:

…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Pet 2:9)

Even in the hardest and most difficult times the church is to live a winsome faith. God’s people are to be an appetising taste of the new heavens and the new earth.

Here’s the question: is this what people see in me? Is this what people see in the church? Am I eager to do what is good? Am I keen to reflect this new life Christ has given me to everyone I meet today? Even those I don’t get along with? Do our churches have a culture which enjoys the favour of their local community – even if that community does not believe Jesus?

I have been pastoring churches for over 30 years, and I find this question disturbing, humbling and sometimes haunting. My comfort is Jesus’ promise that he is with me and his church always, and he has all authority and power to have his new creation overflow through me and his people. Hell has its fury, but it shall never overcome the glorious new community Jesus created when he rose from the grave. Living water keeps flowing.

So, I want my faith and my church to be more and more attractive. I want new life to be seen in me. I want the living water of Jesus to overflow in our streets and neighbourhoods.

I have been helped in this by reading Tim Costello’s “Faith” – it’s such a wonderful encouragement to live the attractive life of Christ in the mess of sin and the fall. Short chapters packed with punch and challenge – you could even read it as a devotional.


Want your faith to be more attractive? Beyond reading, pray that Christ will continue to transform your life:

  • For Christians – “God, what good things do you want me to do today?”
  • For Churches – “Lord, how do you want us to bring the goodness of your Kingdom into our community?”