So we may obtain everything you have promised

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Prayer for the week

Almighty and everlasting God, give us the increase of faith, hope and love;  and so we may obtain everything you have promised, help us to love everything you have commanded. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen

(Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer, 1662: The Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity)

I love the way this prayer ties the receiving of everything the Lord promises with loving everything he has commanded. It is a powerful reminder that ‘living in God’s will’ is living in conformity to his will. It assures us the best life we can hope for is a life transformed into the likeness of his son Jesus.

In what specific ways does your life need to be transformed?

Pray this prayer for the week, and leave a comment to share you experiences.

Coping with Change?

St Georges Terrace

St Georges Terrace

[Jesus’] message, and the message about him that the early Christians
called good news, was not about how to escape that world.
It was about how the one true God
was changing it,
radically
and for ever.

Tom Wright, Simply Good News

It got me thinking about all those discussions around ‘change’ about 20 years ago. How it was something to be resisted. Seen as negative.

I think we got the whole change thing the wrong way around. People were worried about changing the church, how we did things, and traditions long held and valued. Sure, some things about church need to change. Semper reformanda and all that.

What we missed is that Jesus is all about change. Changing people. Changing his world. Doing this through the power of his death, rising and rule. Living in people. As he changes people, they bring his change into his world.

…just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too me live a new life (Romans 6:4)

I am too slow to bring this change in my life. No wonder my impact is minimal. And as a pastor, I don’t see to much change in others. They struggle to see their faith bite into life reality, except for a few hours on Sunday and some quiet time every other day.

You’re a follower of Jesus? Then he’s living in you through his spirit. He intends to empower you and enable you to live the values of his Kingdom today, in whatever you’re doing. How you drive. How to treat people. How you love your kids. How you treat your body. How you stand up for the friendless and the forsaken.

What change are you living today? How will people get an idea about Jesus and heaven by how you behave, and speak, live and love?

The cliche is ‘be the change you want to see.’ That’s a bit self centred and short sighted.

I would rather say ‘be the change God wants people around you to see.’

If God would change your context, where you are right now, how would he do that? What would need to happen?

Go. Do.

True Christianity Seen in Charleston’s Forgiveness

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Last week WAToday journalist Neil McMahon described Fred Nile’s views on marriage as ‘jurassic’. Apparently, anyone who upholds a traditional, let alone a view of marriage grounded in Scripture, is a bit of a dinosaur.  McMahon’s words are another indication of the growing distance between traditional Christianity and current views in society. The challenges are huge, and sometimes confrontational.

Much could be said about the often ad hominem nature of such attacks on Christian leaders and the church, although most can see these ungracious and unthinking words for what they are. Even so, I welcome the challenge being placed before the church today. Every new question, even words of attack, give Christians an opportunity to give account for the hope they have.

If you were ever wondering what Christianity is about, and why it has survived for 2000 years, and then, through trials and in circumstances considerably more foreboding than our current social climate, you need go no further than what we see unfolding in Charleston, South Carolina.

Last week the world looked on in horror as reports unfolded of how Dylann Roof entered the American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the oldest African American congregation in the country, and murdered nine innocent people. Those murdered had warmly welcomed him into their Bible discussion groups just one hour earlier. At Roof’s first court appearance last Friday, family members were permitted to make statements to the Court where Roof made his first appearance after the shooting.

What did those people say? What characterised their words? Bitterness? White knuckled rage? Seething desire for revenge?

No. What we saw was Christianity in action. We saw the power of there Risen Jesus at work in his people. We were confronted with words of grace and forgiveness. These words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ.

See for yourself:

“I just want everyone to know, I forgive you. You took something really precious from me [her mother]. I will never be able to talk to [my mother] again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. May God have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you. And I forgive you.”

…words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ…

“I forgive you. My family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ. So that he can change it. Change your ways no matter what happened to you, and you’ll be ok. Do that. And you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”

“We welcomed you Wednesday night to our Bible Study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people I know. Every fibre in my body hurts. And, and, I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But, as we said in our Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on your soul.”

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof, that they lived in love and their legacies live in love. So hate won’t win.”

“Depayne Doctor was my sister. And I too thank you, on behalf of my family, for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress. And I acknowledge I am very, angry. But one thing that Depayne taught me, is that we are, the family that Love built. We have no room for hating! So we have to forgive. And I pray God [have mercy] on your soul.”

Christians everywhere are deeply moved by their example. We thank God for their grace and courage. May their words be echoed, repeated, whispered – through our tears – for years to come.

What is Christianity? It is how God, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, breaks the power of evil in human lives, and through his Spirit begins transforming them, and their world, so Jesus’ new life comes to glorious expression .

This is the Christianity, the Jesus, the Gospel our world needs to see and believe.

And yes, Neil McMahon, such words are old, but they carry more power and grace than you can imagine. They change lives. They heal hurts. And they breathe life into our world’s most broken and tragic places.

Yours are the hands

Christ has

No body now on earth but yours;

No hands but yours;

Yours are the eyes

Through which is to look out

Christ’s compassion to the world;

Yours are the feet

With which he is to go about

Doing good;

Yours are the hands

With which he is to bless now.

– St. Teresa of Avila

Our Eyes Need To Be Opened

How many of us have made the connection between the various forms of violence and the seemingly intractable poverty of the developing world?

I didn’t have a clue     ….until I read The Locust Effect.

Michael Choi’s comment on my last post reminded me that like many people, I just did not think about the causes of poverty, or the forces that were actually keeping people poor in the developing world. And yet:

  • My family sponsors a number of children through Compassion Australia. This wonderful program creates connections between supporters like us and the kids we sponsor. Right now, there are a few letters on our kitchen bench we can respond to. But here’s the thing: I had never seriously pondered the situation of the communities these children live in (Haiti and India), or that predatory coercive violence could be so pervasive in communities like these. I just didn’t think about it

I just didn’t think about it …

  • Our church family, the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, have special appeals for humanitarian aid. I had never considered that in several of these countries there are factors at work, evil things really, that are responsible for perpetuating poverty and oppression. What our church and others do is wonderful work, and I am not suggesting anything other. But what will all our aid and good will do if we do not address the plague that lies at the heart of many of these communities? Seriously, I had never considered that question. But hardly a day goes by now when it does settle uncomfortably somewhere in my consciousness
  • On my office desk, I have the smiling photograph of a young woman who was conned with the promise of a better life. The train she was placed on went to a different city than the one she thought she was travelling to. When she arrived, her traffickers snatched her away and threw her into a brothel. She is smiling now because IJM rescued her and then prosecuted those who so violently abused her. Even here, I knew the story, but I was not aware how pervasive violent acts like these were. I thought it was a near one off case. I was a universe away from reality. Fact: There are millions of young girls and women in similar situations every day all over the world. In the video below there is a story of yet another young girl: watch and consider the fear that must weigh on developing world communities.

There’s also an eye opening fact sheet to draw you into what ‘everyday’ means for the poor of the developing world. Read 5 Stunning Facts About Violence on The Locust Effect’s excellent website

We are not in their world. We don’t know. And most of the time, we don’t even know how to begin to know, or feel, or act. When the questions don’t occur to us, how will we ever want to seek answers?

So the global poor have no one to advocate for them because we’re so blindingly ignorant of their desperate plight.

This is why we need to know. This is why our eyes need to be opened.

So, watch the video. Read the facts.

Then consider:

  • How does this impact me? What does it get me thinking about?
  • What could I be doing differently in response?
  • Do you think church communities in more wealthy nations need to change they way they do overseas mission and aid in response to these issues?

Test yourselves… what?

Read: 2 Corinthians 13:5-10

I have often wondered about this verse: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.” I mean, wouldn’t I know whether I am in the faith? Don’t I know my own motives, whether I really do entrust myself to Jesus?

There will always be some who will say that ‘looking for evidence of faith in myself is man centred and therefore a false confidence. If this is where you are at, your problem is that Paul commands such self reflection. And if your view of Scripture is that it is God breathed, then you have to say the God commands it. So it seems to me that if God commands it, it is a very good thing to do. And perhaps any protestations about it being man centred are just duck shoving.

Who are you when no one’s looking?

Tom Wright helps us understand what is in view here:

“[Paul] suggests that they … should submit to a self test. Before he arrives, they would be well advised to run through a checklist of the signs that indicate whether Messiah’s life, his crucified and risen life, is present. For Paul, that is the very centre of what it means to be a Christian (see Romans 8.9-10 and Gal 2.20). When you look at yourself in the mirror, do you see someone in whom King Jesus is living and active, or someone who once knew him but now seems not to? When you listen to the sort of things you yourself say, does it sound like words that might have come from King Jesus himself, or are you simply talking the same way everyone else does? When you find yourself with your brother and sister Christians, do you respond to them as brothers and sisters, as people in whom you see King Jesus also living, or are they just ‘other people’? And when you settle down and quieten your mind and heart, to pray and wait for God, do you know and sense the presence, the life and the love of King Jesus close to you, within you, warming and sustaining, guarding and guiding, checking and directing you?

“These are searching tests, but they are the kind of thing Paul has in mind

[Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians, p.142-143]

Q: When no one is looking, does Jesus still rule your heart and dominate your thoughts?

Watch what God does, and then you do it

Read Eph 5:1-20

The command to ‘imitate God’ seems impossible to honour. How can failed and fallen human beings imitate God? True, but that’s not what Paul is getting at. He is asking us to imitate God in his values and character toward people and their world. This makes it more exciting than impossible, right?

The immediate context has to do with forgiveness and love, but as we move through the chapter we hear the writer dealing with the broad scope of life, and how relationship with Jesus transforms it.

Make no mistake, we do these things because God is making us new through Jesus, and because he is at work in us (Eph 3:14-21). God’s work through Jesus means the changes he calls us to are not impossible. What God calls us to attempt he will enable us to achieve.

With that in mind, here are a few questions to get you thinking about how you can watch what God does, and then start to do it:

* How can I show grace and forgiveness to those who have hurt me? Who are the people who are waiting for my words of grace? What will I do to bring grace in these situation?

* How can I help the people around me to thrive? What are their needs and how can I address them?

* How can I help my community to show grace to the poor, the needy, and the helpless?

* How can I help my neighbourhood to be a community that God would delight in? What needs to be done, or developed?

* What injustices are there around me, and how can I join others in addressing and correcting them?

Q: If we ere to do these things consistently, do you think Christians and the church would have more credibility?

Q: What other questions might be helpful as we consider this topic?