Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Dad's Wise Advice

When I was a young boy, one of the most profound pieces of advice my father ever gave to me was this:
Don’t form an opinion on someone based on the words of someone else.

For 20 odd years, I enjoyed playing cricket with various clubs. Every Saturday morning, I can still remember the smell of the fly repellent, the fresh dew on the grass at 8am, and chatting and laughing with my buddies. The regular butterflies in my stomach in some ways still haunt me as I prepared to pad up to face the first ball of the day. Whether I was out in the middle batting, bowling or fielding, or whether I was sitting with my team mates waiting to bat, cricket was great fun.

I recall my very first game at Llandilo against Nepean Youth Club. They were formidable opponents. We fielded first. When it was time to bat, I pleaded with Mr Hadler to let me open the batting. He accepted. I remember racing out to the middle to face the first ball. On a score of 1 run, my team mate hit the ball straight back to the bowler, and in my haste to be on strike, I started running. Much like most of my running between the wickets in my grade days, I was run out from an utterly suicidal attempt at a run. Ha! Those were fond memories.

With these pleasant memories, playing cricket for many years also exposed me to the dark side of the sport. It wasn’t the actual game that was ‘dark’, but rather the politics of the selections and so on. The politics of the game brought the worst out in people. Good mates would turn on one another, dragging down people who had nothing to do with the disagreement.

I can still recall the time when the Penrith Junior Cricket Association elected a new President, Mr Clarence. He revolutionised many aspects of the club, drawing new sponsors, innovations and interests in the club. These changes allowed more boys who did not make the first XI to be involved in representative cricket. I benefitted from this when I was in the Under 13s, playing in the IDCA comp that year.

With the revolutionary changes, though, came the opponents. Many people had negative things to say about Mr Clarence, some perhaps may have been warranted. Though, even when I was inclined to agree with the petty gossip, my father, however, was very quick to redirect me to think about the interactions I had had with Mr Clarence as opposed to blindly following what other people had to say about him. “Clarence seems alright to me”, my dad would say. “Don’t listen to what others say, Rhys”.

We humans have a nasty knack of blindly believing and following others. A great deal of the time, we are persuaded by the petty, agenda laden gossip, aimed at turning one against another. The poison tends be proceeded by a gentle and seductive, “You won’t believe what I heard…”. It’s in our workplaces, our clubs, all over the media and into our homes.

Now, take that poison we’ve all been dosed up with and consider how much of it has persuaded you and your perceptions about God. I wonder how much you truly know about what Christianity actually teaches about God? I wonder whether you have ever considered who God is and what He desires. We all have some theological understandings, from believing in an all-powerful deity, to believing in not believing in a deity, pardon my play on words. But, just how much have your perceptions about the divine been shaped by the unguided and misleading popular media. I wonder whether you’ve based these beliefs about God on what someone else has said rather than just listening to God himself.

One of the most provocative stories in the Bible is about the interaction between God and his first people, Adam and Eve. After crafting all that exists, God carefully and wonderfully created humans in his image (Genesis 1:26). God then placed the first humans into an abundant paradise, filled with sumptuous treasures. God personally related with them, protecting and providing for their every need.

As the story progresses, we meet the ultimate chaos agent, the serpent. Rather than being a faithful member of God’s creation, the serpent worked towards forming a wedge between God and his image bearers. The serpent, just like the gossipers we encounter day after day, whispered the most manipulative words – “Did God really say; He is holding you back from reaching your potential; You can be just like God!” Rather than trusting in the integrity of God first hand, the first humans rejected Him in open rebellion. They based their opinion of God on what someone else had told them.

To not know God is a product of our rebellion. To not seek to know God is an outworking of our rebellion. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss, but ignorance does not hold up in court. This world and everything in it belongs to God. You and I belong to God and a day of reckoning has been set when we will give an account for the way we have lived the life God has given us. This life only has meaning when we are plugged into following God’s plans and purposes. But how can one do this without knowing God and what He wants? Rather than rely on what God has said about himself, we tend to rely on what others have said about Him. I’m sure you’ve heard all too often, “God wouldn’t care if I did this”, or “God isn’t like that”. Honestly, how would you know whether God would care or what he’s like if you don’t even know Him?

My father’s wise words still ring true. Rather than go to someone else to know about God, a more productive thing to do would be to ask yourself what does God actually say about himself. Christians, for two thousand years, have believed that the Bible is the inspired words of God. They believe that if you want to know God, then reading the Bible is the answer as in it, God reveals himself through them, ultimately pointing to Jesus, God incarnate.

So, finally, what’s my point? The Bible has a huge amount to say about God and our relationship with Him. The challenge I have for you is do you actually know what the Bible has to say about God? Have you ever sat down and actually studied it? Are you going to take ‘my dad’s wise advice’ and take God for face value, or will you rely on what others have said about Him?

Psalm 100 - Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture….. For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Have a Merry Christmas

Monday, December 14, 2015

Immortality: There can be only one!

Have you ever seen the movie, “Highlander”? It was a pretty entertaining movie starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery.

The premise of Highlander: Once, there lived men and women who possessed the ability to live forever. The only way these people could die was to be decapitated. The ultimate goal of these individuals, however, was to kill one another until only one was remaining, whom would receive the prize of mortality.

The movie does something so interesting. It takes something we all desire, that being the ability to postpone death, and then the movie twists it. Instead of living forever, these people wanted to die.

The movie is a bit of Hollywood fun, but, I’m sure you don’t really want to die. Like you, I don’t want to die, nor do I want to see the ones I love die. But, sadly death is a reality; one that seems unescapable.

However, what if I told you that you could live forever? Would you take it?

What if I told you your loved ones could live forever? Would you want it for them as well?

I was reading the bible this morning and I found this verse:
In the way of righteousness there is life;Along that path is immortality (Proverbs 12:28)
Immortality can be ours!!! All we need to be is righteous. Simple, right?

The Hebrew and Greek words used in the bible for “righteous”, basically mean “innocent”. To have immortality, you need to be innocent.

Do you know anyone who is innocent? Do you know someone who has never told a lie, stolen something, hated someone, looked at porn, been drunk, cheated someone or so on and so on? I sure have not known anyone like this, including me.

The Good News is that God has made it possible for the guiltiest of us to have immortality:
The righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Romans 3:22)
Like you, I’m not innocent. Therefore, according to the Christian Bible, I don’t deserve immortality. But the verse from Romans states that God can make you and me innocent. This innocence comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

So, back to that question from before – Do you want to live forever? You can have it. It comes through faith, or trust, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yes, we will still die in this life, but death will not keep us. There is hope. Rather than death, we can have life after death. Additionally, God promises that life after death will take place in a perfect paradise! A paradise where people will know and love God and a place where people with love one another perfectly.

You can be immortal! I want it; you want it. Even, your family can have immortality. Why not share this amazing news about Jesus with your family this Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christmas: A great time to reflect

Christmas is here again. Along the same lines as Ricky Bobby explained in Talladega Nights, it’s time to give thanks for Baby Jesus!

In days gone by, before the ideology of “Political Correctness” took a grip on Western Society, Christmas was about remembering the arrival of the promised King, Jesus.

Now, Christmas is a great time to stop and reflect on what Christians actually believe about this man named Jesus.

So, Christians believe: 
  • God created the Universe and everything in it, including us
    • The picture at the beginning of the bible is that of God loving, providing, caring for, protecting, teaching etc his people
    • In turn, as the creator, God is to be worshipped; put first in our lives; loved; revered; enjoyed, honoured

  • All of humanity has rejected God
    • We have made for ourselves other gods that take the place of the true creator God
      • In the past, humans worshipped the stars, statues, animals etc
      • Now, we worship money, sport, alcohol, power, status, technology, sex and the list goes on
        • This is called sin. We separate ourselves from God
        • As a result, we die spiritually and eventually physically
  • God puts into effect a plan to rescue his people whom he created and loves
    • This is what the Old Testament in your bible is all about
      • God will come and rescue His people from their sin

  • Jesus is God, the creator of the universe and rescuer of his people
    • About 2 000 years ago, a baby was born
      • This baby was the promised King, the fulfilment of the Old Testament

  • Jesus lived the perfect life and died a sinners death
    • Jesus did not sin, yet he died

  • Jesus rose from the grave
    • Although he died, he was resurrected bodily
      • Completing the rescue mission

  • God’s people, Christians, have eternal life after death
    • The Christian’s sins were paid for by Jesus’s death on the cross
    • Jesus defeated death by rising again
      • Christians will be raised like Jesus was when he returns

  • Jesus saved us so that we can live for him
    • The New Testament explains what this looks like

In summary, Christmas is a great time to reflect upon Jesus and the true Christian message.

When you reflect, I wonder whether you agree these eight points and how they have or have not shaped your life.

If these have not shaped your life, start celebrating because Christmas is all about new beginnings and fresh starts in the King, Jesus.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas and Gifts

If you are like me at this time of the year, you are probably thinking about gifts, family and what gift to give to which person.
Consider this, for a moment. There is a deeply moving scene in the Gospel of Mark, where we encroach upon a meeting between Jesus and some men. Suddenly, a poor woman enters, approaching Jesus while he sat, conversing with his company. The woman, who by entering into the presence of these men bravely violated many traditions, broke open an alabaster flask of ointment and poured it over Jesus.

This gesture of generosity washes quickly over our heads. Please understand a couple of key points here. Firstly the woman was poor; secondly, she broke open an alabaster flask and, thirdly, she poured the contents over Jesus’s body.

COOL FACT 1: An alabaster flask was a type of ancient jar, usually sealed, used for holding oils, perfumes and ointments. Alabaster was an expensive and rare material, similar to calcium and marble.

COOL FACT 2: The ointment, contained in the flask which the woman poured on Jesus, was nard, which too, was very expensive. It was used for moisturising, deodorising and comforting a guest after a long journey on foot.

In Mark, we see a poor woman, breaking open an expensive, precious flask, then pouring the valuable, most costly contents over Jesus. This, as I hope you see, is a huge sacrifice for a woman with very little. It’s like someone off the street, taking a bottle of Clive Christian’s Imperial Majesty Perfume, worth more than $200 000, taking it to some person they’ve probably never met, and pouring it over them in one hit.

Hint, hint - Christmas and gifts. Fret not, I’m not asking you to buy me a bottle of Imperial Majesty Perfume; I’m not even asking you to focus on the woman’s gesture. In actual fact, I want you to consider the woman’s most sacrificial motive.

By breaking the alabaster flask and pouring the ointment over Jesus’s feet, the woman is making a huge statement. More valuable than a rare and precious material or an expensive perfume, what Jesus offers is something that is far more treasured than anything else in our lives. Jesus offers us eternal life with him.

What the woman saw in Jesus was more than just a “nice guy” with some cool teachings. More deeply, she saw God, giving the ultimate gift: His life instead of ours – on the cross – suffering for those who trust him.

Now, this Christmas, while you do all your Christmas shopping, take some time to remember what the woman saw in Jesus. Remember the ultimate gift, waiting for you in Jesus!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Jesus and Santa: Are they connected?

As Christmas is just around the corner, I thought I might share a couple of musings with you. One could be fooled into thinking that Santa and Jesus share something in common. They do both seem to be celebrated over the Christmas period. But, is there really a substantial connection between the two, or is it all just coincidence?

Growing up, I always thought Jesus and Santa must be connected. I believed that Jesus was born the King of Israel and Santa brought presents to celebrate his birth. If I was good, like Jesus wanted, I would receive a present from Santa. Perhaps, that is the connection between Jesus and Santa? Santa is Jesus' kind of henchman, delivering presents to 'good' god-fearing people, right? 

Obviously, this connection is not the case. Jesus and Santa, as you will clearly see, share nothing in common and I would like to demonstrate how. Let’s do a comparison between the two:

Jesus died on the cross to give eternal life to those who don’t deserve it.
Santa gives gifts to only those who are good, those who deserve it; he gives coal to bad people.
Jesus teaches that all are unworthy (essentially evil).
Santa teaches that some of us are good and some are bad.
Jesus is loving towards those who don’t deserve it.
Santa is judgemental and intolerant.
Jesus is a historical figure. He lived, died and rose again to bring his followers to worship God.
Santa is a myth, perpetrated by and proclaimed to bring glory to the false god of consumerism.

Clearly, Jesus and Santa, theologically and ideologically speaking, are opposed to one another. And, obviously, no one actually follows Santa, religiously speaking, unlike Jesus. But, each year, children are, I'll label, indoctrinated into waiting for this big fat man to arrive. They are taught that if they are good, they will receive a gift. Whereas Jesus calls on us to rely and trust in him. Santa is worshipped as some sort of hero, thus robbing Jesus from his glory and honour. It sounds a little extreme, but just consider these things for awhile. 

So, who will you celebrate, or encourage your kids to celebrate this Christmas? Will it be a historical, generous man, who gave his life for you? Or will it be a big, fat, intolerant, judgemental man, who does not really exist?

In conclusion, Jesus offers to those who don’t deserve it eternal life; that’s you and me!! The error in the thinking or ideology behind “Santa” is the same error the Religious Leaders of Jesus time fell into, that being that God only accepts good people.
Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?"(John 5:45-47)
In Moses, you have the Ten Commandments. No one can keep these, but in Jesus, the God-Man, we can be rescued by his death on the cross. Why not, this Christmas, celebrate the birth of your saviour, Jesus, the King of the Universe!