Hope.

“There is much that could depress us as we read the newspapers or look into our hearts, but those who know that Jesus is alive will always have hope, even in the most depressing circumstances. Jesus Christ is Lord! He has the power to change us now, so that we begin to be the people we long to be. And one day he will return to rid the world of all the ravages of sin.
Christ is risen!”
– Vaughan Roberts

Everything I Needed

“I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for prosperity and God gave me brawn and brains to work.
I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome.
I asked for patience and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.
I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help.
I asked for favors and God gave me opportunities.
I asked for everything so I could enjoy life.

Instead, He gave me life so I could enjoy everything.
I received nothing I wanted, I received everything I needed. “

– Unknown

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Didn’t Even Think Twice.

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I was just chilling in Matthew 27 last night and a bit throughout the week and I realised how much gold there is in that passage. Often we just take it as the classic easter story but don’t see how tragic and glorious it is in the same moment. A story of remorse, suicide, envy, but also of freedom and forgiveness.

Let’s just set the scene for a bit. Jesus has been rubbing the religious rulers up the wrong way with his teaching and healing. All throughout his ministry they’ve been trying to catch him out with cleverly worded questions but he’s always evaded their trap to also confront the problems in their heart. Go have a read, Jesus wasn’t a particularly polite or ‘politically correct’ individual. He actually was quite offensive. That’s why that wanted to get rid of him.

And all along through all this conflict, Jesus’ closest friends have been trying to figure out who he is. And often they got it wrong. Even as he told them what was going to happen they didn’t understand.

So we come to the trial. The religious rulers have convinced one of Jesus’ closest friends, Judas, to betray him. They place him before the high priest, just keep in mind this guys was pretty highly respected amongst God’s people. He’d been put in place to mediate between God and Israel. They seek out false testimony’s, people they know are lying about Jesus. They try to get him to say something himself:

“I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”(Matt 26:63)

Oh the irony! The one who is God in the flesh, being asked under the oath of his own name, to “blaspheme” against himself. So here he goes:

“You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt 26:64).

And they condemn him. Calling his truth a lie and beating, mocking and abusing him. Here sits our God, abused and rejected by his creation, with those that claimed to be his closest friends denying that they ever knew him (Matt 26:69-75).
So now that they’ve got their juicy piece of evidence they march him off to the Roman governor to present their case.

As this is all going down. The guy that betrayed Jesus has been experiencing a deep remorse about what he’s done. He goes and tries to return the blood money, only to be refused and having the guilt pushed back upon him. So he killed himself. I imagine it is out of remorse that he does so, his response to his own sin is one of helplessness.

Pilate has before him a man, that he knows was brought to him by a people plagued by envy(Matt 27:18) and whom Pilate’s wife professes to be innocent (Matt 27:19). So what does he do? He does his best to keep his hands clean and decides that giving the crowd an obvious choice would solve this dilemma. He brings out Barabbas, a prisoner, notorious for his crimes and standing him beside Jesus. He says:

“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”

Falling to the pressure of their own leaders, the same that delivered him over, they ask for Barabbas. Here is where I had my moment. Can you imagine, standing there as Barabbas. You know you deserve to be crucified, you may have heard of Jesus, you haven’t done anything particularly nice to him. You know you’re hated, that everyone is aware of what you’ve done. You’re notorious. And your death sentence is passed onto someone else. Would you even think twice? I know I wouldn’t. I know my heart would be filled with such gratitude and thanksgiving. My underserving life free, and an innocent one condemned. Jesus goes on to be flogged, scourged, mocked and killed, while Barabbas walks the streets a free man.

Now, I had not the greatest of weeks last week. I was thinking too much. And I realised as I read this and talked about it that I was thinking too much about the wrong things. I’d been sulking in my sin. Sitting in my own mess, concluding there was nothing I could do. Being a bit like Judas, helpless in sin. This in a sense is right, we can’t do anything to free ourselves but that’s not the end of the story. There is a great gift of life you have placed before you. I can’t imagine Barabbas, after being freed, moping around the streets going on and on about how undeserving he is. I would think he’d be dancing, constantly remembering the guy who took it all for him, and joyfully sharing that with other people because he knows he is undeserving. What a relief, what a burden taken off my shoulders. To know that though I fail all the time, he never did. His righteousness is mine, while my sin was laid on him.

” I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than the watchman for the
morning,
more than watchmen for the
morning.”
Psalm 130:3-6

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.” Robert Frost

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It’s been quite the while since I’ve written something. Partly because I’ve taken on a few new roles but also because I’ve encountered new struggles and dilemmas to ponder and overcome.  At times I thought I’d come to a conclusion or solved some of them, then I’d start writing and realise I hadn’t. But in time I’m sure I’ll come to understand these things better, if not completely.

I’ve just returned from a month gallivanting around the United States with my family. It was an amazing trip but it also presented massive challenges. Being with your family and only your family for an entire month is tough. I have to admit that for the most part we were waking up early and busy doing things all day. I found it hard to stop, sit down and dwell on God’s word and pray. It taught me the value of putting God’s word to memory. Many times bringing a verse to mind and meditating on it was all I felt I had the energy and time to do, and I found it most helpful.

I was also blessed with a letter a week from my boyfriend, who wrote me a devotion in each one. Each brought me to pray and pointed me back to Christ. One in particular helped. We were at the point in our trip where we were all at each others throats and patience and kindness was sorely needed on my behalf in the least. It was Luke 20:19-26. The chief priests, who are constantly following Jesus around looking for a fault, question him about whether or not to pay taxes. Jesus asks them whose image the coin bears. And they said, “Caesar’s”. Then Jesus said:

“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. (v25)

But what bears the image of God? The answer is that you do. I do. We all do! So we should give ourselves to God. This reminded me that my family are also made in the image of God. They are precious, loved and saved by Him. Bought with the blood of his own son. So I need to treat them like that, giving myself to God and serving others selflessly.

I was also reading Little Women at the time. It might sound silly, but I’ve come to learn from their lessons. I was struck by how their mother lead them towards their Creator when they struggled with their faults. When Jo struggled with her temper she prayed for help to hold her tongue. When Meg struggled with a love of material wealth, she drew comfort knowing that she has a Heavenly Father that provides and loves her. When you’re around your family in close quarters for long periods of time, your flaws tend to come out. Sometimes you feel helpless to change yourself. But I drew comfort in the knowledge that I’m not on my own, Christ is working to transform me, to make me more like him. And it is through his word that we are changed. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”(Hebrews 4:12). I also dwelt on the knowledge that:

“He who began a good work in you [believers] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Phil 1:6.

Finally, I saw so many wondrous things and some brought me to stand in utter awe at the glory, wonder, enormity and power of my God. As I stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and flew over the Napali Coast in Kauai, I was blown away by what God had created with his very words. As I stood next to the roaring Niagara falls, I trembled at the power, it’s expanse and strength in the knowledge that my God is greater and just, but also compassionate and merciful.

There were also things that made me inherently sad. The people enslaved to their addictions in Vegas, sitting for hours in casinos fed on a false hope that grows their lust of money but never satisfies. A city plagued by prostitution and the cultivation of pleasure. Though it’s easy to blame the place, the issue is really the human heart, seeking to satisfy itself.

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
Romans 1:24

It pervades the whole earth, not just Vegas. I prayed that in their dissatisfaction they’d realise they are using the wrong things in an attempt to quench their need and that they’d find satisfaction and pleasure in God. I was really encouraged by how many street preachers and evangelists were there. Proclaiming hope to those that parade around proud of their sin. But we need this in every city.

This leads me to one of my dilemmas. I’ve struggled to understand exactly what tolerance is. Our world proclaims it as the highest of virtues and it does on the surface seem to bring peace and harmony. But does God call us to it? In Vegas, I found it so hard to be ok with people buying others for their own gratification, throwing their money away and revelling in such ‘pleasure’. But tolerance says that we’re to just leave them to their ways. I can’t just stand by and see people buy into a lie that will never satisfy, that will provide temporary pleasure but eternal pain.

It saddens me that the world preaches this as it’s highest virtue: to let people do what they want regardless of your knowledge of the consequence. I think tolerance is selfish. BUT, that doesn’t mean to disrespect, look down upon or abuse others. By all means, respect others. They are all made in the image of God, his precious creation. Love them. But is it loving to leave them to fumble around blindly looking for God? To renounce your calling as a believer?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Matthew 28:18-20.

Well, those have been my thoughts the past few months. I’ve learnt so much this year even though I didn’t come to any dramatic conclusions. If you’re a believer, I would like to encourage you to continue to live differently in this world spurred on by the word of God. And if you’re not a believer, to have a read of God’s word and see what he’s offering you. It’s well worth it.

Sex and the iWorld

For most of the week just past I’ve been blessed to spend it with a bunch of Christians from my uni addressing topics such as sex, marriage, dating, pornography and homosexuality. So much was said and so much discussed, all of which is more than relevant in our sex-saturated iWorld culture of individual choice, freedom and fulfilment. Justine Toh, whose work can be access here, came and spoke about her research in this area. Before I begin, please excuse the ramble that will probably result due to the huge amount of things I would like to say. Onwards…

The iWorld is basically what we live in now. It’s an understanding of the self as autonomous and self crafted. So when that comes to relationships and love, it becomes liquid in the sense that it’s not grounded. People desire relationship but fear it becoming a burden on their own self-creation. Relationship, desire and love are ambivalent, essentially mixed blessings.

What are the implications of such a culture?

Firstly, Sex is seen as key to meaning and fulfilment, and relationships as a form of self-realisation. Love and relationships are commoditized, we sell ourselves to each other so as to meet our own needs.

Secondly, bodily attraction becomes central to identity. Sexualisation has become a symbol of maturation. Women have power on the condition that they objectify themselves, they volunteer as sexual objects.
Why? Because they are surrounded by a sexualised culture within which pornography is normal. Pornography re-wires your brain (actually, for real) causing men to see women as sexualised and developing expectations that reduce their response to a real woman. Not only that but these porn stars are enslaved by the desires of porn users (just check out research on the porn industry).
This redefining of sex and relationship has sifted into our expectations of our experiences in the world. Just as an example, porn stars got brazilian waxes because it made them look younger, this is now a normal element of feminine beauty.

So how do I respond to such a movement? 

As a Christian I am free. But when you choose freedom from something, you also choose freedom for something. In the iWorld these people choose freedom from others and for themselves. But does it satisfy? They long for unconditional love and don’t even give it themselves. They long for freedom for self-creation but does that satisfy?

“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves to righteousness.”

Romans 6:17-18

In Christ, I am so blessed to know I am freed from sin. You were made with a purpose and that is to live and glorify the Maker and Creator. Life works best the way it was made to work.

“Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

Romans 6:22

The self within the iWorld is a horizontal self which ebbs and flows around peers and culture. The Christian has a vertical self, wherein our identity is in Christ who remains and always is faithful. Our horizontal self then just falls into place. The Christian community is like a body, moving and working together in unity, each member with a unique purpose within it. When we’ve accepted the grace offered us in Christ, we are called to love and serve others.

So what does this have to say about sex then? 

The iWorld preaches self creation and portrays people as objects of that process. So in terms of relationship, sex is just a contract that can easily be broken when it no longer serves it’s purpose.

For the Christian, sex is within the context of a covenant, not a contract. It’s an expression of unity and promise. So much so that “the two shall become one flesh”(Genesis 2:24). It isn’t an opportunity to get something for yourself but rather to redirect your self-interest to the other. “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:28). Love is an act of sacrificial service, it is not an emotion that comes and goes.

Beautiful, but Deadly.

Courtesy to Mathiole (DevientArt)

So many things in this world are aesthetically pleasing but potentially deadly. Brightly coloured plants, flowers and animals scatter the earth that could end our lives if we made direct contact. Often I marvel at these things in creation, beautifully and wonderfully made by my opinion.

They also come to mind when I consider the spread of the gospel. Throughout Paul’s letters in the New Testament he often warns new churches against sugar-coated messages. The genius that allows these messages to survive is that they contain just enough of the truth within them that they could be seen as plausible despite being spiritually deadly. We live in a time where “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suite their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

I see these churches that include false messages and promises growing rapidly. People are drawn to them because they appeal to their passions. Often these churches grow faster and larger than those that preach the straight truth.

Why is that? Wouldn’t people want to hear the truth? The gospel is essentially offensive. Since “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel”(2 Cor 4:4) we can often be discouraged by our efforts to spread the word in light of the growth in these other churches. But Paul urges that since “this ministry is by the mercy of God, we of not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-3).

In sadness I have seen friends committing their lives to Christ in these churches that have promised things such as healing, earthly comfort and wealth and on seeing none of these fulfilled have been disoriented, discouraged and essentially lost all confidence in our Lord. So I urge you, as Paul does in his letters to “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, so the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:5). Be aware of the teachings in your church and test them against the word of God.

As an interesting aside, if this interests you, Cole Brown has written a short and relevant account of his challenge to his church. It’s called Lies My Pastor Told Me, Cole pulls apart these lies, often common amongst these churches, using  gospel evidence. Check it out, the e-book is free to download here.

Understanding the Times

Jacek Yerka

Writing about time leaves open a huge realm of surrealist art, which is something that I personally love. If you like that kind of stuff as well, I recommend Jacek Yerka, who created the beautiful image above. Anyway, on with the post….

Understanding the times seems to be a common quest amongst us, who strive to become a meaningful and acknowledged part of the world. We constantly want to be able to predict things, to understand things and to do that seeing the patterns and coming to conclusions is the way to go, yes?

Tonight I was reminded of where my own answers to such desires comes from. As Jesus addressed a crowd of the curious and uncommitted he said,

“Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”

Luke 12:56

Jesus came as the fulfilment of centuries of promises from God. These people have been waiting for this King. Here he stands before them speaking with powerful words that he supports with powerful actions. Before this passage Luke had recorded a huge array of these phenomenal acts. Jesus had cast out demons (Luke 4:33-37), healed a leper (Luke 5:12-16), forgave sins ( Luke 5:20), healed the paralytic (Luke 5:22-26) and raised the dead ( Luke 7:11-17; 8:47-56), just to name a few.

His works were so mind-blowing that even his enemies would not deny them, but instead sought to question by what authority he did them. You can imagine that that would be why so many curious people are drawn to him.

Why did he come? Jesus came bearing a message. One that holds profound significance for us today.

Jesus came to inform humanity that they are in debt. God has turned up on our doorstep to inform us that we’ve committed an offence for which our fine is still outstanding. He’s created us, made this world, gave us life and we’ve ignored him. Often, we’re not even thankful for what we have. I definitely know I’m guilty of this.

So what do you do? Jesus says:

“While you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Luke 12: 58-59

The only way to get out of your debt, is to accept the deal Jesus has offered you. To our trust in the payment his death is on your behalf. The next bit of the passage may be a bit perplexing but let’s try and unpack it. Some people tell Jesus of some tragedies that have occurred: some people who were killed. He responds:

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish”

Luke 13:3

That comes across as a little insensitive, right? It seems like these people did nothing to deserve their sudden deaths. But what Jesus is getting at is that these people, and everyone else, don’t really deserve anything. Everything we receive is a merciful gift from God. Every moment a gift given in the hope that we will take him up on his offer.

So God is patient and merciful. I need to learn to remember that all that I have, I don’t deserve. This is something you should seriously think about too. Have you understood the times?