The Moon Is Round

A 14 year old girl who was slowly decaying from cancer was asked by her family to keep a journal. When she died, they found a note that said: “The moon is round.” As they read your journal they learnt that she meant that even when you can only see a sliver of the moon, you still know it is round. In the same way, she knew that even though she couldn’t fully understand what was going on, that God was sovereign.

That was an illustration in a talk over KEC 2012 that I was really encouraged by. I went back this year to yet again serve the senior high kids and they in turn were such an encouragement to me. One of them said one day, that in our busy city lives, when we look up at the stars we can’t see them. But when you strip away the busyness, head out into the country and lie in the middle of a field, all the glory of God’s creation is stretched out before you and you can’t help but marvel. I was so encouraged to not let my earthly life cloud my vision of God’s immense holiness and wonder.

As we sat together under the word of God we were blown away by the infinite becoming intimate as God transfers his holiness to us as we are made right by God and for God. (Isaiah 6:1-9). And how perceiving truly his holiness we should be driven to our deeds as we see the horror of our sin. We learnt how unfair the truth is. That Christ would lovingly save his enemies from what they deserved, so that we can have no punishment, no penalty but peace (Romans 5:1-11). So that even in suffering, we can have tears of joy, knowing we are united in Christ and that even our sin and shame can’t prevent him from loving us.

Even though God will continue to forgive us our sins, this grace is not a licence to sin. Instead, the old person that we were is crucified along with Christ so that we bear condemnation no more. We are made a new creation, born again, united with Christ in his resurrection. Our new selves are called to do things that are not to our earthly advantage, but these earthly risks are for eternal values. No longer does God dwell separate from us but instead with us, as the Holy Spirit, no longer slaves to sin, we are empowered to face and overcome sin. (Romans 6:1-14)

We have a God who is faithful to his promises, Merciful to his people and so we endure in the hope we have been given and are driven to share that hope.

As we were talking in our discussion group, someone said, “But we’re young and often I don’t feel equipped to tell people what I believe.” Someone pulled out Job 32:6-10:

“And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said:
I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you.
I said,’Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.’
But it is the spirit in man,
the breath of the Almighty, that
makes him understand.
It is not the old who are wise,
nor the aged who understand what
is right.
Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion.’

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Doubts, Questions, Queries, Thoughts…

Just because I know you’re out there, I thought I’d just remind you that the ‘Itching Questions’ tab still exists.

I absolutely love questions. Even when I can’t answer them, they open an opportunity for thought.

Don’t be intimidated because I don’t know anywhere near everything and I never will.

Don’t be afraid because my aim isn’t to cut you down but to draw light on your questions/thoughts from the Bible.

Don’t hesitate because you might learn something you didn’t know before.

Don’t hold back because getting into the depths of the Bible is something I find fascinating and I can guarantee it’s worthwhile.

So there, hopefully that’s reason enough to just ask away.

Life, Death and Everything in Between so far…

I’ve just come back from serving a church alongside a group of students from uni. During those few days, a number of us shared how they came to know Christ and how God has been working in their lives. It made me realise the value of testimonies to reveal the power of God in your life. I’ve never really thought about my testimony, and when one of the team members asked me about it I decided it would be valuable if I had a go at it. Most people when presenting their testimony centre it around a certain period in their life but I’m just going to give it a go.

To begin with I think I’ve always been a Christian, I grew up in a Christian family and many of my extended family are also believers. There has not been a moment when I would deny having faith. I asked my Mum this morning if she remembers if there was a time in my childhood when I came to trust Jesus. She said that as early as three years old I told her I was friends with Jesus. So my story is one of periods of growth rather than massive leaps in understanding.

Through my early days Jesus Christ was my friend, I learnt about him and I prayed to him. I understood him as my protector and someone who loved me. My father had a significant role in the youth group programs at our church so I tagged along and hung out with the big kids, some of which I’ve run into in recent years. We moved when I was about 5 so I could start at a Christian school. At this stage I ignorantly assumed that everyone knew Jesus and I distinctly remember being confused that one of my friends in my class didn’t believe in God.

Moving into high school I was confident in my faith. I changed into the public system and confronted many things I hadn’t really been aware of before. Most of my friends had broken families, some had alcoholic parents. God really used me in these early days, I started high school without any friends and as I made them I brought them along to youth. I have to admit I invited them partly because there were few people in my age group but now I can see the transformations God has made in these people. I became so confident in my faith that I started inviting people to church that I would normally never speak to. In Christian Education classes I had noticed some of the ‘popular’ girls were asking hugely profound questions so I gave them John Dickson books and invited them to youth, although none of them came I prayed that they’d read the books.

As I reached mid high school, I was on fire for God. I revelled in his word and often shared it with others. I read it with people at school in recess times and prayed with people when they struggled. When my friends, even non-Christians, faced issues such as abortion and family struggles they’d come to me and ask me what my God said about it. I prayed for them.

When I was in year 10, I was at a stage where I felt most stable and established in life. I was getting amazing marks, I had a great group of friends, I had just been elected into the prefect team for the following year. Life was going amazingly. I was counting down the days to my 16th, when reality reared its ugly head.

I remember distinctly sitting in a meeting about our prefect induction, I was totally pumped about my birthday that weekend when my friend turns to me and tells me the news. All morning people had been talking about a car accident a few suburbs over, but she told me that it was one of my friends from primary school that had died in it. At 15, I had confronted death before, but only that of my grandparents which in a sense is more natural. It was one of those surreal moments when the news became a reality. So often i would let these tragedies just roll
over me but now when i hear them. i think of the effect this had on her family and friends and I pray for those affected.
This was someone who was the same age as me, who I knew, who I had grown up with and was just like me, I had learnt to ski with her and holidayed with her. She was someone who trusted Jesus just like I did.

I spent the rest of the week struggling with the injustice and the fragility of life. I was confronted with the concept that all the plans I had for my life could be thwarted just as easily. Her family all followed Christ, she had followed Christ, so why did she die? I didn’t go to school but instead I searched through my Bible and read every passage on death and eternal life. And one that stayed with me and I meditated on for hours was Job 1:21:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will depart.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;

may the name of the Lord be praised.”

I came not just to know but to deeply understand what was valuable in life. The life I had built up around me and the achievements I placed value in meant nothing in comparison to the eternal value of salvation in Christ. The death of my friend brought to light all the things I took for granted and the fragility of life on earth but also it revealed what is important in life. Every year on the day that she died, my best friend and I pray together and thank God for her and what He has taught us and we praise Him for what he has blessed us with. It’s a constant reminder that I’m not in control of my life but He is. That by his grace I am alive in this world and I should use that life to glorify Him instead of building up my own empire.

As I entered my senior years I was well aware of my desires to do really well and set a goal to keep going to youth, Bible Study and church regardless of how stressed I felt. The HSC year was one of the hardest for me. I’m one of those people that places pressure on themselves to get high grades, so when teachers started using their scare tactics it lead to a number of emotional breakdowns. During that year, my relationship with God fell into a routine that fit in between my study, instead of being the centre of my life, it became the peripheral that calmed my breakdowns.

When I reached the end of the HSC I realised how I had compartmentalised God. He was still a part of my life but I didn’t entirely trust him with everything, and I had been seeking approval and respect from my peers through my grades. I started to struggle with bouts of guilt which plagued me throughout my first year of uni as well. During this time I was really challenged by Pauls attitude in Philippians:

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
Philippians 3:7-9

I noticed how my Bible readings had become shallow and so I started this blog, where I planned to post things that forced me to reflect on the word of God. The funny thing is, I started this blog with selfish intentions – to enrich my personal relationship with God, to feel that fire I had in my early years of high school. It was about satisfying myself. But then, a friend of mine started asking me questions about my beliefs, I began the “Itching Questions” tab for him. And as he questioned me, I had to do research of my own and I came to learn and understand that my purpose in life was not to merely satisfy myself, but to find that satisfaction by seeking to glorify Jesus Christ and through that I would find fulfillment and all that I needed.

Late last year, my Nonna grew very ill. She had a heart attack and miraculously survived but still with great suffering. She was a faithful follower of Jesus but a hater of the medical industry. She refused to get help so as a family we took turns looking after her. During that time, I prayed really hard and often for her. She was someone I really loved and respected, she had always seemed strong and invincible to the extent that her heart attack at 92 came as a surprise.

For months, all my aunties and uncles took turns babysitting her. She often had difficulty sleeping and would often wake up crying out to God to stop her suffering. It was a great time of tension and conflict with many family disagreements and regrets. Just when she was looking better she had her second heart attack early this year. I spent many hours by her hospital bed. I read her Psalms and sometimes we’d sing her hymns. She moved in and out of consciousness. Even through these times she cared more for her kids and grandchildren than herself. She would asked me if I was hungry or wanted something to drink even if the breathes it took to say the words caused her pain and energy. In her struggles I was shown a woman who through her own suffering, continued to be self-sacrificial, placing the well-being of others before her own even on her death bed.

As her hours grew short, we were given a private room. Most of the extended family were there – and there’s a lot of us – a classic Italian family. Each of us were permitted to speak our last words to her alone. It is one of the most vivid memories of my life, trying to form the words to say what she meant to me. Instead, I held her hand and watched her short breathes, praising God for blessing this world with such an amazing woman and prayed that I could learn her self-sacrificial ways. Her death came as a comfort for me, because she loved Christ and her life was given to serve him. It is amazing the comfort in death Christians can have even to the extent that Paul struggled to choose between which was better, life or death:

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
Philippians 1:21-24

Heading to University was the next stage and joining the Christian group there has lead me to realise that I had placed God in a grid and as I read his word I squished, twisted and folded it to fit what I wanted it to say. This year as I reflect on what I’ve learnt, I realise that the people I have met have challenged me to read God’s word for what it has to say, not what I want it to say.

After the conference I attended just a few days ago, Rory Shiner forced me to come head to head with my bouts of guilt. I had been struggling with the idea that I continually fail and don’t deserve God’s grace. I had fallen into the trap of trying to deal with these things thinking that it would make Christ accept me.

Rory preached from Romans 6:15-23. I realised that in Christ I am no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to righteousness. I had been freed from sin, but I had become the slave that still responds to her old master even though sin no longer owns me. Christ bought me at a price and freed me from sin so I no longer have to respond to it. Such a burden off my shoulders! So there’s a brief rendition of my testimony, I hope you are encouraged by the way God has worked in my life and I encourage you to think about your own testimony too.

One Life. Don’t Waste It.

Last night I was at the Entertainment Centre in Sydney with 10, 000 other people getting my world turned upside down by God’s word. Before I reflect, I recommend that if you missed out and have $4 to spare that you go here and buy the mp3 of the talks so your perception of life and purpose can be radically challenged too. Otherwise, continue reading.

Piper began his talk with Luke 13:1-5…

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Saloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will perish.”

Now in the place of those tragedies, place a more recent tragedy, say a tsunami or 9/11. These people are asking Jesus, why do these people suffer or die in these unjust ways? What did they do to deserve this? It’s the classic cry out to God when there’s pain. If there was a God, and he cared, why is there this suffering?

Then Piper turned it around, why don’t we thank God for everything good? Why do we only seem to recognise his presence when stuff goes wrong. Now look at Jesus’ answer to their cry: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Think of it this way, we’ve rejected the divine creator, and since our God is just, that means we deserve no less than hell.  So really, God can do us no wrong. We shouldn’t assume a suffering free life, but rather the opposite. Every moment, every breathe is a blessing, a blessing we don’t deserve. So if you flip it, be grateful it wasn’t you in that tragedy, it could’ve been, but you’ve been given more time. If you can’t even assume your next breathe, how do you make the most of the time you have?

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  James 4:14

You get one chance, one life and then judgement. It’s that final. You need to feel and consider the weight of the choice. Jesus has said “Unless you repent, you too will perish”. The unwasted life is the repented life. It’s the life that sees that God has made a way out through Jesus and so puts Jesus on display in everything that you do.

When you look around, the general understanding of the unwasted life seems to be: the accumulation of stuff. But will that stuff comfort you on your deathbed? Or would you feel more confident in death if you knew that the suffering of this world was gone and you have done what you can to make your life contribute to the glory of the new life you are entering into.

“Only one life, it will soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Christians have this weird way of seeing life and death:

“I eagerly expect and hope that i will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life, or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

Philippians 1:20-21

The unwasted life (and death) is one that is the telescope for others to see God through. The fact of the matter is, you can’t ignore God and be ok. It’s such a final decision, there’s no fence sitting, it’s an acceptance or a rejection. You don’t want to get to heaven and think “If I knew it was going to be like this, I would’ve invested more.”

If life and death are given to us as a means of displaying the supreme value of Jesus,  Why do Christians still suffer? Why doesn’t God bless them in every way so that everyone can see that being a follower of Christ means a better life? Check this out:

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”
2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Our weaknesses as well as our blessings are a means to glorify God. To show contentment in trial, persecution, difficulties because we know that this is only for this short life, is more of a testament of Christ’s power than if our lives were perfection.

I’ll leave it there for now. At the conference they encouraged us to share our resolutions, in light of a message this radical, one needs to reflect on the changes they should make in their lives. To help out here is a website where they can suggest some resolutions or you can add your own and they email you a reminder to see how you’re going.

Certainty in a World in Which Everything is Relative

This post kind of is an extension onto “Is there anything out there?” that I posted a few weeks ago. I got a little excited about it and posted a little spoiler earlier. So here’s some more on the subject if you’re interested.

So to sum up what the previous post said, it was something along the lines of…Christianity is the only religion whose information comes from outside this world. Therefore, it is the truth about God because it came from God not man.

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one come to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6

‘The man from the outside”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God , and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”
John 1:1-2

Jesus was with God from the beginning but then he entered our history. He wasn’t just a creation that was made to fix sin because Gods plan went in a direction he never expected. Jesus was there from the beginning.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:14

This is still sort of a recap on the previous post. So basically, Christianity isn’t just a pile of guess-work. The Bible is how God reveals himself to man. ‘Now, at last, it is possible to know the truth about God. It is not discovered by the power of human reason or mystical experience, but through revelation.’ (Vaughan Roberts – Distinctives)

“No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”
John 1:18

You might be thinking, hold on, Christianity isn’t the only religion that claims to be founded on revelations from God, how can you claim that Christianity’s revelations are the truth over other religions revelations?

Well, I can confidently say that Christianity is based on real history.

‘Your word is Truth’
Despite Jesus no longer being on Earth we still have access to the truth. The Old testament is seen as the truth. Jesus often quoted it and equated it to the words of God.
The Bible is a book written by humans, around 40 different authors all with different styles, personalities, occupations and historical contexts. Gods spirit spoke through them creating a written record.

How do you know it’s accurate?

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you will know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
 John 14:17

This is a verse from the gospel of John where Jesus is explaining that he is going to leave them. They have a little freak out and don’t really understand and they keep asking him, ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘How can I follow you there?’ Here Jesus is promising to give them the Spirit of truth (The Holy Spirit).

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.”
John 14:26.

So, Jesus left them with the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit do? In the verse above, the Holy Spirit was at work in the people who wrote the Bible, ensuring that what they wrote was accurate. Basically he’s saying, it’ll help you remember what’s gone down so that you can write it right and pass it along to other people.
 
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
John 16:12-13

The Bible is revelation from God, the Spirit works in the authors of the Bible to make it true and accurate. But it then causes a conflict with a world of relativism. It becomes a claim of absolute truth in a world that doesn’t believe in absolute truth.

‘Our knowledge of truth does not depend on our imagination within the enclosed world of time and space, but rather on the revelation of the one who is from the outside – God himself.”
Vaughan Roberts – Distinctives

1. Know the Truth
So if the Bible is this revelation from God, accurate and true. The first step to take is to begin to learn it and know it.

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”
1 Peter 2:2

Peter writes in one of his letters that the word of God is what sustains and grows Christians. Being a revelation from God it is the thing that nourishes a relationship with God.
However, the world has shifted to value emotion over thinking. People now expect and seek this ‘direct experiential encounter with God’ and often they find it difficult to see how our minds fit into that emotional encounter.
That isn’t what leads to spiritual health, it is the truth of God that brings spiritual health. Therefore, knowing the truth must have priority over experience.’Only those who have responded in faith to the gospel of Christ have a true knowledge of God.’ pg 80
Basically, regular reading of the Bible and valuable teaching from the Bible are essential for growing in Christ. So you can imagine how important it is. David in one of his many songs wrote…

“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long!”
Psalm 119:97

2. Live the Truth
Just knowing the truth isn’t enough. Often people call Christians hypocrites because they don’t live what they believe. It is not the Bible that is at fault, but the people here. Christians are all sinful and imperfect but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our best to live the truth.

“Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves, do what it says.”
James 1:22

Be careful that you don’t let learning from the Bible become a mere intellectual excercise, the purpose of believing it is to do it. Pray, ask God to help you put these things into practise. It’s not something you can just magically achieve over night. It’s also not something that God expects us to be able to do easily, so ask him to help you out.
To be honest, starting this blog has really challenged me in this area. It’s so easy to put minimal energy into acting on what you learn, particularly when people only have a vague idea of what Christians believe. So starting this blog and telling other people about what I believe and brought me to work harder at living what I learn.

3. Contend for the Truth
On the same note, this blog is also an effort of mine to contend for the truth. To clear up the stereotypes and falsity that has been placed on Christianity. 

“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”
Jude 3

Relativism reigns in this world. Christians are persecuted for their claim to have the only and absolute truth. Vaughan Roberts in his book ‘distinctives’ quoted from his local newspaper:

“The idea that any mere human…could have any conception of what God is thinking is surely laughable and arrogant in the extreme…There is no-one…who is so perfect in themselves that they have the right to go around criticizing the behavior of other people…A bit of compassion and tolerance is more appealing than a load of bile and bigotry.”

No one wants to receive that response and so often Christians shy away but that’s not something we can afford to do.
Be careful and critical of the teaching in your church, make sure that the truth is being preached and isn’t modified to accommodate for the worlds love of relativism. Gods word doesn’t need to be sugar-coated to attract attention, it needs to be revolutionary and strikingly different and its capable of being that on its own.

4. Proclaim the Truth
As I said in an earlier post, if you knew the cure for cancer you’d tell everyone, wouldn’t you? You’d be proud and eager to share it. Well, God has provided an escape from hell, a way out of the punishment that we all deserve. Is that not something to eagerly tell others as well?

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matt 28:19-20

Don’t just resist this movement of relativism, proclaim the absolute truth. We are called to be counter-cultural. The world is happy for us to believe what we want, it’s when we start sharing it that it becomes a problem. Often this is what limits our evangelistic goals to ‘people more like us’. We avoid those of other religions because we expect this reaction of being accused of stealing people away from their religions.
We have received the truth and it is our privilege to pass it on. Evangelism is underpinned by relationships. Jesus didn’t only preach it, he lived it.