Archive | November, 2012

Our Dangerous Love Affair with Human Approval

30 Nov

[This video first appeared on The Gospel Coalition website on 22nd June 2012]

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The value of children

29 Nov

Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court. Psalm 127:3-5

During my time being pregnant people were more than willing to see that I was adequately prepared with “realistic” expectations about the next stage of my life. It was intriguing for me to listen to the different ways that mothers in particular express their attitudes about parenthood. I really appreciated those women who encouraged me to see the blessing of children and shared with me more of their joy than their troubles with being a mother.

As we know too well the unbelievers around us seem to be confused about the value of their children. On the one hand many idolise and live for their children whilst on the other hand many others do not place a high value on children at all, evidenced by the high abortion and child abuse rates and the number of couples who don’t want the inconvenience of even them. There also seems to be a widespread mindset that regards children as a bother, as an expense, and as an obstacle that hinders their parents’ success and enjoyment of life.

But God has a different view. He calls children “blessings”! The Bible describes children as gifts from God and as rewards! Though He may choose to bless us in many different ways, one of the most prominent ones in the Scriptures is by blessing us with a large family. How many people today associate “large family” with “blessings”? Probably not many! There are also many passages of scripture where parents refer to their children as gifts from God or where God is credited with having given a particular child as a special gift and blessing. Even from the creation of Adam and Eve we find God blessing mankind with the words, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28).

I am ashamed to say that many Christians (including myself at times) seem to have adopted some of the world’s view concerning children. Truly this world does press in on us and try to conform us to itself. And we do sometimes conform without even realising that is what we are doing! Rather than seeing children as primarily burdens and financial obligations, we should see them as God sees them. We need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds through the word of God (Romans 12:2).

Admittedly, children are a huge responsibility and require a great deal of self-sacrifice on the part of their parents. So in this sense, there is a burden involved. But the Bible portrays the blessing of children to be so much greater than the burden of their care and upbringing. All children are given by God to be blessings to their parents (even to the ungodly). A “quiver full” of children is a great blessing, but is not part of God’s plan for everyone. Some people very favored by God will not be blessed with children at all or will be blessed with very few (i.e. Abraham with Sarah; Isaac & Rebekah; Zachariah & Elizabeth). But whether or not God chooses to bless us in this way, we should all learn to value children as He does and welcome each and every one.

Jana Koulouris

One Shot

28 Nov

In the words of that famous philosopher Eminem: “Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?” Would you?
 
If there is one thing Christians and non-believers can agree on, it is that we only get one shot at life. For the non-believer, this means you need to make the most of it before you become dust. I can vividly remember when my Dad told me that I had one crack at life and that I had better enjoy it.
 
But is it any different for the Christian? Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that ‘man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment’. What does this mean for us? Do we set out to enjoy every moment of life before the end? Or should the prospect of judgment and accountability to God for our lives shape everything we do? This was the dilemma set before 10,000 Christian people at the Sydney Entertainment Centre just over a year ago.

 
The ONE evening was billed as “One Saviour. One Life. One Night. Don’t Waste It” and the guest speakers were John Lennox and John Piper. Lennox is a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University. He speaks four languages and is well known for his public debates with atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Lennox challenged the people at ONE to use their lives to serve Jesus. It was the same challenge he had received as a young man. No matter what your profession, your skills and your abilities, he said, you can use them to further Jesus’ Kingdom. Lennox told the story of how he learnt Russian in order to be able to lecture Mathematics to Russians. As a result of this he had many opportunities to explain the message of Christianity to curious Russians who wondered how a Mathematician could be a Christian. Through his life Lennox cultivated opportunities to engage with Atheists and to explain the rationality of believing in Jesus. He realized early in his life that he had only one life and he chose to confidently engage non-believers with Jesus – no matter the cost.
 
John Piper, the second speaker of the evening, is the Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota. He is well known for his desire to teach and persuade people about the supremacy of Jesus. Amongst other things, he is known for his book called ‘Don’t waste your life’.  Piper called upon the 10,000 strong crowd to use this one life to glorify Jesus as a response to Jesus’ love for us. He illustrated this with a personal story – whilst he was undergoing treatment for cancer several years ago, he prayed that God would help him to best use that situation to glorify Jesus. Piper reminded the crowd that every breath of life is the gift of God and that the Christian life is really about an obedient response to the God who saves through Jesus.
 
Some might say that ONE was just one night, so what difference could it make? But since ONE was all about the ONE savior Jesus Christ the potential is massive. The 10,000 attendees were asked to make resolutions that evening. How would we use our lives to glorify Jesus?
 
Eminem was right that you only have one shot but he forgot one thing. We are all accountable for our lives – one day we face judgment! The Apostle Paul understood this very well. That is why he made a beautifully simple resolution: to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).  What about you? You have one shot – will you use it to glorify the name of Jesus?

Jason Veitch

The Joy of Service

27 Nov

[This post is courtesy of Jean Williams, posted on The Briefing 8th November 2012.]

I’m no behind-the-scenes servant. My love is given to wordy ministries: the nervous plunge when I teach a group of women, the energy that sparkles in a small group, the light in a friend’s eyes when God’s truth sinks in. If I’m honest, I also love the recognition that comes with this kind of ministry. There: I’ve said it.

The humble roles, the practical roles, the self-effacing roles: they don’t come naturally to me. Setting up for a meeting, cooking for an event, serving food, running crèche, stuffing envelopes: these mundane tasks aren’t on my bucket list. I have to fight my inner whinger as I do them. I don’t like this about myself, but it’s true.

I know this isn’t good enough. I know that to teach the Bible and refuse to stack chairs is as far from our Lord’s example as hell from heaven. And so picture, if you will, a recent dinner at our church. My friend who usually organises our meals isn’t there, so my husband and I set out casseroles and collect plates and scrub them clean.

Then there’s this moment. This crystal-clear, earth-touches-heaven, joy-filled moment. As I wash the dishes, it’s as if Christ’s hands are mine and mine his. If it was Paul’s privilege to suffer with him, it’s mine to serve with him(Romans 8:17; Colossians 1:24John 13:14-17).  Hands plunged into soapy water, the grit and grease of food scraps on my fingers, I touch the tiniest edge of what it meant for him to serve.

The One with the right to a universe of worship gave up his own interests, his right to equality with God, and made himself nothing. The King of heaven and earth got off a chair, tied a towel around his waist, and knelt to wash his follower’s feet. God’s own Son was stripped naked and hung on a cross, abandoned between earth and heaven, bleeding out his life for his bride (Philippians 2:1-11; John 13:1-17; Mark 10:35-45 )

Washing dishes is just a baby-step as I follow in his footsteps. But if so much joy can be found in such a simple task, I wonder what else we miss out on when we refuse to serve.

 

Christians Receiving Honor?

26 Nov

I remember first asking an early mentor of mine, “As Christians we don’t face God’s judgement do we?” and to my surprise he said, “Yes we do!”  I thought “Really, where inthe bible does it say that?”

 

He then quoted 2 Corinthians 5:10 to me which really got me thinking.  There Paul says.

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
2 Corinthians 5:10

According to this text, even Christians – who are shielded from condemnation and punishment by Christ’s death – are not exempt from appearing before the judgement seat of God and Christ.  We won’t be spectators at the judgement; we will be called upon to explain why we lived the way that we did.  That is what Paul means that we will ‘give an account’ (Rom 14:12).  Though we are saved by God’s grace purely through the works of Jesus on our behalf, Paul insists that will receive ‘dues’ for the good and bad we’ve done (2 Cor 5:10).

What does this mean for the Christian?
Today I’ll focus on the positive side of the ledger – Christians receiving honor!
Look again at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians …

 

12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.  
1 Corinthians 3:12-15

Here Paul teaches that God intends to reward believers for good work.  In this Paul is just following Jesus.  In the parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27) servants are given large sums of money: a mina is about 570g (of silver).  The servants are asked to put the money to work for the master.  When the accounts are eventually drawn up – a metaphor for Judgment Day – each servant is rewarded according to his faithfulness.  As the parable says:

16 The first one came and said, ‘Sir, you mina has earned 10 more.’ 17 “‘Well done, my good servant! …

As always with parables we need to make sure we are careful in stretching the parallels too far.  Jesus clearly didn’t want us to know what our rewards in heaven for faithfulness will be – otherwise, he would have told us.  He wants to assure the faithful that he sees their efforts to bring him honor and he will one day betow on them honour in return.

This same idea is there when Paul talks about races won (1 Cor 9:24), fights carried out (2 Tim 4:7) and ‘crowns’ bestowed by God on his people on the last day (e.g. 1 Thess 2:19; 2 Tim 2:5; 4:8).

It’s so important to get this right.  We are saved into Jesus’ Kingdom because of his good works and not ours.  Yet that doesn’t mean that Jesus won’t publically give honor and praise to those who have served Him.

Jesus will on the last day public honor all those who have loved and served others in his name.  All ministry, spectacular and unspectacular, large and small, whether we have received thanks and praise for it in this life or not – will be on display on that day.  All of the creation will see what was done and will agree with Jesus when he look at you and says

“Well done good and faithful servant!”

Luther Symons

Freedom

25 Nov

As we have studied 1 Corinthians this year and in particular the section on Christian freedom in Chapters 8-10 I have been struck by how these seemingly irrelevant chapters on food sacrificed to idols and Paul’s rights as an Apostle are actually vital for understanding Christian maturity.  In them we see a common progression in the way Christian’s understand the freedom they have through Christ as they mature.

 

The legalist

Often Christians, in their zeal to please the Lord we have come to know, are tempted to become legalists, especially where we have been converted from a religious background (Christian or non-Christian).  In our zeal to please Jesus we fall into the trap of searching for religious laws that express our zeal and piety.  Sometimes these are irrelevant traditions (like ‘Don’t eat meat on Friday’).  Sometimes they are good things that we turn into laws (‘You must read your Bible every day’,  ‘You must be at all these church events’).  It is these ‘legalists’ who Paul calls the ‘weaker’ brother in 1 Corinthians because they haven’t understood their freedom in the Gospel.

As we come to a greater understanding of the Gospel however we come to see that we are free from the laws and traditions of men.  These things do not save us, our salvation is by grace, a free gift from God. 

Yet, this often leads to another (in fact the opposite) problem:

 

The libertarian

These Christians revel in the freedom won for them in Christ.  “I am saved by grace, so I’m free to do whatever I want any old time”.  Christian’s with this viewpoint will often say things like: “If it isn’t a sin I am free to do it”.  Often the basic Christian pieties that God gives us for our benefit go from being followed as laws to being ignored (e.g. church attendance, personal and group Bible Study, prayer).   It is sad how many Christians in modern day Sydney seem to be stuck at this point.

However, what 1 Corinthians challenges us to do is to truly understand the Gospel and so move forward and be what you might call ‘free slaves’.

 

The free slave

The free slave (another phrase for the mature Christian) understands that they have been set free from sin and the law, not to ‘do whatever I want’, but to become a voluntary slave of Christ.  In an amazing turn around they want to use their freedom to serve Christ and others.  Instead of asking: “Is this a sin?  If not I am free to do it.”  They ask questions like:

“Will this encourage others in faith?”

“Will this bring glory to God?”

Then they will voluntarily do things they are not required to do.  In the same way they will voluntarily choose not to do things they are free to do.  In 1 Corinthians Paul uses the example of not eating meat even though that is our right.  Similarly he talks about giving up his rights to financial support.  They key, is that the mature Christian stops worrying about their ‘rights’ and instead gives them up for the good of others.

Ironically, the Christian who understands this becomes even more zealous for Christian piety (Fellowship, Bible Reading, Prayer, Evangelism, Generosity) than the legalist.  However, their zeal is not out of obligation or duty but out of joy and grace.

 

So, how can we help people (ourselves and others) move from being legalists or libertarians to being free slaves of Christ?  Only by reminding each other constantly of the wonder of Jesus and the Gospel of grace.

 Phil Colgan

Comitting to Church

24 Nov

What does it actually mean to commit to a church?
Why is it an important thing to do?

Listen to what Joshua Harris has to say about this very topic below [via The Gospel Coalition].