What Do You See?

We make judgements about people all the time; it is what we do as humans. Every time we meet with someone or even walking down the street, we are constantly making judgments even if it is subconsciously. We judge what people wear, what they do, how they look, what they say or even what they eat or what car they drive.

As a church community, what percentage of people would you say are worried about how they will be perceived or judged each time they come to church? I actually think most of us carry a fear of judgment a lot of the time. Maybe you worry someone will judge you because of your past or your tattoos. Maybe you think someone will judge you because you don’t have much money. Maybe you worry someone will judge you because you have lots of money and that is how they see you. Perhaps you feel judged because of the way your kids behave or how you parent or how your family compares to others. You might feel judged as a single or as a single parent or as a divorcee. Maybe you feel you are not very good looking or maybe you feel judged because you are good looking but that is the only thing people see in you. You could feel judged for not singing, or for worshipping too freely.

The truth is poor people feel judged and rich people feel judged. Ordinary looking people feel judged and beautiful people feel judged. Both single and married mums feel judged, quite worshipers and expressive worshipers feel judged, and so it goes and so it goes. Men compare themselves to others in a whole raft of ways. I think deep down we all worry about something in who we are or how others see us or perceive us.

But the wonderful reality of the Gospel is that we are all made in the image of God and we all have equal status and worth in his family. We all are unique and loved deeply just as we are by our creator and saviour Jesus Christ. God loves you – the real you, just as you are and nothing will change that. If we could see ourselves in Christ as he sees us I think it would totally change our perspective of others and ourselves. Henri Nouwen wrote a prayer about being his true self:

“Take away the many fears, suspicions, and doubts by which I prevent you from being my Lord, and give me the courage and freedom to appear naked and vulnerable in the light of your presence, confident in your unfathomable mercy”.

 

Jesus in his ministry treated and saw everyone for who they were – dearly loved image bearers whom he came to save. It didn’t matter if they were rich or poor, wicked or good, slave or free, male or female, young or old, common or beautiful. He loved them and he loves and approaches us in the same way. So allow yourself to be loved and free before God and allow others to be loved and free that they might find their true selves in Christ. Then we will begin to have true communion as the body of Christ. Then we will testify to the world that God’s love is among us.

Grace and Peace - Garry

Give me Your Heart

Proverbs 23:26 – My son/daughter, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways.

 

I read this verse during my nightly devotions this week and it has sat with me all week as I have pondered what it means for me to give God my heart. The surrounding context of the verse is a warning against prostitutes and adultery so it is quite an intimate call from God. What does it mean to give God my heart? We all “give ourselves” or our hearts to something or someone, whether it be work, money, possessions, fame, or a person. Our heart is ours to give away and we get free choice in who or what we give it to. If you don’t know what you have given your heart to, maybe ask someone who knows you best what they see, if you have the courage.

Life without someone or something to give us meaning is empty and we all seek to find meaning and pleasure. We are wired for intimacy and purpose because we are formed in the image of God. Yet so much of what we seek and so much of what our culture puts up as meaningful and desirable can in the end turn into empty wells that run dry when tough seasons come, leaving us parched and thirsty.

Our eyes are ever roaming and looking for new horizons or new “loves” or things that we desire or covet or are attracted to. God calls us as his beloved children to give our hearts fully to him; for our eyes to be focused on his ways rather than roaming in endless search of meaning and satisfaction. The woman at the well was thirsty, she was sick of having to come daily to collect water. Yet Jesus knew of her deeper thirst and her heart that she had given to many men in seeking to quench her thirst for intimacy. He quickly got to the heart of the issue and invited her into relationship with himself – the living God who could truly satisfy her deepest needs and rest her roaming eyes.

So how do I give God my heart? Well I daily make the choice to spend time with him, to reflect on him, to think about who I am in him and what my purpose and future is. I choose to focus on his ways rather than on chasing my covetous dreams and the “shiny” things my eyes are so easily turned to. I choose to spend time in his presence rather than run around madly all day, even if it is only moments here and there. Those moments anchor me in the busyness of my diary and deadlines, and bring my wandering eyes back to Jesus.

Grace and Peace - Garry

Is God Good and can he be Trusted?

This is a question that we will all face at some point in our lives, and for most of us probably several times. Sometimes it is one of those doubts that creeps in which the devil amplifies to get us to question God. At other times it is a normal human response to a crisis we face where we wonder where God is and why things have happened or not happened.

What if we open ourselves up to God about something and we find that his promises don’t seem to work? What if when I pray about my marriage or my kids who have turned away from God or my job that is slowly killing me, God seems not to care or is way too late? Why would God have allowed certain things to happen to me or to someone I love when he is supposed to be all-powerful and all loving?

If God is who the Bible says he is and if Jesus is the Son of God who rose from the dead, then there is no evidence or question, or experience or secret in my life that is too big for him to handle or redeem. Yet our experience of believing this by faith and holding on to it in the mess and brokenness of life with confidence, is at times very stretching. Can he be trusted with all things and is he good?

I often think of Peter in the middle of the storm when he sees Jesus walking on the water and lays down the challenge to him, perhaps without thinking Jesus would take it up. If you are who you say you are Jesus, then let me come out to you and do the impossible. Let me walk on the water. Jesus said – ok come! Peter is now faced with a difficult choice. Does he trust Jesus? Is Jesus good and will he save him or let him drown? The only way to find out was to overcome his fear and every fibre of his body that told him otherwise, and to step out into the storm. Can you put yourself in that place? What would his heart rate have been? How big a knot would have been in his stomach? I’m not sure I would have had the faith and courage to do that. But he did. He trusted Jesus and he walked on water – even if just for a few seconds.

Even when he began to doubt and his brain caught up with his spirit and he looked around at the circumstances and began to sink, Jesus still reached out and caught him. So in our doubt and mess we need that level of faith in Jesus, sometimes just to take the next step. I can’t tell you what that looks like, but Jesus is still the same and that can only be tested by giving everything to him. And even when we do that and begin to doubt, we beleive that he is still powerful to reach out to us and save us – because he is good and our doubt doesn’t stop him saving. God is always greater than our fear, but learning that takes courage and faith.

Grace and Peace - Garry

Co-creators

Gen 2:7-8;   the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

 

God is a creative being. It is who he is. He creates and he is dynamic and creative. He takes great pleasure in making and creating things and then enjoying what he has made. We are made in his image and bear his mark; therefore, we also are creative beings who carry that dynamic creative spark. One of the beautiful gifts that God has given us is the gift of being co-creators. And like God, when we create things we can enjoy them and draw deep satisfaction from them and declare – it is good!

Sometimes in a narrow Christians view we limit co-creating to just having babies and multiplying. That is part of our mandate and it is a significant part of the human story. It is incredible to think that we have the capacity to create an eternal being! Yet that is not the full story and our co-creating with God is much broader than just having children. We are all co-creators with God, no matter if we are single or married or divorced or male or female. Human beings have created things of stunning beauty in the arts, music, construction, literature and so on. All of those things reflect God’s character and heart for creativity.

One of the most significant areas of being a co-creator is that of forming a dynamic community with other humans, and more specifically with fellow Christians. We need each other to create beauty in community that can then reflect and impact positively the world around us. We each have unique gifts and things to add to the collective and just like instruments in an orchestra we all add to the beauty of the whole.

Similarly as we live our out faith beyond our church in our varied roles we can be part of creating justice and goodness and love and compassion as God made, and Spirit filled co-creators. Yet equally we can use our creativity for destructive or selfish means. Sadly we see this in many of the dark places in our culture and even in our own lives. Jesus came to bring life and life to the full. God is going to create a new heaven and earth. We have so much to look forward to and enjoy with him beyond this life that we can’t even imagine. In the meantime, let’s co-create with God using the gifts and passions he has given us in a way that brings restoration and redemption and healing as the body of Christ.

Grace and Peace - Garry

Chastity

Chastity comes from the Latin word castus, meaning “morally pure.” Being chaste means a person is keeping their body pure sexually, however Jesus extended this to also our minds. We often confuse chastity with celibacy but they are not the same thing. Chastity needs to be correctly understood and its worth upheld before people in our hypersexualised culture will even consider it a noble state of being as it was in the past and still is before God. To be chaste does not mean one does not have sex, nor does it mean that one is prude. To be chaste is to be morally pure. That is whether one is married or single or divorced. It is to experience people, things, places, entertainment and sex in a way that does not violate them or ourselves. It is about reverence for what God has created and for others with whom we relate. To have “moral purity” in the way we engage with the world and people around us. Ronald Rolheiser in his book “The Holy Longing” (1999 Doubleday Books) says that when we are chaste we “do not let impatience, irreverence, or selfishness ruin what is a gift by somehow violating it.” We lack chastity when we overstep the God given boundaries for our lives prematurely or irreverently. When we violate a God given gift or another person either physically or in our mind, we reduce its value and degrade it in a sinful way.

Thus I can be faithful to my wife but not be living chaste if I think about other women in my mind or through pornography in a way that is irreverent or crosses the moral boundaries God has ordained for his good world. Similarly single people can be celibate but not chaste in their actions and interactions with the world or others around them. More broadly to be “morally pure” extends chastity to the way we treat others in business, in the way we handle money, in our slander or gossip, in the use of power, and of course our sexuality both physically and in our minds. Our culture considers the overcoming or mocking of old fashioned chastity as a moral victory. As Rolheiser says, this claim could be taken more seriously if “this supposed sexual liberation had in fact translated into more respect between the sexes and into sex that actually – builds lasting community, more stable souls, and results in less exploitation of others.” Our cultures abandonment of chastity rather than liberate humanity has further enslaved it. God has reasons for his call to live godly and “chaste” lives. If we want a true image of a fully chaste person, we need look no further than Jesus Christ.

Grace and Peace - Garry

Being a Tool for God

A couple of years ago I was on a weeklong silent retreat at Seven Hill and over the course of the week the retreat leader talked about our “Name of Grace”. That is, the name God has for each of us that taps into our true identity and character and calling. I have never been fond of my name so I was really keen to pray about my “Name of Grace”. Anyway over the week I felt God reveal parts of that to me and one of them was something related to being a “tool for God”! My wife sometimes lovingly calls me a “tool for life”! I take it in the spirit in which it is intended J

 

Being a tool for God might seem weird, but basically it was along the lines of God making me, and each of us, to be used by him for his pleasure and glory. Our total function is not just to be used; we are made to delight in God and enjoy him and his world above and beyond just being useful to him. However, there is a sense in which each of us are unique, and God uses us and our abilities and talents and gifts to help others to bring about God’s kingdom purposes in this world.

 

I own lots of tools and they all serve different functions and purposes and no two are alike or serve exactly the same purpose. Similarly, I am unique and God wants to use me in different ways at different times. The most important thing is to be available to him when he wants to use me. Just because I don’t feel useful or that God hasn’t used me for anything amazing of late doesn’t mean he has forgotten about me or won’t use me again for specific things. Each day we are to make ourselves available to God and offer ourselves and our lives to him to be used as and when he wishes. In the meantime, we are to love him and those around us and get on with whatever he has given us to do. At the very least, if we love him and others we will be fulfilling the two greatest commands. And he will use us for his good purposes as he sees fit. So be a tool for God and make yourself available to him each day. See what he will do.

Grace and Peace - Garry

The Mess of Life

In my reading through the Bible in a year I have just finished going through the book of Leviticus. What struck me afresh is how messy and practical it was to be a priest. So much blood, dealing with animal skins and stacking wood, clearing away ashes and burning offerings day in and day out. All the while trying to keep your holy garments clean and neat, and trying to avoid getting blood on the breastplate and its precious stones. And what do you do when it has rained for a week and the wood is wet and you have to burn a whole bull on the altar? What then? It seems hard work, extremely messy and fraught with challenges that had to be overcome. Nothing holy and clean and pious about it at all really. Then there were the lamps to keep trimmed and topped up with oil, the light was never to go out. Packing up and moving the tabernacle would have been a mammoth task and they never knew if they would be camping for just a day or a month or a year. So much uncertainty.

In some ways today as Christians, we are still faced with the same messiness of life as we try to follow Jesus. Life is complicated, relationships are messy, and nothing is neat or cut and dry. There are always challenges and obstacles to overcome, all the while believing that God is with us as he was with the Israelites. Yet some days it must have felt like a bit of a grind. A week, a month, a year is a long time in our lives personally and in the life of a church. Things can go from ok to very stressful in a very short time. It only takes a phone call, a conversation with your kid, an incident with an elderly parent, a blow up with your spouse. How do we live faithfully to God in uncertain times? Life has a way of getting us messy no matter how “clean” we try to keep ourselves and how diligent we seek to be in following Jesus.

Yet God is not outside of the mess of life. In fact he ordered the priests to serve in their roles and more than that he stepped into our messy world and got his hands well and truly dirty in the person of Jesus. Jesus embraced our mess. He touched the lepers, he ate with the outcasts, he listened to the stories of the hard done by, he moved into the neighbourhood and allowed its dirt to stick to him. He didn’t float above the ground impervious to pain. He cried, he got frustrated, he got angry, he loved, he mourned. And one Friday he walked up that hill beaten and bloody carrying his cross to take upon himself the darkest filthiest mess of humanity, that we might be made clean. That we might be made whole. That our relationships with each other might be restored. That the way to God might be blown wide open in his grace and abandon love. This Easter don’t try clean your mess up. Just invited Jesus into it and allow his grace to wash over you afresh as we come to the cross.

Grace and Peace - Garry

Baptism in the Spirit

As we read about the baptism of Jesus by John at the start of Mark’s gospel we read of the promise that the one who comes after John (Jesus) will “baptise you with the Holy Spirit”. Tom Write translates this as “he will plunge you in the Holy Spirit”. Just as water baptism is experienced so baptism in the Spirit must be experienced. So what does it mean to be baptised in the Holy Spirit as a follower of Jesus? Well here are some quick short points. For a great further read look up John Piper’s article - https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/how-to-receive-the-gift-of-the-holy-spirit

Jesus promise to the disciples in Acts 1 is that when the Holy Spirit came on them they would receive two things; power, and with that an ability to witness about Jesus. Throughout Acts when people are converted and receive the Spirit, some speak in tongues but this is not always included. However, they do always praise God and they do always witness boldly about Jesus. So although tongues comes at times for some when they are filled with the Holy Spirit, it isn’t the primary goal or major sign if we look at the whole of the NT.

Being filled with the Spirit however is always experiential, never purely cognitive. Baptism in the Spirit is never just a doctrine. It must be experienced and there are things that accompany that experience which go way beyond thought. You can think about having a baby or having kids, but until you experienced it and it changes your life it remains like doctrine – not reality. The Holy Spirit is a living powerful person in the Godhead who wants to fill us and that has to be experienced not just thought about. He must be experienced daily – keep being filled.

The Holy Spirit is not a non-active influence in Christians lives, rather when he fills us he moves us. When Jesus was baptised and the Holy Spirit fell on him, the Spirit immediately moved or compelled him to go into the desert to be tested. In Romans 8:14 we read that “all who are led by the Spirit are sons of God” – this is an active experienced reality. Being led is an experience not a doctrine. The Spirit wants to lead you in your life in a real way.

As Piper and the Scripture point out, the experienced outcome of being filled with the Spirit and then being led by the spirit are the same for us as it was for the early disciples. They praised God (he became the object of their worship), and they testified boldly about Jesus in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Why do we need to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit (baptised – plunged in) to live as effective followers of Jesus? Because as we read on in Mark’s gospel, the kingdom of God is in conflict with the kingdom of this world. We can only overcome evil, lust, the desire for power, being able to truly love those we are repulsed by, in the power of the experienced reality of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Ask him to fill you afresh today and every day with his power and presence.

Grace and Peace - Garry

The Last Word

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2  Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

 

Words – there are far too many of them now days. They are often used without thought, or to fill space, or to make us feel better, or someone else worse. There are some people or media platforms or “voices” that you would rather not hear because of their lack of substance, constant dribble or hurtful or unfiltered commentary. Similarly there are those people or “voices” that you pay attention to every time they use words because you know it will be wisdom that is thought out and worth listening to. We note in Scripture the crowds hung on Jesus every word.

When we speak to God I wonder how he views us sometimes? Are we hasty in our prayers and words before him, pouring out ill-thought questions and requests and demands or comments? Don’t get me wrong, God loves us to pour out our heart to him, but the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that when we come to God we should come to listen more than to speak. We should not be hasty in our utterances, and that we should look at our “steps” or examine our hearts when we engage him in conversation or in worship.

Listening is an art that doesn’t always come naturally to us. For me and I am sure many others, it was something that had to be learned and still needs to be refined and thought about regularly. The art of listening needs to be developed and grown and valued. It is a gift to the “other” and also the way to know God better and to hear his still small voice. Yet in our culture everyone wants to have the last word, as if somehow that makes what they have said “right” or that by having the last word they have somehow “won” the argument or discussion. This is clearly seen in debates, panels on TV, social media, online conversations and in our own daily relationships. It is a scourge and it is a false narrative.

Having the last word is not a Godly character. A much better posture is one of listening, to others and to God. God always has the last word anyway and we will be much more effective in ministry and relationships if we spent more time listening than trying to ensure we have the last word – in anything. So don’t be quick with your mouth, but be quick with your ears. And resist trying to have the last word either with people or with God.

First Nations Christians

The first week in January I travelled to Port Augusta with a team from Adelaide to run the kids program at the National Aboriginal Evangelical Fellowship Congress. This congress is run every two years and gathers Aboriginal Christians from all over Australia. Every morning we ran a kids program from 9:30-12:30 and had about 30-40 kids attend each day. In the evenings, we joined the whole congress for worship and to hear various speakers. It was a great experience and an honour so serve our Aboriginal brothers and sisters in Christ. Our team was a pretty “rag tag” bunch from many nationalities and we all were imperfect people. It reminded me of Jesus disciples who were also a pretty mixed bunch that you would not necessarily think would be the best selection for a team!

A few things stood out to me from sharing with our Aboriginal church communities. Firstly they love Jesus and understand probably much better than we do that they are made in God’s image and are deeply connected to the land and to creation. Secondly, they do community much better than we do and talking to each other is more important than running a slick and “polished” program. Thirdly, they do carry deep scars relating to our shared history and we need to listen to them and support them firstly as fellow Christians over and above as “fellow Australians”.

Their art and the way they portray God and the gospel through their art is incredible and very powerful. Several decades ago there was a revival that started at Elcho Island and spread around Australia. My hope and sense is that for God to reconcile the deep hurts in our national psyche relating to our first nation people, it should come through and be led by our Aboriginal Christian brothers and sisters. We have all been reconciled to Christ and it is only through him that true reconciliation can happen between white and black. There is something truly significant in our first nation peoples gathering from across the land to worship God and pray for his Spirit to be at work in this land – their land, our land.

As an extra treat, we also got to baptise one of our team members from Westcare Baptist under the Port Augusta bridge toward the end of the week. That was an extra bonus to see God at work in her life over those few days. Let’s continue to pray for the work of God among our Aboriginal communities and may that work flow over into our nation through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Grace and Peace - Garry

Being Formed

I read recently that the best artists whom we hold as the most “talented” are actually the ones who often work the hardest and have crafted their skill over many years. They may have talent, but to refine that and harness it takes hard work and dedication. Painting a masterpiece or carving a piece of furniture or creating a beautiful score of music takes hours of training and dedication. An artist was asked “how long” it took him to paint a particular piece or work that someone was admiring. His answer was “sixty years” because that is how long he had been learning his craft which led to him being able to paint this recent piece.

God also is the business of shaping and crafting and forming people into his image and the fullness of all we were created to be. Yet this formation takes time and there are no short cuts. Most of us lead unremarkable lives that have seemingly little impact of any real significance, yet God is shaping or wanting to shape us uniquely for his glory and purposes. However, we often want to race to the end or shortcut the process and get to the “glory” bit (often our glory) without going through the formation.

Many people in the Bible took years to be formed by God. Moses (40), David (at least 13), Joseph (2-5 years as a slave and imprisoned).. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t use us in the formation process, but sometimes we down play the formation and just want to be at the end when we look back and make sense of it all. But God is the potter and we are the clay. We need to allow ourselves to be softened in his hands and trust that the pressure that is applied to shape us is done in love. We can trust the pressure and direction of his hands because they hold nail scars that tell us he loves us and he is forming each of us as he sees best to be used in the unique purpose he has, no matter how unremarkable that might seem to us or others.

So being formed and shaped by God through the ups and downs of life is vital to becoming the person he wants us to be. But we must remain soft and not hard hearted toward him and we must trust that he knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows whether we should be a “plate” or a “jug” or a “bowl” and how he wants to use us in his Kingdom work on earth. Don’t look at someone else and wish to be like them, just be open and allow God to form you.

Grace and Peace - Garry

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Bored with the Bible?

I have been reading Eugene Peterson’s book on his journey as a pastor (second time through) and was struck by his view of the Bible growing up as it was somewhat similar to my own. For me being in a Christian family and missionary environments, I was always surrounded by Scripture in one way or another. Yet often it seemed people used it to contest their factions or push their views. It seemed to often be reduced to rules and principles and a guide book that was there to ensure I avoided terrible moral potholes that others kept telling me about in hushed and stern terms. It could also be simplified into clichés and various slogans or sayings about sentimental god talk that was intended to motivate others but mostly had the opposite effect.

But the Bible is so much more than this – it is a collection of stories of how God encountered people and radically changed their lives and their persons and their world view. These were normal everyday people like you and me who were bumbling along trying to do their best and were surprised by God when they encountered him. They wrote their stories to try and communicate their encounters so that other people would be able to engage with this same God who had met them.

The Bible is a series of books written by humans for humans but conveying deep truths about God and directed by his Holy Spirit. Reading it is a bit like reading a newspaper in that there are many parts. There are the front page headlines, the feel good stories, the horror stories, the poetry and arts section, the funnies. Each of these needs to be read appropriately and cannot be boiled down to boring clichés and moral slogans. God is so much more real and connected and engaged in the worlds mess than my experience of him growing up.

So next time you pick up the Bible ask God to encounter you as you read the way he encountered the people of old and reveal more to you about this amazing life and kingdom that he has saved us into. This transformed way of living that reconciles us to God and us to each other. Once we truly understand it the Bible becomes anything but boring!

Grace and Peace - Garry

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Prayer

Every faith has some form of prayer. Even communism in Russia in the 1950’s told people if they were struggling or doubting or tired then they should think of Stalin, and work would go well and they would find strength. That is a form of prayer and meditation. Prayer is often entered into by those struggling; the word “prayer” comes from the Latin root precarius – a linguistic cousin to “precarious.”

Thomas Merton said “prayer is an expression of who we are… We are living incompleteness. We are a gap, an emptiness that calls for fulfilment.” But in much of our Postmodern world, scepticism taints prayer and we live in an atmosphere of doubt. The need for prayer (precariousness) is also diluted by prosperity and time pressures and in “busyness” crowd out the slowing down that prayer seems to require.

Prayer is also somewhat confusing and a wrestle in my experience. Martyn Lloyd-Jones sums up this confusion in this way: “Of all the activities in which the Christian engages, and which are part of the Christian life, there is surely none which causes so much perplexity, and raises so many problems, as the activity which we call prayer.”

And so as like Philip Yancey states in his book on prayer, I come to this practice as a fellow pilgrim rather than an expert or guru. We have many questions. Is God listening? Why would God care about me? If God knows everything, why should we pray? Why do answers to prayer seem so inconsistent and random? If more people pray about an issue, does it increase the chances for the prayer to be answered? Does prayer change God or does prayer change me?

And yet despite all this prayer is vitally important in our relationship with God and partnering with him in building his kingdom in the world. Prayer is the place where God and human beings meet. It has many features in common with all other important relationships. These include dullness, ecstasy, distraction, acute concentration, joy, irritation, doubt and great faith. In this mix, God meets with us and we encounter him in the way that he reveals himself.

Philip Yancey says two of the important wrestles of life are: why doesn’t God act the way I want him to, and why don’t I act the way God wants me to? Prayer is the place where these two great themes converge. Let us pray without ceasing.

Grace and Peace - Garry

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The Weeping Prophet

Are you finding life a bit of a struggle of late? Feeling down or overwhelmed and a bit frustrated with God? Reading through Jeremiah recently highlighted how tough a life he had and how difficult the task was the God called him too. He didn’t want to speak out, his message was not well received, and he often complained to God about his calling and the difficulty of the task. Yet God was unrelenting in his command for Jeremiah to be his mouthpiece and told him not to marry or have children to add to his burden.

Although at times reading the story it seems really unfair, God did protect Jeremiah physically and he preserved is life both through is preaching and also after the invasion of the Babylonians. God cared for him personally but Jeremiah also had to come to accept and make peace with the fact that God was using him in much bigger story that involved nation’s not just individuals. I am glad Jeremiah was faithful and that we have his writings in the Bible to draw from today. But I am glad I didn’t have to be Jeremiah and I stand from afar and hold him in very high regard as a faithful witness over decades of turmoil and hardship.

Sometimes God calls us or just allows us to go through really tough situations in which we might not be able to make sense of what is happening. Unlike Jeremiah we might not see the bigger picture or see any good out of what is happening to us or those around us. Like Jeremiah we can openly talk to God and even grumble in a “holy respectful” way at such times. But we should also remember that God is on about more than our personal happiness and that his call to us is one of trust and obedience and faithful living as his people.

We can draw hope from Jeremiah’s experience that God will never abandon us nor does go out of his way to make our life hard like some mean schoolyard bully. We have his Holy Spirit in us and Jesus stands before the Father as our advocate who has been “tested” in every way as we have and understands our struggles and weaknesses. So if life is hard, press into God, pour out your heart to him and hold on in faith to him with everything you have. He will see you through.

Grace and Peace - Garry

The Day God Washed My Feet

I will always remember that night, not just because of what happened in the hours after when my world shattered and I acted so shamefully, but because of what happened at that meal. Looking back, we really had no idea of the significance of what was going on. In fact, some of us were stupidly arguing which of us was the greatest! I mean can you believe that! We were like kids in the school yard- actually worse than that because we were adults and because we had been with him for 3 years and seen and heard so much. How thick and stupid we were.

But that was the reality of what happened, I can’t sugar coat it or pretend it was different. Then he got up, took off his outer clothes, wrapped a towel around his waist, and collected some water in a basin. He began to move around the group and to wash our dirty feet. He, our rabbi and our leader began to do what the slaves and servants do. This quickly put an end to our petty discussion about who was greatest and made me feel very ashamed – a feeling that would come back to me even more strongly in a few short hours.

When he came to me, perhaps out of shame or even out of pride wanting to be more “holy” than the others; I loudly declared he would never wash my feet. His reply sat me back on my pants pretty smartly – unless I wash you, you have no part in me! In my shock, I blurted out another of my “shoot from the hip” comments about him washing all of me.

His explanation of his actions stood so starkly against our discussion about greatness. He said that as our teacher and Lord, he had chosen to wash our feet and take on the role of a servant. In addition, that we were no greater than he and should serve and wash others feet, even those who were “below” us. After his death and resurrection the term “wash you” took on even more significance as we understood what he meant but declaring that his blood would be poured out for us. So God washed my feet – an act I can never really get my head around. But then he told me to go and do the same for others, and that I can get me head around!

Wisdom

In my Bible in a Year reading, I have been going through proverbs and the sayings of King Solomon, supposedly the wisest man who ever lived. Wisdom literature is a big part of many ancient cultures and is seemingly one of the things that has been abandoned in our postmodern, post-truth relativistic society.

Yet wisdom is so important and ultimately comes from God. When we ignore it and live by our own rules or intelligence then we can run into trouble very quickly. Here are some of the profound statements that have stood out to me in my readings.

The Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.

The person of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.

When words are many sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

Wealth is worthless in the day of judgement, but righteousness delivers from death.

Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.

All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.

Like one who seizes a stray dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.

As twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.

 

To gain wisdom spend time in God’s word, reflect on your heart attitudes and guard your heart and your lips. No one else can guard your heart, only you can do that. And no one else can teach you wisdom and the fear of the Lord unless you are open to learn and obey.

Even Solomon in his old age acted foolishly and neglected the very wisdom he wrote down. He didn’t guard his heart and he loved his foreign wives and their gods more than the Lord, though supposedly he was the wisest man on the earth. That should be a warning to us who feel secure; wisdom can be gained but our hearts can always be turned away from God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning and end of all wisdom.

Grace and Peace - Garry

Heart for God

We are starting our new sermon series in 1 Samuel this week and as I have been reading through the book I have been reflecting on the person of King David who is a key player in the narrative. The Bible portrays David as being a “man after God’s own heart” which is a pretty amazing statement. Yet when you look closely at his life David was far from perfect and there are many other characters you would thing would be more worthy of that title. David after all was an adulterer and a murderer!

Yet it seems there was something about him and his heart that God loved despite his terrible behaviour at times. Reflecting on this raised some interesting things. Firstly I am so grateful that God forgives people like David and me when we let him down so badly (there were consequences for David though), secondly what was it about David’s heart that God loved and what is the state of my own heart towards God? Do I have a heart that is after his?

Despite his flaws David had some outstanding characteristics that we should all aspire to which I think reflect the heart of God and were some of the things that God loved about him. He readily admitted his guilt with no excuses. He constantly threw himself on the mercy of God when he was in danger, down, found out, or just dry and worn out. He worshiped God passionately and was not afraid to show that publicly or to lead the people in worship himself, even though his own wife thought him undignified. He penned dozens of psalms pouring out his soul to God and also great songs of praise and adoration. He often sought God’s will and was obedient when God commanded him to do certain things.

So having a heart after God doesn’t mean you have to be perfect! Thank goodness for that! But when we look at our heart, our own agendas, where we put our trust and what we worship, are we like David? Despite his failings I would love to be more like David. I would love to pray this prayer with him. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

Grace and Peace – Garry Parker

FAITH

As we head into Easter and reflect on Jesus death, one of the main elements of the whole sacrifice motif is the element of faith on the part of the one to be cleansed. Right throughout the Old Testament and into Jesus ministry, those who encounter God and are forgiven or healed or transformed all exhibit faith. When God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he had faith that God would raise him from the dead. When the Israelites in Egypt enacted Passover, they had faith that by putting the blood on the door posts the angel of death would pass over. When people offered sacrifices in Jerusalem they had faith that the shed blood would cleanse them from their sin and restore their relationship with God. When Jesus encountered people it was their faith that enabled them to be healed.

The Bible says that faith in Jesus as our Passover lamb leads to salvation for us now. So what is faith? Hebrews 11 tells us that “faith is be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. Jesus said that all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed – so it is very powerful when exercised. Yet it can still be hard to grasp and hold on to. The key element of faith is not purely the action but the person or thing in which you put your faith in. Sometimes I seen on car windows stickers that say “Just Believe”, or “Magic Happens”. So you could say that is faith, but I would say it is useless faith because the object is non-existant or powerless. We can put our faith in Jesus because he has demonstrated through his life, death and resurrection that he is the author of life and able to forgive and cleanse once and for all.

So the power comes from the object of our faith, yet there is a need for us to put into action our faith as an act of obedience and trust. When we do that then the mystery of salvation occurs. God’s power is released and we encounter him, and the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out. We are set free, forgiven, restored, and we become children of God and heirs of the promise of salvation both now and yet to come. May Jesus increase our faith in him.

Grace and Peace - Garry

Spiritual Gifts

Ephesians 4 - But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.…..It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

We choose very little about ourselves. For example our sex, family, natural abilities, looks, whether we are introverted or extroverted, our skin colour, our nationality, the time in history we were born. But the Bible tells us that we are God’s “craftsmanship” created to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. God made each of us unique, but he also have given us gifts to use to build up the church. Sometimes we refer to these as “Spiritual Gifts” but as spiritual beings, all our abilities no matter how practical are holy and “spiritual” if used for the kingdom of God.

Some basics about “Spiritual Gifts”

1 – You don’t get to choose your gifts but the Bible does say we should desire different gifts

2 – The “fruit of the Spirit” rather than spiritual gifts reveal the heart and character of a person

3 – Don’t project your gift(s) on to others and expect everyone to be like you

4 – Don’t cop out of some gifts; for example not everyone has the gift of evangelism but everyone should tell others about Jesus and the work of God in your life when you opportunity

5 – Unity is not uniformity, there is diversity within unity

6 – Spiritual gifts can be abused

We can also chose to bury our gifts or not use them. Things that inhibit us using our gifts include doubt, fear, shame arising from failure or being judged, and limited opportunity. If you are unsure about your gifts take some time to think about what resonates with you or what needs burden you. Or ask a trusted friend or family member what they see in you. Sometimes others see gifts in us and call them out even when we don’t see them in ourselves. Jesus is the gift giver and the Holy Spirit empowers us as we exercise our gifts to bring glory to the Father. So let me encourage you to use your gifts, be intentional about them and exercise them so they can grow and build up the body of Christ.

Grace and Peace - Garry

Humility

As I have been reading through Philippians I have had cause to think about what it means to be truly humble. In chapter 2 we read these words about Jesus:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Humility is not about putting yourself down so that others might praise you and lift you up. Neither is it about being a doormat and allowing people to walk all over you. But there is something in this passage about submission, the question is to who? Jesus as an equal part of the Trinity humbled himself in becoming human because of his love for and in the joint will of the Father and the Spirit. Because of what he did the Father glorified and honoured him. Jesus could humble himself fully in this healthy way because he was secure fully in who he was in the Father.

So similarly, we can serve others and look to the interests of others not by being a doormat, but because we also can be secure in our identity and who we are in the Father and now in Christ. We submit ourselves to serving the church and the world because we love God and that is what he has asked us to do. So do a heart check from time to time. What are your motives? Are they selfish, are they appeasing guilt? Or are you looking to the interests of others around you in a healthy way because you are fully secure in who you are in God? God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Grace and Peace - Garry