Category Archives: Christian living

God and refugees

At Albury Bible Church, we hosted a meal with discussion – called Serious Eating – on the topic of God and Refugees.

The format included a short talk, about five minutes, as a thought-starter. Then, on each table, there was a menu for further discussion. For a lighter conversation, you would choose the entree. For more depth and difficulty, go for the main course.

I had a request to write up what I said. So here it is, expended from my brief written notes to make some sense on its own.

There’s a refugee problem right now. For example, quoting last week’s news, 10,000 people every day are fleeing Mosul. The stories we hear on the news are heart-breaking.

We care because of our common humanity. Common humanity is a biblical idea, but now so widely accepted we do not think of it as a ‘God idea’. But that’s OK, because there’s more to say about God and refugees.

When he was a child, Jesus became a refugee. In Matthew 2:12-15 we hear about the real risk to Jesus’ life. Herod then murdered of Bethlehem’s boys, and Matthew 2:18 could describe the TV shot of any modern refugee mothers in grief.

Furthermore, the Bible’s confronting message is that we all are refugees – though of another kind. We are refugees from God, running away not because he is bad but because we are. The way people respond to modern refugees does show positive humanity in compassion, but it also demonstrates our dark and evil side. As individuals and as a nation, we are far from perfect.

The real mind flip about God and refugees brings together these two points, about Jesus and about us. Jesus became a refugee to save refugees. We see this on the cross.

Jesus died as a Jewish man executed by the Roman empire – typical political oppression. Jesus’ death was also spiritually oppressive: his own national leaders abandoned him, as did the empire, and his disciples. Even God the Father was silent when Jesus called.

In his death, Jesus became the most excluded man in history. He said this was in order to include us with God. Jesus became the oppressed outsider to welcome outsiders to God. Romans 5:6 fits the idea that Jesus became a refugee to welcome refugees.

So to understand God and refugees, we need to take seriously God’s works to offer us salvation. Do we know and trust Jesus? All refugees have basic needs. Forgiveness is our basic need before God!

Within this huge overarching good news story, it’s clear also that God is all for refugee care. By looking at Jesus’ own cross-shaped love, we see the principles for refugee care – it is service that’s difficult, costly, patient, and not selfish.

What does that mean for you and me? I don’t think there are direct biblical political policies to apply to the world. I don’t see there’s a ‘Christian politics’ – but there should be action. Inaction and apathy just don’t fit what we see of God’s passionate love for the helpless.

Quick review: 40 Rockets

40 Rockets40 Rockets by Craig Josling

“40 Rockets which, when translated, means 40 short and punchy tips on sharing the message of Jesus with people at work.” (With apologies to verses like John 1:42.)

Lots of good tips. And easy quick read, but not designed to be read quickly. Each tip is for thought and reflection. Preferably with someone else.

This is not a theology of the message of Jesus, nor of the reason to share Jesus’ gospel. It’s not a listing of all the blessings Jesus’ death for the world. This is not an academic treatise. But none of these things are a problem – for 40 Rockets does not aim to be any of these things.

So what is this book? Words from an experienced, but far from perfect, Christian to help us all do better at promoting the news of Jesus.

Here are some chapter headings to give a feel for the topics/rockets: Be convinced that the workplace is a great place to share Jesus; Be gracious in conversation; Don’t let work define your value; Memorize Romans 6:23; Give honest and sincere appreciation.

I’m thinking how to use this book, because it strikes me as totally usable. Some ideas:
* pair up, and have a 5 minute phone chat each week to discuss that week’s tip
* give a copy to every member of a Bible study group, spend a few minutes each week at the start of your group looking at that week’s rocket
* for two months of Sunday church, pick a rocket a week for someone to summarise
* include a rocket a week in the church bulletin
* read a chapter each day with housemates (in a share house, with family, whatever)
* read a chapter on the bus to work, and summarise it in an email for fellow believers in your business

Undoubtedly there are many more.

And I want to get on with using 40 Rockets when I am. From Matthia Media.

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Speaking of church

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the golden lampstands.'”
Revelation 2:1

[To the church in Smyrna] “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) …”
Revelation 2:9

[To the church in Laodicea] “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realising that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Revelation 3:19

These verses from Revelation demonstrate a couple of important things about church – that church is all about Jesus, and that church appearances can be wrong.

Firstly, church is all about Jesus being present. In Revelation, the image of seven stars and seven lamps symbolise the seven churches. No church is defined by its building, its programmes, its leadership, … It’s a church because Jesus is there. Take away Jesus and you have no church.

But secondly, church appearances can trick us. The church in Smyrna was described as poor – yet Jesus’ point of view was, “but you are rich”. The church in Laodicea was very confident that they had everything, and more than enough. But Jesus’ words could not be more different: “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked”.

So how should we speak about churches? I reckon we speak in two ways: one way for our church, another way for other churches.

Talking about other churches: humility

The way to speak about other churches is with humility.

We have good reason to speak about other churches – it’s not gossip! I want to hear about churches. I try to listen and remember what I hear about churches. If I know someone moving to a new town, I want to be able to say, “Hey, when you move, try out Church X.”

On the flip side, it’s a great help to know if a church might be going astray. If I meet someone from there, or they move to my area, this knowledge gives me a head-start on what issues to be wary of, and what conversations to have.

And yet …

And yet appearances can be wrong. Reputation might be inaccurate. So while I argue that we can talk about other churches, we must be humble. In others words, we admit that we don’t know everything – only Jesus does – and we might be plain wrong.

Talking about our own church: not humility

But when we speak of our own church, let’s drop the (false) humility. If we are part of a church, it should be because we are convinced that Christ is with us by his Spirit. A church with Jesus lacks nothing.

In short, we know our church as a real and living church because of the presence of Jesus – no matter what the appearance may be.

So let’s speak up confidently!

Let’s forget the, “We’re not doing much. Nobody really knows us. You’re probably not interested in this, but I’ll invite you anyway …” Instead, we remember that Christ walks among us!

30 second prayer lesson

Here’s the lesson: learn what God calls true blessing, and ask for that.

An example from inside the Old Testament. Early on, while Moses is still alive, the Lord tells Moses to pass on a message to the priests.

Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you:
the LORD lift up his face upon you and give you peace.”‘
(Numbers 6:23-26)

Later on, Psalm 67 takes this instruction and makes it a prayer.

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all generations.

The psalm is not word for word – it’s not a magic incantation! But the blessing from Numbers is definitely in the mind of the psalmist.

If God says something is true blessing, we can be sure he wants to give it – and that he wants us to ask for it. Give it go in your prayers.

 


 

Quick review: Captured by a better vision

Captured By A Better Vision: Living Porn FreeCaptured By A Better Vision: Living Porn Free by Tim Chester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The prevalence of pornography in our electronic age is an important matter for the whole of society, and even more so for Christians who know that sexuality is a wonderful gift from God that can be awfully twisted into ugliness.

Chester is not all about ‘a technique’ to stop porn in one’s life. But he does not mock techniques, either, but places them in a better whole-of-life context. Use the skills (like accountability software, etc), but use them as tools in the bigger picture of life with Christ.

Chester’s five broad topics are, in my words: hate porn, love God, trust God, actively avoid porn, get help. As is clear, there are reasons why, and there are tips how. And both are important.

Chester quotes extensively from people who completed an on-line survey for him, and this illustrates his points nicely while introducing a chatty feel to parts of the book. This complements the parts which are more solid sections of thoughtful argument.

I have a few criticisms, but none of them are major.

    • Though a shortish book, about 160 pages, I think it could have been edited a bit more. The chapters seem to have long introductions before getting to the major point. And those intros don’t always really tightly connect to the main point, in my view.

 

    • Chester acknowledges that porn is a problem for both men and women, and can be expressed in ‘non-porn’ ways (like romance novels, or underwear junk mail). But I certainly had the sense this book was more about blokes with porn problems. If there was some editing out (above), then the book could edit in more on women’s experiences of porn.

 

  • Chester takes the line of Genesis 2:18 – that it was not good for the man to be alone – to mean he was lonely, needing companionship. That’s a tempting preaching point, believe me!, but is probably not the point of the text.

 

But to finish with negatives would be way off – this is a good book, on an important topic, written with gospel-shaped truth, which shows love to all touched by the damaging scourge of pornography.

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If you want to be a leader, be negative

But if you want to achieve something, be positive.

Influence is easy when you’re a critic. Dissatisfaction spreads like an infection. Look at the way of social media – posts get shares if there’s a government to complain about, a group to parody, or an opinion to twist. Likewise, the comment section of on-line news items is the best place to find new and creative insults (within the flood of predictable and misspelled old insults).

But it’s not just the on-line world. I’ve noticed that ‘negative vibes’ get traction in almost any group: sporting, community, workplace. Unlike physics, negative attracts negative.

If youpath want to be negative, the great thing is that there are two ways to choose. The obvious way is to openly complain, ‘Our manager has no idea about the work we do.’ Not bad for beginners.

The second way, and far more elegant, is stealth. Say nothing, but be a black cloud hanging over the group. No gossip, lies or statements, just a grumpy attitude. It’s almost guaranteed that people will catch your infection. And they will go with you in negativity. Congratulations, you’re a leader!

Therefore if your desire is to lead, the easiest option is to carp and criticise. If you want influence – and nothing more than influence – be a cynic. People will follow you, you will be an individual of influence.

On the other hand, if you want to make something happen, you will need to be positive. You will need to communicate a direction and a pathway ahead.

It’s positive to say, “We’re going to make this orchestra even better,” or, “We can get some more funding for this charity,” or, “Let’s use more of the skills in the team.”

This involves leadership, but not leadership for its own sake. It’s leading for the sake of the team, for the sake of others. Leading is tool for love.

 


 

Wrestle the devil

Ephesians is full of memorable passages and memory-verse favourites. It’s a biblical letter chock-full of the greatness of God and his great plans for Christ’s church.

A common favourite is 6:10-20, in which believers are told to dress in the whole armour of God. Why do we need God’s armour? Because our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil. Why struggle at all? So we may stand, firm and unshaken on the foundation of Christ.

It seems to me that each item of armour shows us two things. Firstly, how to be strong in the Lord. Secondly, where our weakness lies.

What follows is a short look at each of the items, and what they say about Christian strength and weakness.

The belt of truth
The devil is a liar through and through, says Jesus (John 8:44). His character is to lie. So to hold to truth is to hold to God. Truth is not only a weapon against evil, truth is victory in itself. The category of truth is wonderfully rich. It includes such joys as: God is the creator of all; Jesus is the saving Son of God; Jesus died and rose again in victory over sin; Jesus is the final judge of all humanity.

Each truth is a strong wrestling grip to defeat the devil. Therefore weakness is to be loose on the truth. To not know what God teaches us of his gospel is to choose weakness and danger. Any Christian unconcerned for doctrine, the teaching, and truth is a Christian in danger.

We can have the belt of truth, or we can be belted without the truth.

The breastplate of righteousness
Righteousness is of God (you can read about the Lord’s armour in Isaiah 59:15-18). Jesus saved his people in order that we share God’s righteousness. For believers, righteousness means saying no to angry sin, to greedy idolatry, and to immorality. Take the example of anger. In Ephesians 4:26-27, we see that we refuse the devil a foothold by refusing to turn anger into sin.

The devil hates righteousness. Therefore we become his prey when we go soft on righteousness. It’s not that (self-)righteousness saves us. It is that unrighteousness kills us.

Shoes of gospel readiness
The shoes that go and share the gospel of Jesus are a double-barrelled weapon in the battle against evil. Barrel one: love for neighbour invites that neighbour to forgiveness and eternal life. Barrel two: every person who then follows Christ is a loss to the devil, and is no longer following the prince of the air (see Ephesians 2:1-3).

In contrast, if we are Christians who refuse to share the gospel of Jesus, we’re like pacifist soldiers – dressed like an army, but refusing to fight. What a crazy waste!

The shield of faith
Faith is our deep personal commitment and pledge to the Lord whose truth we trust. Faith clings to God. God – being the rock – is life’s sure and stable foundation. We’re not pushovers when built onto Christ.

But weak faith is like trying to balance tall on one toe, with eyes closed, in a gale. It’s unstable and precarious.

The helmet of salvation
Salvation is safety. God promises his children protection. Specifically, we will not face punishment for our many sins because Jesus has already taken the punishment. The devil has nothing he can accuse us of.

So it’s a great battle weakness if we fall back from Jesus’ salvation and start to trust our own behaviour. When we choose our own works to save, we actually choose our own sins to condemn.

The sword of the Spirit
This sword is the word of God – God’s attack weapon against evil. Jesus grabbed the sword of the Spirit to defeat the devil in the wilderness, quoting the law of the Lord (Matthew 4:1-11). And when equipping the church, Jesus gave people who speak the word of God (Ephesians 4:11-12).

A Christian weak in the word of God is a soldier without a weapon. Enthusiasm will not cover that weakness. Such a soldier may be physically present, but unable to help the battle.

The armour of God is a wonderful gift from the Father. It is from him, and its power is his – that’s why the description concludes with extended call to prayer (verses 18-20). We accept the items as gifts, take them up, and then ask God to empower us as servants,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

 


 

Unlucky Friday 13th

This month includes a Friday 13th.

It also includes a Friday 20th, but that date never seems to get any special attention. Though difficult to spell, we are all aware of paraskevidekatriphobia: fear of Friday the thirteenth.

Christians are to be people who know the Spirit, but also know the foolishness of superstition. Christian preaching caused a riot, led by a silversmith who made lucky charms – he could see his business withering (Acts 19:23-41). Before Israel reached the land of promise, they were warned against charms (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

So I well know that Friday 13th is dumb.

Why, then, does it still register? Why does it always cross my mind that there could be an unlucky day, when I know it’s rubbish?

That’s not the only example. Without following the superstitions, I still note: when a black cat crosses my path; when there’s a ladder I could walk under; when Australian cricketers are on a score of 87. All folly – and all still in my mind.

I think this is a clear example of what each Christian struggles with: the persistence of sin and folly.

In Philippians 3, Paul warns against false teachers in church, those who would enslave us to laws and pride. Paul himself was the perfect candidate for such empty confidence, but he gave up all his ‘achievements’ in order to know Christ.

But note how Paul admits his ongoing weakness and failure. He’s not yet there:

not that I have already attained this or am already perfect

I do not consider that I have made it my own

I press on towards the goal

Do you struggle with sin? Does persistent error get you down? That’s normal! What’s not normal is thinking the Christian life is easy and always godly. Jesus will complete his remodelling of everyone who trusts him, but renovation is always messy.

So how about we use Friday 13th as a fun reminder. Let’s laugh at the folly of thinking one number can affect us (but only on a Friday), as we laugh at the folly of our own sin. And let’s remember to ‘press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’.

 


 

 

Not all desires are equal

Not all desires are the same.

Kind of obvious? Yes! But important in a world whose ethical arguments depend so much on desire. What rights rule today, in the western world? The right to self-determination, to self-expression, and to self-definition. Desire is all-knowing.

If I will it then it is OK. (The usual illogical caveat that follows is as long as it hurts no one.) And more than OK, if I will it then it’s morally required. Desires reign.

Proverbs 6 shows how false that is. The back end of the chapter warns at length about giving in to the desire for illicit sex: don’t go to the strange woman, the adulteress, your neighbour’s wife.

But in the flow of the argument, there’s comment about stealing food. Why? Have a look at these verses (29-32).

So [burned] is he who goes in to his neighbour’s wife;
    none who touches her will go unpunished.
People do not despise a thief if he steals
    to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry,
but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold;
    he will give all the goods of his house.
He who commits adultery lacks sense;
    he who does it destroys himself.

In the middle of warning against adultery, here is a hungry thief. He steals out of poverty and hunger. His desire for food is reasonable. We understand, and we don’t despise him for his crime. But we still punish him.

Theft remains theft, even when driven by the understandable desire for food.

But the point is not that the thief will still receive punishment. Not ‘the thief gets punishment, so too will the adulterer’.

The point is this: theft driven by hunger (though wrong) makes sense, but adultery is just plain stupid. Adultery is always self-harm.

He who commits adultery lacks sense;
    he who does it destroys himself.

Proverbs compares two desires here – the desire for food, the desire for sex. The comparison is in the realm of wrongdoing (stealing and adultery). And the comparison tells us to treat different desires differently.

Now there are lots of ways we need to heed this point. It’s pretty plain that there’s a trendiness in pushing for same-sex marriage. And it would be easy for me to go there (‘just because two people desire sex with each other does not mean it is good, or needs state validation’).

But I’d prefer us to see that ethical difference between desires applies all over the place. Perhaps I – and maybe you too? – need to consider where I err in this matter?

We might think of:

  • Any sexual desire outside of committed, life-long marriage
  • The desire to enjoy alcohol
  • Longing to see more of the world
  • The desire to succeed in your chosen employment
  • The longing for a successful ministry
  • A desire to be well thought-of
  • The desire for physical or mental health, for self or a loved one

And on and on we could go. Again and again, I believe, our desires take us. Then our reasons and arguments follow along to justify what we want.

So let’s remember that our desires can take us into error. Even the good desire for food can go feral. Jesus (in the final verse quoted below) said to desire first what is truly first – God’s kingdom.

The desire of the righteous ends only in good;
the expectation of the wicked in wrath. (Proverbs 11:23)

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

 


 

Quick review: One Forever

One Forever: the transforming power of being in Christ (Guidebooks for Life)One Forever: the transforming power of being in Christ by Rory Shiner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do I feel about this book? Answer: I wish I had a whole pile of copies to give to my Christian friends (as well as to non-Christians interested in this whole Jesus-business).

This is a short work, written after the material initially appeared as conference talks. So my rating is for that kind of book – a relatively quick but oh so important read. (It would be unfair to rate it for what it never tries to be.) One Forever is a book for any reader.

One thing I have found among all Christians, myself included, is the slip in grooves of language. Take the example of prayer. We know that he will always start, ‘Dear God’, while she says, ‘Loving Father’, and yet another invariably says, ‘Lord and Saviour …’ None of these are wrong, but words can lose meaning by being uttered without reflection.

The same is true, even more true, for the way we discuss our connection with God. I suspect one reason we become stale in our walk of faith is that we become stale in the descriptions we use for our walk of faith.

This need no be so. God’s word uses many beautiful colours and powerful patterns to describe how believers know God.

Being united with Christ is one such description. We should treasure it, and Shiner’s book is a tool to help us do precisely that.

Unity with Christ, or being ‘in him’, is a wonderfully all-encompassing description of the Christian life. One Forever, in eight short chapters delves into some of these. For instance, being one with Jesus in his death, or being one with Jesus in his resurrection, or being one with Jesus in his body.

I won’t include much more detail, because I don’t want to write one of those reviews which allows us to think: Great, that’s helpful and now I don’t need to read the book. Please do read it! And I think you’ll be encouraged by thee content, as well as the practical changes that follow a serious commitment to living in the light of union with Christ.
 


 

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