Loving your neighbours

We truly live in an interconnected world and we know what’s going on better than ever before.  We can truly help our fellow global citizens whenever we shop the best we can.

From Mark 12:30-31 and Matthew 22:36-40, loving our neighbours is second only to loving God.

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”

Here are links to the brand index collated by Baptist World Australia dated 20 April 2016 and also the full report.  Be warned, the full report is just that, it is comprehensive.

Happy shopping

Psalm 40

Thanks for Bron for sharing a message on Psalm 40 with us on 15th January.  Here is a little word find puzzle that may or may not act as a refresher and be a bit of fun as well:

Psalm 40 word puzzle game

For the musically inclined you can view the song “40” performanced by U2 and MW Smith through these links:

As a refresher here is the full text of Psalm 40.

1I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
2He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
3He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the Lord.
4Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust,
And does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
5Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works
Which You have done;
And Your thoughts toward us
Cannot be recounted to You in order;
If I would declare and speak of them,
They are more than can be numbered.
6Sacrifice and offering You did not desire;
My ears You have opened.
Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.
7Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8I delight to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law is within my heart.”
9I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness
In the great assembly;
Indeed, I do not restrain my lips,
O Lord, You Yourself know.
10I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart;
I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation;
I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth
From the great assembly.
11Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord;
Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me.
12For innumerable evils have surrounded me;
My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up;
They are more than the hairs of my head;
Therefore my heart fails me.
13Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me!
14Let them be ashamed and brought to mutual confusion
Who seek to destroy my life;
Let them be driven backward and brought to dishonor
Who wish me evil.
15Let them be confounded because of their shame,
Who say to me, “Aha, aha!”
16Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You;
Let such as love Your salvation say continually,
“The Lord be magnified!”
17But I am poor and needy;
Yet the Lord thinks upon me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
Do not delay, O my God.

And to end, the message from Psalm 40 is sometimes thought of as:

  • Faith Persevering in Trial

and I guess all of us have had trials in our life to overcome.

The Resiliency Factor

Thanks to Bron for delivering a message to us based on the Bible readings:

  • Isaiah 58:1-12;
  • Psalm 112:1-9

In a way the message from Isaiah is a classic that many of us can relate to.  We say one thing and do another.  Us humans are a complicated and conflicted bunch.

As Bron communicated, this was at a time when the Jewish people were in exile, living away from their homeland and you could imagine them feeling aggrieved and maybe in anger that their God (Yahweh) had seemed to desert them.  This can be seen from Isaiah 58:3:

3‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

And yet, despite the hardship of exile and the loss of their land they were apparently obedient, following the laws given to Moses and recorded in the Torah. Some of the people were seemingly trying to do what is right. See Isaiah 58:2

For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.

However, there is a twist to all of this.  The reality (or actions of the people) to some of this apparent obedience is somewhat different.  From Isaiah, 58:3 – 5,

3b“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

How often do we as humans say one thing and do another?  Unfortunately probably more often than we care to think about.

Rather, God reminds the people what real obedience and doing the will of God is, paraphrased slightly from Isaiah 58: 6 – 7:

  • To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, 
  • To set the oppressed free and break every yoke
  • Share your food with the hungry; and
  • To provide the poor wanderer with shelter;
  • when you see the naked, to clothe them and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

God also reminds them how this is not a fruitless pursuit and commandments to follow mindlessly but that these acts will be rewarded, as recorded in Isaiah 58: 8-9, 10b -12:

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

10b then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

As Bron mentioned, these rewards start out being very individual or personal (verse 8) and then end with the whole community being rewarded (verse 12).

Surely words to live by if we act them out in our lives.

Yet something does and can hold us back.  Bron mentioned the Circle of Courage as shown here:

CircleOfCourage

More material on the Circle of Courage can be found here.

The concepts are from a secular viewpoint but can help us explain some of the things that we do as individuals and point to things for us to look at in our lives.  By investigating our own lives and modifying our behaviour, it may help us reach the point of generosity where we act out as individuals and as a Church community the words of Isaiah 58: 6 – 7.  From above, and repeated again, here:

  • To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, 
  • To set the oppressed free and break every yoke
  • Share your food with the hungry; and
  • To provide the poor wanderer with shelter;
  • when you see the naked, to clothe them and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

And to remind us that these acts of generosity, of following God’s word and representing God on earth have real meaning, we receive an abundance of rewards in return.  So by helping others we literally help ourselves.  From Psalm 112: 1-9:

Praise the Lord.[b]

Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
    who find great delight in his commands.

Their children will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
    and their righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
    for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
    their righteousness endures forever;
    their horn[c] will be lifted high in honor.

What does God require?

Following on from the message on Sunday, here is a repeat of The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) that Andrea read aloud for us.

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)

1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, 2and He began to teach them, saying:

3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.

7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And here is a reminder of the message from Andrea questioning us “What does God require?” with particular reference to Micah 6:8 from The Old Testament.

Micah 6:8

“He has told you, O people, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to:

  • do justice, and
  • to love kindness, and
  • to walk humbly with your God?”

The challenge for us then is to take up the challenge from Micah 6:8 and through our actions to make these words real in the world we live in.

The keyword is perhaps “action” as it requires us to not only think about these words but make them real.  If you can remember whatever action you said on Sunday to the person next to you, try and think of this action in the days, weeks and months ahead and then revisit them throughout the year to see how you are actioning it in your life.

Who Is Jesus?

Christmas has come and gone and since we have celebrated the birth of Jesus this leads to an interesting question is “Who is Jesus?”

Scholars and researchers alike (both secular and non-secular) could go on but here is a potential starting point for you to think about.

Who Is Jesus?

Jesus the Man
Although we number our years from the beginning of the Christian era, scholars believe Jesus was actually born between 6 and 4 B.C. Both Matthew and Luke recount Jesus’ birth in the city of Bethlehem, in what is now southern Israel. Jesus was born into a Jewish family and remained faithful to Judaism all His life. Jesus spent his youth and early adulthood in the city of Nazareth, in the land of Galilee. Almost nothing is known of this period of His life, except for the incident at the Temple told in Luke 2:41-51.

At about age 30, Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist and began His public ministry. He selected 12 disciples who would carry on his ministry after Him. He traveled through the regions of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea, teaching in the synagogues and speaking to the crowds of people who followed wherever He went. He preached about the kingdom of God, repentance, and love for all people. The gospels tell how He healed the sick wherever He went and performed many other miracles.

Jesus’ public ministry lasted about three years, and He found many followers among the Jews of Palestine. However, He had enemies, too. Jesus was very critical of the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His time. He said they observed the letter of the Jewish law, but defiled its spirit by living lives of greed and sin. These religious leaders plotted to kill Jesus, and eventually forced the Roman governor, Pilate, to order His crucifixion on Friday, the eve of Passover, in about the year 30 A.D.

The Bible tells that Jesus arose from the dead on the following Sunday, and He remained on Earth another 40 days before ascending into heaven. Jesus, Himself, said He was the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah awaited by the Jews. He said His death and resurrection were all part of God’s mysterious plan of salvation.

Jesus the Good Teacher
It is impossible to read the Gospels without getting a sense of the intensity and passion of Jesus’ teachings. He spoke with great authority on spiritual matters, often leaving his detractors tongue-tied and looking foolish. Many of His teachings are disturbing and shake us out of our comfort and complacency. He spoke of loving God above all other things, caring about all other people as much as we care about ourselves, the coming kingdom of God and eternal life.
Jesus often spoke in parables, using common images of nature and agriculture, to deliver His spiritual messages. Many people, often including His disciples, were left baffled by the parables. Jesus explained His parables to his disciples in private, but many of the explanations have not been recorded in the Gospels.

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them (the crowds that followed Him), as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. (NIV, Mark 4:33-34) Why did Jesus speak in parables? Why not just explain everything in plain language? Jesus, Himself, had this explanation:

When (Jesus) was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'” (NIV, Mark 4:10-12)
It seems that Jesus constructed His parables so only those who were pure of heart and receptive to His teachings could understand them. Jesus’ enemies and the merely curious were left baffled. This seemingly harsh attitude may be Jesus’ way of making His message available and inviting those who wish to understand and believe while never forcing anyone to know and accept His truths. If Jesus had spoken in plain language, the sheer power of His personality and message might have forced many to believe, even against their own will. By speaking in parables, Jesus made it possible to decline the invitation to understanding and commitment found in the parables. (Marshall, p. 869)

The parables serve a second purpose as well. How can you explain to someone an experience they have never had? How would you explain the beauty of a sunset to someone who had never seen one? The parables are skillfully painted mental “pictures” to help us understand the kingdom of God and other spiritual things we have never experienced ourselves. The New Bible Dictionary expresses it this way:

The parables are the appropriate form of communication for bringing to men the message of the kingdom, since their function is to jolt them into seeing things in a new way. They are a means of enlightenment and persuasion, intended to bring the hearers to the point of decision. Jesus, as it were, stands where his hearers stand, and uses imagery familiar to them to bring new and unfamiliar insights to them. (Marshall, p. 867)

Jesus the Saviour
For those who have accepted the gift of faith, Jesus is much more than a historical figure and a good teacher. He is the Christ, the Savior, the Son of God, who came to Earth to redeem us from sin, establish His spiritual kingdom of God on Earth, and to offer the promise of eternal life. Although He is not now on Earth in bodily form, He is present with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is our guide and savior, the source of all our strength, who will lead us through this earthly life and into eternal life beyond. We can talk to Him in prayer. He speaks to us through the Bible and our consciences. He strengthens us with His love.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV, John 14:26-27)

Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this- that I am with you always, even to the end of the world. (TLB, Matthew 28:19-20)

All of the above is courtesy of http://www.christianbiblereference.org

It’s Christmas Day – The Birth of Jesus

Christmas day has arrived so given it is a global celebration (even if its meaning is quite often forgotten), here is today’s post to remember the birth of Jesus.

The story of Jesus’ birth links the past and the future. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth show He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of a Messiah (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). He was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:5-6). He was called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15).

Jesus was born in a stable – the most humble of circumstances. Similarly, Jesus showed us how God’s favour rests with the poor and downtrodden. The Gentile wise men came to worship Jesus. Later, the Gentiles would make up most of the Christian world. Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus foreshadows Jesus’ crucifixion about 33 years later.

As we know from our Advent series and the reading from Isaiah 9:2 -7, Jesus’ birth and in particular v6b  “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”, Jesus is now remembered with these titles and equally, promises and expectations to be fulfilled.

Unlike how it would have been understood 2700 years ago, we understand that peace through Jesus is not through the art of war but through the heart, love for one another and acts of compassion to all of society.

References

Isaiah 7:14. therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: a maiden is with child and she will bear a son, and will call his name Immanuel.

Matthew 1:23. Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son. They shall call his name Immanuel;” which is, being interpreted, “God with us”.

Micah 5:2But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

Hosea 11:1When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.