“Keep praying and being a winsome Christian”

Two of the most difficult teachings in Scripture for sinful man to accept is that there is a) an Almighty Creator God to whom we need to give an account (Mt 12:36), and b) that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only one way for forgiveness of sins and eternal life in glory (Jn 14:6).

No true minister of God’s word can preach on these truths of Scripture, especially the latter, and his heart not filled with sorrow and compassion for those who have loved ones not acknowledging God or the only way of salvation (Mt 23:37; Lk 13:34).  And so, realizing that only God by the power of His word and Spirit can change hearts and draw people to himself through Christ, we encourage all Christians to keep praying and being a winsome Christian. Pray that God by the might of His Holy Spirit may even use what we say and do to bring that change about.

But how long should we keep praying for that change?  Should we ever cease praying for it?  No and Yes. Please keep praying for a change of heart until their earthly life is done.  There should never be a time, while God gives us and them the breath of life when we should stop praying.  God can change the most stubborn hearts to embrace Jesus Christ, even at the eleventh hour (Jn 3:8; Lk 23:42ff).  So, don’t stop pleading with God to change hearts so that loved ones will embrace Christ for this side of the grave there is always hope for change.

Second, continue to be a winsome Christian.  Some of you may remember Mr Bill Hayden, a former Labor opposition leader, Republican, humanist and the second longest serving Governor-General of Australia. Mr Hayden was often cited as one of Australia’s most prominent atheists.  Now at the age of 85, the Lord changed Mr Hayden’s heart and he was recently baptized.  Four years ago, he suffered a stroke and spent seven months in the hospital. During that time, he had lots of time to think.  Interestingly, one of his biggest inspiration for his conversion has been Sister Angela Mary Doyle, administrator of the Mater Hospital in Brisbane for 23 years. Her continuing Christian witness over many years played a major role in Mr Hayden’s conversion.

Mr Hayden says the baptism ceremony meant a lot to him. “When I went into the church that day, it was a hot day outside, and inside was very cool. It felt like a sanctuary, and I felt elevated in my chest, it was sort of ethereal,” he said. “And I thought, ‘I’ve always been here, I shouldn’t have wandered off’. “I do believe Jesus was such a magnificent man, he suffered for our shortcomings. Christianity is a religion of love. I couldn’t ask for more than that.”

So, is there ever a time when we stop praying or being a Christian witness for the conversion of a loved one or neighbour or friend?  Yes, when they have breathed their last breath on earth.  But until then, keep praying and keep being a winsome Christian. While there is life there is hope and who knows, God may do a ‘Hayden’ on them still.  May it indeed be so!  JZ.

It’s the Lord’s Day…

Sometimes between worship services on a Sunday, Trudy and I will go for a walk down Pako St for some relaxing exercise.  And it saddens us that for some people, the Sunday has become a little like the other six days of the week, just another working day.   Now I realize that some staff who are working on the Sunday may have other times when they can have a day off.  I also realize that the cows need to be milked and the sick need to be cared for and other essential services need to happen on the Lord’s Day.

However, as Christians coming to enjoy worship, we need to give some careful thought as to how we spend the Lord’s Day and also how we allow other Christians to spend the Lord’s Day.  When I am allowed to take a ‘Sunday off’ and worship elsewhere, the last thing I need is for someone to come along and dump all their ‘church’ issues on my lap as though I am the ‘fix-it’ man. I am not the ‘fix-it’ man and that is not why I came to worship.   I came to worship to hear the Lord’s word being expounded; to delight in what God has done for me in Christ and hopefully to ‘rest’ in the day the Lord has given me.

Now I know we can chat about all sorts of things to each other on a Sunday after church.  That’s good and it is part of the fellowship of the saints. However, I just wonder sometimes whether we don’t cross the line too often with others and don’t allow them to ‘rest in the Lord?’  It’s not just ministers who sometimes get bombarded about ‘work’ things, it can also be people in other professions.  The Lord has given us six days to be busy with our daily work and in His wisdom has set one day aside to allow us to worship and to rest in Him.  Please, don’t rob fellow worshippers of that privilege.   Allow your busyness and their busyness of the previous six days to remain behind them.  Let us give each other the opportunity to take a break from our usual labours and to just rest and delight in the Lord on His day.

Now you may be wondering if we shouldn’t talk about our daily ‘work’ after worship, what can we talk about? Allow me to give you some ideas.  You could ask how someone’s week has been. You could ask about their health or their families well-being if you know there has been sickness.  You may even offer to make someone a meal or do their washing if you know they are struggling.  You could invite someone around for a further chat over lunch. You could chat about your recent week away and the holiday you enjoyed.  You could even chat about the good news of Jesus Christ that you heard from God’s word that morning – (wow that’s new).  You could chat about how you shared the good news of Jesus Christ with your neighbour. You could even quietly take them aside and offer them a word of prayer if you know they are doing it tough.

Our Creator knew what He was doing when He set aside one day a week when we can just delight in Him and all His blessings on us, not least the blessing of being known by Him in Christ. Have a blessed day of worship and fellowship this coming Sunday and hopefully every Sunday. JZ

How to avoid drought…

We have heard a fair bit about drought lately.  Not only is our own land affected, so are other places around the world.  Often, when there is drought it means lack of refreshing rains.  When that does occur, the soil gets hard and the seed planted doesn’t bud to life and if it does, only shows life for a little while or it stunts life altogether.

Did you know there is also such a thing as spiritual ‘drought’ that can have the same results?  Paul when writing to the Church at Colosse, gives thanks to the Lord for their faith, love (Ch 1v4), and their hope of heaven (v5) which is all a result of the gospel taking root in the rich soil of their hearts prepared by the Holy Spirit.   Now you would think Paul would leave well enough alone, but he doesn’t. From v9ff, Paul prays that they may even show more spiritual fruit.

‘Fruit’ in the Christian’s life is anything that is pleasing to the Lord.  In fact, the Gardener looks for fruit in our lives, just as any gardener looks for fruit on their garden fruit trees.  And just as we love it when our garden fruit trees grow and bear fruit, so also the Gardener is pleased when He sees us grow in our knowledge of Him and bear even more fruit.

So, the fruit we see in our lives is directly related to our knowledge of God and His will for us and particularly our love for Him in light of what He has done for us through His Son. And now, in light of the gift of faith we have received in Jesus Christ, we are now qualified to share in an eternal inheritance.    And the more we feed on that truth and the more we grow in the knowledge of God and His will for our lives, the more fruit we will bear to the glory of our Saviour God.

What does that fruit look like?  The desire to have Christ and his honour first in our lives.  The ability to consider others better than ourselves.  The blessing to forgive one another even when it is difficult.  The humility to tolerate each other and see each other as precious in God’s sight. To be generous with our time, resources and finances when there is a need.  To assist and encourage others to delight in our Saviour.   When necessary, to deny ourselves, turn the other cheek, so that others may prosper in the Lord.

Now just as our average garden fruit trees will not grow or produce a good crop without proper care so it is with us if we do not avail ourselves of the nutrients given to us by the Gardener.  And the prime nutrients He has provided is his Word and Spirit.  The more we prayerfully feed on His Word, the greater knowledge we will have of Him and the more we will allow the Holy Spirit to produce the type of fruit in our lives that pleases our Saviour and avoid spiritual drought.  JZ

“It’s not all about you…”

We live in a world that is dominated by ‘individualism.’  We see it on Facebook, Twitter, in our daily newspapers, politics, even in sporting clubs.  You listen to TV interviews and much of it is about ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘myself’!  Yes, people may disguise it by speaking about what is good for the country or for the sporting club, but so often is driven by what is good for ‘me.’

Unfortunately, this ‘individualism’ can easily creep into the church.  One of my ‘pet-hates’ is hearing the first person, singular, pronoun, used too often in worship services.  In fact, some who lead Christian worship services will open the service with a corporate prayer rather than inviting people to have a personal, silent, individual prayer for they see the worship service as a body of believers together.

Another area where we see this ‘individualism’ coming through in worship is in our selection of praise songs and hymns. Yes, it is sometimes unavoidable when we recite or sing a ‘creedal’ hymn together, but so many ‘new’ songs and some ‘old’ favourites are all about ‘I’ and we need to watch out for it.

Still another area where ‘individualism’ is creeping into worship is in our prayers.  ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘myself’ shouldn’t be used when we lead in prayer during a worship service.   There is biblical warrant to suggest this and it is found in the Lord’s prayer.  You will notice that Jesus doesn’t begin that prayer by saying, “My father in heaven…” but uses the phrase “Our Father in heaven.”  In fact, on closer inspection, Jesus doesn’t say, ‘I, me’, or ‘myself’ anywhere throughout this prayer.  The use of the first-person singular pronoun is completely missing.

When we are at worship, or a group Bible study, or some other Christian meeting where more than one is gathered, we are not only in relationship with our Saviour God but also with each other.   In fact, we are saved into Christ’s body, the church.  Therefore, the use of the first-person, singular pronoun is inappropriate in such settings.  Hence, in these settings, we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

Dr Albert Mohler writes that “one of our greatest problems and deficiencies in prayer is that we begin with our own concerns and our own petitions without regard for our brothers and sisters.  Many of us falter in prayer because we begin with the wrong word: “I” instead of “our.”

Is there ever a time when the first-person, singular, pronoun can be used?  Sure, there is.  There is no better time, and perhaps the only time, than when we are alone with God in prayer in our inner room.   That’s the time to pray, “My father in heaven…   JZ.

The need for prayer

In as much as I really dislike it when people use prayer to somehow manipulate our reluctant Father in heaven into doing something positive for His children, it is equally troublesome if God’s people don’t pray because they think God’s knows it all already.
When Elijah was on Mt Carmel and the fire from heaven had burnt the sacrifice prepared, the rain did not fall on the land until Elijah had prayed, not once, but seven times.
Nothing in our relationship with God should ever be regarded as routine. Furthermore, although we live in the ‘age of grace’, it does not mean we should no longer pray. That doesn’t necessarily mean our prayers need to be long or eloquent, after all, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans words cannot express (Romans 8:27). Yet, every Christian should pray and we should be known as people of prayer.
Elijah’s servant was probably tired of running to the horizon to see whether Elijah’s prayers were being answered but that is exactly what he did, no less than seven times before he saw a cloud the size of a human fist (1 Kgs 18:42-44; cf. James 5:17-18).
James also reminds us that “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2c). The parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18 reminds us that we need to be persistent in prayer, not because we need to badger God into submission, but because our Father in heaven loves to give good gifts to His children, ultimately for His glory and their eternal benefit.
So, prayer is the avenue through which we go to receive what God has promised. All of us must walk that avenue daily. Yes, our Father God can do all things, but His power often requires the prayers of His people. So, let us be people of prayer as we go into 2018. JZ.

Advent 2 – “The Saviour who came to deal with bitterness”

Animal behaviourists suggest that ‘elephants’ have long memories.  In the wild, an elephant’s memory is key to its survival, and the herd it is in.  When confronted with an unfamiliar elephant, they huddle together for protection. They are able to track up to thirty elephants at one time and will recognise other elephants as friendly even after being apart for several years.

Where am I going with this?  Elephants are not the only ones who have long memories, so do human beings.  Sometimes our memories are really good and wholesome but at other times, if we are not careful, some memories are gnawing at us like a cancer that will not let go of its victim.

Often, these ‘cancerous’ memories go back for years and are deeply rooted in bitterness.  In other words, we have been hurt in the past by a person’s abuse, whether it be physical, verbal or otherwise, and we have never come to the point of dealing with the hurt it has caused.  As a result, we tend to be unforgiving.  The writer to Hebrews reminds us that, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15).

Rev. Dr Albert Mohler in his exposition on Hebrews (Exalting Jesus in Hebrews), say that believers must be on their guard against the poison of bitterness.  I couldn’t agree more for I have seen it derail people’s lives.   Dr Mohler goes on to say, “bitterness is a deadly contagion and a sign of serious spiritual trouble. It’s an on-ramp to the way of sin, not to the way of righteousness…” (pg 203).  It’s no wonder that Paul also exhorts the Ephesian believers (Eph 4:31) “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Thankfully, bitterness doesn’t have to have the last word in our lives.  Jesus came into this world to deal also with the sin of bitterness and when confessed and given to Jesus to deal with, brings healing into one’s life.  It’s only when it remains unconfessed that it has the potential to do great harm.

Now that brings me back to having long memories.  I am not suggesting for a moment that we should forget the hurt that has happened to us or that the pain isn’t real.  Nor am I suggesting for a moment that it doesn’t have consequences.  You cannot expect victims to just forgive and forget!  In fact, in most cases that would be very unwise.  However, since we have been forgiven much, we also forgive one another so that we will not miss out on the grace of God in our own lives.  And if you have been the perpetrator, there is forgiveness that comes with godly sorrow and true repentance.  And sometimes, it is wise to seek the forgiveness of those you know you have hurt.  However, also be aware there are consequences to the pain and hurt we may have caused, which in turn may mean that it would be very unwise and irresponsible for the victim to forget.

Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for coming to deal with our sin and restoring us by your grace into fellowship with Yourself and each other.  Amen.  JZ.

Same old, same old…not quite

When one looks at history one could be forgiven for thinking that history just keeps on repeating itself, same old, same old.   Over recent weeks we have seen ‘natural disasters’ occur which includes hurricanes and wide spread flooding.  As a result, people have lost their lives, some have lost their homes and their immediate livelihoods. The current and seemingly endless wars against terrorism, the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and some African nations and we dare not forget the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, never seem to end.  Same old, same old.

However, when we look closer to home, it’s not the same old, same old anymore. As a nation and perhaps even more pointedly as Christians in this nation, the attacks are now being directed more at us than ever before.  There is a strong and consistent push by a very loud minority to attack the very foundational principles, God’s law and biblical values, on which this nation was built.

We have the deplorable marriage equality debate going on. That is a direct attack on God’s clear law about marriage and those who endeavour to uphold those laws.  Even though everything that was said in the first ‘No’ TV commercial against same-sex marriage was true, those participating have been called liars, dishonest, ridiculous and the opposition leader called it ‘Rubbish’ and those who participated are being actively vilified.  In Victoria, we have to deal with the immoral ‘Safe Schools Program’ which encourages students to do things which are completely in opposition to God’s law and hence also to the values we as Christians seek to uphold. In Victoria, we have to deal with the euthanasia question which is being promoted in our Parliament.  The question of when an abortion is still ‘legal’ continues to push the envelope.  Same old, same old?  Not quite, in fact. Not by a long way!   Our parents never had to deal with these sort of immoral issues, but parents today, both Christian and non-Christian are continually faced with these types of moral questions and attacks which in a large part come from the leftist academia.

In a world that seems to be spiralling out of control on many fronts, it is easy to forget who actually rules and is seated in a position of absolute authority.  It’s not Kim John Un. It’s not President Donald Trump, nor is it Malcolm Turnbull, or Premier Andrews, but none other than our victorious, resurrected, Saviour King (Eph 1:20ff).  And although we may be targeted as Christians the real target is our Saviour King.  Satan and those who do his bidding really only have one goal and that is to discredit, tear down, and rubbish Christians, so that their ultimate King is discredited.

Now sometimes we need to make our voice heard but we need to do it with integrity, especially when we realize our Saviour is being attacked.  We need to speak truthfully, graciously, and winsomely.  This takes much wisdom and since all Christians are ‘fair-game’ it may be prudent to ask the Lord for wisdom after all Scripture reminds us that God gives generously to those who ask (Jm 1:5) so that we can speak with integrity.

One thing that can help us in these discussions is to remember that our risen Saviour is King and is firmly seated at God’s right hand.  Nothing will happen that is outside of God’s control not even the attacks that are directed toward us. Those who wish to get rid of the ‘shackle’ of Christianity and any reference to the King, will do so at their own peril (Psa 2).  A second thing to remember is to “play the ball and not the person.” Our fight is not necessarily against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12ff).

Finally, why should we bother?  We bother because we wish to see the name of Christ exalted and we wish to see our neighbours won for Christ’s kingdom if that be His will.  We want them to ‘Kiss the Son now, lest He be angry with them forever and they perish in the way and never feel the blessing of those who take refuge in Him’ (Psalm 2:12 emphasis added) JZ. 

“Keep fighting the good fight of faith”

One of the struggles Christians face occasionally is to ‘keep fighting’ the fight of faith when things seem so cyclic and pointless.  Sometimes it is not only non-Christians who ask, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet 3:4ff), occasionally Christians do as well, although probably not loud enough for anyone to hear.

The reason we continue the fight the good fight of faith is based squarely on the promises that are contained in God’s Word.   Just because things seem to just keep reoccurring does not mean that God does not exist.  Indeed, unbelief does not mean that God does not exist! Note Peter’s answer in 3v5, “People deliberately overlook the fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God…” (cf Romans 1:18). Please note, Peter didn’t appeal to some scientific proof that God exists and created all things, he appeals to God’s Word, of if you will, to the Genesis account.

One of the great promises contained in God’s Word which is central to the continuing fight of faith is the completed work of Jesus Christ as God’s Son, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life of all who would believe.   Ultimately, Jesus is the answer for without Him, we have every reason to be downcast.  Yes, we have a few years here on earth to enjoy each other’s company.  Yes, we have families that we love and love us.  Yes, we may even have a great job and career.  We may even be blessed to be part of a great church family.   But if that is all we can hope for in this life, although reason enough for thanks, it would leave us rather empty when our days come to an end on this earth.

Thankfully, God’s Word teaches that because of God’s great electing love to us in Jesus Christ and His completed work of salvation, this life is not the end.   The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus also, for the joy set before Him (to be seated at the right hand of His Father in heaven), endured the cross (Heb 12:2).  Likewise, we too, have a glorious future, but it can only be meaningful if we keep our eyes on Jesus and continue to hold fast to His infallible word.

But there are also other encouragements given in God’s word to keep us fighting the good fight of faith.  We have God’s Holy Spirit within us, reminding us of our secure position in Christ and with our heavenly Father (Rom 8).  We have the means of grace available to us, including the sacraments and prayer through which we can enter the throne room of grace (Heb 4:14ff).

And finally, we have the fellowship of the saints, such an important encouragement when one is inclined to stop fighting the good fight of faith.  Is it any wonder that the writer of Hebrews encourages the early Christians not to neglect meeting together, as was the habit of some, but even more as they see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:25)?  “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22:20-21). JZ

“I will never, never drive them away” (2)

One of the most difficult things for Christians to get their heads around is that their faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour is all a work of grace.  The saying “there are no free lunches” is generally true for life as we know it, however, when it comes to our forgiveness and the gift of eternal life, it is all free for us to receive with thankfulness, for the ultimate cost was borne by our Saviour Jesus Christ.  We need to understand this fundamental teaching of Scripture for it is vital for our thankfulness and assurance.   Without it, everything else we believe the Bible teaches will be skewed.

Now it may surprise you, that many Christians cannot come to terms with this teaching and continue to put the ‘cart before the horse.’   Some continue to say that they chose to become a Christian at a given point in time.  Even this past week I read a message where the author states that it is only when we repent and show real sorrow for our sin and come to grips with it that Jesus will have compassion for you and will forgive you.

With respect to the author, Scripture teaches the opposite.  Dead people cannot show sorrow for their sin (Eph 2:1ff).   God did not send His Son into this world because we were so sorry for our sin but because He loved this world including us, despite our sin (Jn 3:16, cf Gen 3:15).  Paul tells the Roman Christians that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, more than that, while we were still his enemies (Rom 5:8ff).   Of course, this does not mean God loves our sin or that we are sinners, on the contrary, He hates sin and that is why He sent His Son to deal with the sin that separates us from Him, for He is Holy and cannot live with sin.

So, how do we come to have faith alone in Christ alone?  By the power of the Holy Spirit, sent from the Father and the Son, who quickens us to life or if you will, to regenerate us from dead people to being alive in Christ (Eph 2:4ff).  The gracious Holy Spirit does that work by making us aware of our sin and need for a Saviour.  The Holy Spirit’s work is not based on anything we have done or any commendable virtue in us nor anything foreseen in us.  The Holy Spirit’s is obeying the Father’s will to bring us from ‘dead people walking’ to being alive in Christ because, God in His love and mercy, chose us to be saved by Christ before time even began (Eph 1:4ff).  It’s only then we begin to repent and show godly sorrow for our sin, and not before!  “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:10, 19).

This understanding of our undeserved salvation is also the reason why we respond in thankfulness and now begin to do the works God has placed before us to do, for His glory.  And it is also the reason we can have the assurance of salvation, for as Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never (never) drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:37-38).  Surely there is only one thing left to say, “Praise God for His wonderful, electing love to us.  To Him be all the glory!”  JZ

“I will never, never drive them away”

This Sunday, we have the privilege of having two young people profess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.   Make no mistake, this is a real blessing, for a power has been working in the hearts of these two young people that no one can really fathom.

The Holy Spirit has convicted these two young people to profess their faith publicly before the Lord’s people that they trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.  The Holy Spirit, using God’s Word, along with the witness of their parents and other family members, including the church family, has so moved their wills and changed their hearts that they have now reached a point of publicly acknowledging Jesus as Lord of their lives!   That is a great reason for rejoicing and for which to give thanks to the Lord.

Now someone may ask, “How do we know that their profession of faith is credible and genuine and not something that is done because the family or other influential person has brought pressure to bear on them?”  Well, other than the usual checks and balances we use, (i.e: elders examining them, their life and conduct, their love for the Lord and His word), we cannot be sure.  However, why would we even cast doubt on their profession?  In today’s western societies, the norm is not to profess one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but to walk away from it and the church.

No, if their profession of faith is genuine (and only the Lord can really know), then we can be assured, they have been saved in Christ from before time began (Eph 1:4ff).  Furthermore, we can be sure that God will complete the good work He has begun in them (Phil 1:6).  It is not possible for them to be lost to the devil!  Yes, there may be periods of time when their love for the Lord may wane a little.  There may even a season where it seems they have walked away from the Lord, being rather disobedient in life and conduct.  However, if their profession of faith is genuine, they cannot fall from God’s gracious hands and He will in His good time cause them to repent and turn back to Him.  We do not fall in and out of God’s gracious hands – that is not possible.  Once saved, forever safe!

So, what do we say to those who seemingly have walked away from the faith?  We keep praying for them!  We keep reminding them of the promises they made before the Lord and His people as the opportunity presents itself.  We lovingly appeal to them, even with tears if necessary, to return to the fold.

Today, we give thanks for the Lord’s gracious work in the hearts of these two young people.  May we as God’s family surround them with much love and encouragement and may the Lord use them and us for the glory of his name and the extension of His kingdom.  JZ