God’s immeasurable love for ‘us’…

God’s immeasurable love for ‘us’…
 
Over recent weeks I have been watching a series called “Blue Planet II”, narrated by David Attenborough. This past week’s edition focused on the fish life around the Coral Reefs with the Great Barrier Reef being one of the most prominent ones. God’s creation is just magnificent, and the variety of fish and corals and underwater plant life is just incredible, mind boggling!
 
But God’s immeasurable love in sending His most beloved Son was not for the beauty displayed in the Great Barrier Reef. God’s love, as seen in Jesus Christ, was given first and foremost for mankind. That’s us! And who is ‘us?’ ‘Us’ are all people that live on this earth. That includes our neighbours. It includes the Muslim, or Hindu, or the Aborigine living up the street. Remember, God so loved this world!
 
And what was so ‘beautiful’ about ‘us’ that God would send His only beloved Son? Zip! Zero! In fact, Scripture reminds us that God sent His Son to be born, live and die, for sinners, indeed, while we were still enemies of God. That act is the definition of immeasurable love. It may be conceivable that a man would lay down his life for a friend, but for his enemies, highly unlikely!
 
But God loved ‘us’ and gave His only Son. Andrew Kuyvenhoven comments, “It may be possible to give without love, but it is impossible to love without giving.” Isn’t that what we also do on special occasions? We love our parents, spouse, children, grandchildren, friends and so we give. We don’t consider it a burden to give to our loved ones. We love them and so we give willingly. The recipients of our ‘giving’ know we love them when we are willing to give, even when it hurts. And the recipients of our giving usually accept the gift because they want to show their appreciation to the giver.
 
At this time of the year, we appreciate the gifts we may receive from others, but our primary focus as Christians is not to forget the greater ‘gift’ God in his immeasurable love has given for us. This gift is given, not just for a few special people, but for all who will receive the gift. We may not have the ability to receive this gift in our own strength, but we do have the responsibility to accept this gift as our Saviour, for that is the way God has presented Him to us by His Word and Spirit. And the promise is that all who receive the gift of God’s Son by faith will not perish but will enjoy eternal life. Please pray that many will continue to enjoy and hear about God’s immeasurable love to ‘us’ this festive season. JZ.

God ordains a marvellous birth…

God ordains a marvellous birth with eternal consequences…
 
One thing Christians believe is that there is a God who ordains all things, not just the big things, but even the small things that happen in life. On a recent Breakfast TV program, there was a short segment showing an exploding star that ‘just’ happened in some distant galaxy and we were ‘lucky’ enough to see it. And even though scientists were amazed by the spectacular sight there was no acknowledgement of a powerful God who had ordained that to happen, but simply a reference to the evolving universe.
 
To know that God ordains all things is a real blessing for us and it is good to be reminded for we are prone to forget so quickly. Take the Christmas event as an example. God ordained beforehand that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2), one of probably many children born around that time. However, for this particular baby to be born at this time and this place, God also ordained it that Caesar Augustus would be moved to issue a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And as a result, Mary and Joseph needed to travel to Bethlehem to be registered so that the Scriptures concerning the birth of the Messiah would be fulfilled (Lk 2:1ff).
 
Now if you are inclined to think that God ordaining the explosion of a star in some distant galaxy is a far more significant event than ordaining some census to be taken on a small little planet in this vast universe that He had created, you would be making a serious mistake. Likewise, if you were to think that the God-ordained birth of this little baby Jesus in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago is insignificant in the grand scheme of things, you would be making an even greater mistake.
 
We may often feel pretty small being just one of nearly eight billion people walking on this earth. However, because of what God ordained for His glory to occur in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago, He shows that He loves us more than some exploding star in a distant galaxy. God did not ordain His Son to be born and then die for some distant star, but for us. In fact, God uses all things, whether it be Presidents or Prime Ministers, economic prosperity or poverty, health or illness, for the good of those who love Him in Christ so that He may be glorified as we are conformed more to the image of His Son.
 
Thankfully, God also ordained that His proclaimed word, guided and effectively applied by the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts to bring us to a saving faith in His only Son as our Saviour and Lord.
 
All this is and so much more gives us reason for worship and to share this good news this Christmas. The One and Only God, whom we are privileged to call our Father in Christ, not only ordains stars to explode in distant galaxies, but loves us and cares for us and promises to keep us in his safe arms for all eternity, no more clearly seen than in the giving and coming of His Son 2000 years ago. JZ.

“The ‘weak’ Lamb is worthy of praise.”

In Revelation 5, John is weeping because no one is found worthy to open the scroll.  Then one of the elders present tells John, “Do not weep! See the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals” (v5).  However, when John looks up, “he sees a Lamb, looking as though it had been slain standing at the center of the throne.”  These few verses encapsulate the gospel in its ‘weakness’ and its power, like two sides of the same coin.

God often uses the seemingly weak to achieve the most powerful changes. A stammering Moses, a doubtful Gideon, a scared Elijah, to just name but a few. However, the best example of a seemingly weak person being used for powerful change is none other than Jesus Himself.  The prophet Isaiah says it so well, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa 53:2-3). Yet, at the close of the age, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus, this once weak Lamb that was led to the slaughter, is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:5-11).

Unfortunately, when people are full of pride and self-righteousness, it is hard to accept that one needs to be saved by a weak, slain Lamb.  To be saved by a powerful ‘lion’ might be acceptable, but not by a weak Lamb and to even suggest that would be offensive to the proud.  But God has always shown his power in weakness.  Paul, when writing to the church at Corinth says, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullifythe things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor 1:27-29).

We do well to pray that the Lord would humble us by His Holy Spirit so that we would think less of ourselves and more of the weak Lamb that is able to save for the sin of pride is so close to us.  It’s OK to be ‘weak’ when we are serving the Lamb for it is only then that the Holy Spirit may do powerful things through us (2 Cor 12:10).  It will also ensure that the Lamb receives the glory and praise that is due to him.

In Revelation 5, although John sees the Lamb as though it was slain, the Lamb should no longer be regarded as weak.  He now stands beside the throne, a position of infinite power.  In fact, the whole heavenly cosmos is already singing praise about the Lamb who was worthy and the One who sits on the throne. “In a loud voice, they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, forever and ever!”   Surely, we can do no less here on earth now and look forward to the day when we can join the heavenly throng singing praises to the Lamb who was slain for our salvation. JZ.

Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit

“Do not grieve the Holy Spiriof God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption – Eph 4:30.

Christianity is not a religion of do’s and don’ts.  The heart of our faith rests on the good news of God’s love to us in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, as Christians, we had better be clear about what to do and what not to do.

Here is a first don’t: Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said He would be with us to the close of the age, and He is by His Holy Spirit (Mat 28:20ff).  We can grieve only those with whom we have a love relationship.   You can hurt your parents, spouse, children, and friends.  Your daughter can make you happier than any girl in the world, but she can also cause you more grief than any girl in the world.  That’s because you love her, and she loves you.  You have power over each other’s hearts.

The Holy Spirit is closer to us than a spouse or a child or a parent.  Therefore, we can grieve Him. We can bring sorrow to the heart of God because we have a love relationship with Him.  And we grieve Him when we sin.  This means sinning is never just about harming ourselves, or the immediate family, or even a whole church or work family.  When we sin, we are grieving the Holy Spirit and hurting our heavenly Father.

King David exclaimed when confronted with his sin, “Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight” (Psa 51:4).  This didn’t mean that David had not sinned against Uriah and his family, or even Bathsheba, but David knew that first and foremost he had sinned against God, or if you will, he grieved the Holy Spirit within him.

Here is a second don’t: When convicted of your sin, don’t add to it by making excuses. King David didn’t try and justify his sin.  He didn’t try to smooth it over, or half admit it or blame his circumstances.  King David didn’t say to God’s prophet Nathan, “It’s none of your business, this is just between Bathsheba and me.” On the contrary, King David when convicted of his sin, acknowledged it and pleaded with God to purge him from his sin.  And although there are serious consequences to our sin, as there was in King David’s life, God forgave him as He does us when we genuinely acknowledge, confess and repent from sin (1 John 1:5-2:2).

So, sinning is much more than just breaking a rule in the book.  When we sin, whether we think it is a private or public sin, it is a ‘big’ thing and should never be treated lightly.  Not only did our suffering Saviour have to die for our sin and suffer the wrath of the Father, but we also grieve the Holy Spirit within us.

So, before we allow sin to take hold of us, let us remember that we have been blessed with the Holy Spirit in our lives and He has come to ‘seal’ us as God’s own.  By the Holy Spirit, God guides and protects us for the great future, for “the day of redemption,” a deposit guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor 1:22).   That’s why He came to us and stays with us until we are with Him in glory.  JZ.

Remembrance day

At 11 am on 11th November 1918 the guns on the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare.  The allied armies had driven the German invaders back.  In November the Germans called for an armistice (suspension of fighting) in order to secure a peace settlement. They accepted allied terms that amounted to unconditional surrender.   Ever since, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month attained a special significance in the post-war years, often referred to as Armistice Day.  On that day people remembered the tragedy of WW1 where between 9 and 13 million had died as a result and as many as one-third of them with no known grave.  After WW2, British and Australian governments changed the name ‘Armistice Day’ to ‘Remembrance Day’ so that all who lost their lives in wars could be remembered.  In 1997, Governor-General Sir William Deane issued a proclamation formally declaring 11th November to be Remembrance Day, urging all Australians to observe one minute’s silence at 11 am on 11th November each year to remember those who died or suffered for Australia’s cause in all wars and armed conflicts.  (edited).

Today, we owe a great debt of gratitude to all those who have given their lives for their fellow countrymen so that we can enjoy the many blessings this land provides, not least our freedoms.  Jesus himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13).  We can be thankful to God that many in this land are pretty good at remembering Remembrance Day and what it stands for and rightly so. So, hats off and kudos to those who have laid down their lives in service of this country.  May that history help restrain future conflicts!

Having said that, while we remember and celebrate our freedoms, let us not forget the ‘greater’ battle that was won for us by the One-Man Jesus Christ.  He willingly laid down His life for us, not while we were his friends but while we were still his enemies (Rom 5:8ff).  He did this so that we may be set free from the curse of the law, which could not forgive our sins or save us unto eternal life in glory.   Jesus, through his death and resurrection not only satisfies the justice of God as payment for our sins, but we are now also clothed with His righteousness and are set free so that we may have life to the full (Jn 10:10).

Unfortunately, not too many are good at remembering, or worse still, even knowing about the greater victory of Jesus over sin and death.  So, as we reflect on the many lives lost through world conflicts, may the Lord use us to tell the story of the greatest ‘Freedom Fighter,’ who never lifted a weapon of war, yet is able to save all who embrace Him as Saviour.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would be at work in and through us and that many are brought to faith in Jesus Christ so that they, along with us, can experience the freedom we have in Christ, the joy of forgiveness and the free gift eternal life (Eph 2:1ff).  May we not just remember that for a minute each year but every minute of every year to the praise and glory of God. JZ

Reformation Day….So what?

When I was at College, with respect, some of our lecturers could sometimes go on and on and just fill us with information.  After one such lecture, one student dared to ask, “So what? How does all that information help us in ministry going forward?” The lecturer then got out his fine writing pen and notebook and replied, “The boy asks a good question – I shall endeavour to answer him in the next lecture.”  Ever since that time, that particular lecturer never left a lecture without explaining the ‘So what!’

This coming Wednesday we remember an important event on the Church calendar, namely, Reformation Day when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses on the doors of the Wittenberg Castle. “So what” you ask.

Well, the “so what” is that this event was the catalyst which started a movement which has become known as the Reformation.  Up until this time the Roman church had been teaching Scripture in a language that few could understand, and more disappointingly, much of what was being taught was actually contrary to what Scripture taught.  Martin Luther, in the study of the original biblical languages, encouraged the Roman Church to reform so that it could teach what the Holy Scriptures actually taught.   Sadly, the powers to be at the time in the Roman Church didn’t agree with Martin Luther and hence the Reformation began.

Martin Luther and other ‘reformers’ taught five key principles found in Scripture, namely that salvation was in Christ alone (sola Christus Jn 3:16-17; Acts 4:12; 15:11), by Grace alone (sola gratia Eph 2:8-9), through Faith alone (sola fide Rom 3:21-28), guided by Scripture alone (sola scriptura Rom 1:16-17; 2 Tim 3:15-17), all to the glory of God alone (sola Deo gloria Eph 1:3-14; Phil 2:9-11).

The five-letter word ‘alone’ is key to a proper understanding of what these biblical principles teach.  It is not Christ and the saints; it is not Grace and our goodness; it is not Faith plus works; it is not Scripture plus what the church leaders say or write; and it is not glory to God and man!

This major shift from what was being taught in the Roman church is not only biblical and the catalyst for the reformation way back on October 31st, 1517, it is of great comfort to us.  Just imagine if salvation and eternal life depended on our goodness or on what we did in the first place.  I think if we were truthful, we would all be rather miserable because in our heart of hearts we know we could never fully measure up to God’s perfect standard. Thankfully, God in his grace and mercy has given us His holy word which alone clearly teaches that He has done everything that is required to save us unto eternal life.  This wonderful news, the giving and completed work of His Son alone at Calvary and beyond is graciously applied to our hearts by the power of His Holy Spirit.  Hence, may all glory be to God alone forever.  JZ

“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.