March 13 2019

Good. News. About Jesus.

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.

Acts 8:35

Most Christians know that they should be like Philip in Acts 8:35. We should share “the good news about Jesus” whenever we have the opportunity and we should try to make as many opportunities as we can. This, of course, is challenging. We often feel like we don’t know the best thing to say, or if we do, we can easily feel nervous or even fearful about how people may respond.

In my own journey of facing these challenges, there are the three key things I try to remember as I share the good news about Jesus:

It’s good. It’s news. And it’s about Jesus.


#1. It’s about Jesus

If you want to share the heart of Christianity, your focus has to be on the Christ at its centre. The gospel isn’t the good news about you. It’s not about how your life has improved since becoming a Christian. The gospel is about Jesus – about who he is and what he has done – and we must make sure we remember that focus.

As Paul the apostle wrote:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:1-2

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…

2 Corinthians 4:5
Do you use the “J” word?

One way I challenge myself to remember this focus is with a funny little test I call “The Three Levels of Wussiness”. If I have a face to face conversation about spiritual matters, I reflect afterwards on which words I chose to use and which I chose to avoid.

Now, if I just talked about “Christianity”, or used phrases like “As a Christian” or “my faith”, I consider that a Level 3 of being a wuss. It’s not that I said anything particularly wrong. It’s just that there is little to no risk to me or to my listeners when you keep it that vague. There’s also little to no chance that the actual gospel was communicated.

If I have a bit more courage, I may get to Level 2, which means I talked about “God”. More personal, but still nice and broad as people can often inject their own definition as to what that word means.

Level 1 is where I actually use the “J” word and talk about Jesus specifically. For me, that is clear. That is courageous. That where I might actually be sharing the gospel. Because the gospel is specifically the good news about Jesus.

You may think I’m being harsh on myself, or maybe for you, just telling people that you’re a Christian is a big step. If it is, then don’t let my “Three Levels of Wussiness” test make you feel overwhelmed. God is glorified by (and can use) any small faithful word that we say in an effort to point people to the gospel.

My goal is not to guilt-trip you or myself. To be honest, I fail heaps of the time. It’s simply easier to answer a religious question with “Well, as a Christian…” rather than “Well, Jesus teaches that…” I do these reflections with a big awareness of my weakness and need for God’s grace and help. I simply want to challenge us to not wimp out by avoiding using the “J” word. As God gives you these opportunities to share the good news, pray for courage and remember – it’s about Jesus.

#2. It’s News

The second thing I want to remember is that the good news about Jesus may involve lots of things, but fundamentally… it’s news.

When Paul tells us to remember the gospel, look at how he summarises it:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-5

The gospel – the central message of Christianity – is not a philosophy for how to live. It’s not a list of moral rules or a system of religious practices. The gospel is not even a presentation of theological truths or a creed that people need to sign up to. Of course, the New Testament does contain all of those things, and they are good to discuss. They just aren’t the gospel.

The gospel literally means “good news”. It is a declaration of something that has happened in history – centred around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So, even if you’re using the “J” word but you’re not sharing the news about Jesus, then you probably aren’t sharing the gospel.

Why is that an important distinction to get right? Because it’s only the good news that is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). It is coming to hear and believe this news that is the primary method God uses to save people. Ethical philosophy, social commentary and systematic theology are great topics of conversation, but more than anything else, people need to hear the simple news about who Jesus is and what he has done.

This also implies something else important – you can’t just use your good works to share the gospel.

I’m sure you have heard the popular saying:

Preach the Gospel at all times.

When necessary, use words.

This quote is wrongly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (there’s actually no evidence he ever said this), but whoever said it, the way these words are often used is to argue that you don’t really have to use words to spread the gospel to the world. You just live it out.

Although, the New Testament does commend living “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14), it never suggests that sharing the gospel could ever be done silently. If the gospel is actual news that people need to be informed about and respond to, then actions alone will never suffice. Like any sort of news, both the spoken and written word will need to be the primary way that it will be communicated.

Now, I say “primary” because I do think there is a place for visual mediums such as illustration, painting, theatre and cinema. I have used lots of these creative tools over my life and know that can be very effective at communicating the gospel. But no matter what tool you use, if your goal is to share the good news, then you must remember that it is news.

Like an approaching bushfire, the gospel is important news that needs to be responded to.

Consider this illustration: A bushfire is sweeping across the countryside, approaching a nearby town. That is the news and all in the town need to hear it and respond to it. Now, you could communicate this news through phone calls, text message, sirens and visual alerts popping up on people’s phones. There are many ways that you can tell people the news that a bushfire is coming.

It’s also true that if you believe this news, then you will act in such a way that demonstrates that – hosing down your house or packing your bags and evacuating the area. In fact, if you weren’t acting like that, then even if you did tell people about the bushfire, why would anyone believe it was true. So our actions definitely do back up our words, but they can not replace them.

Like an approaching bushfire, the gospel is important news that needs to be responded to. We must live lives that show that we believe the gospel, but we must not rely on just our lives to communicate it. As the first part of that saying says, “Preach the Gospel at all times”. Just remember that words will almost always be necessary.

#3. It’s Good

Sharing the gospel is not easy. The news about Jesus is challenging and for some, offensive. There is also an increasing movement in the West to simply write off the gospels as fairy tales with no historical value that requires a response. If that wasn’t discouraging enough, the bible tells us that the human heart is naturally blind to the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that no one is able to respond to the gospel unless God enables them (John 6:65).

Turning hearts to respond in faith to the news about Jesus is literally an impossible task – conversion is God’s work, not ours. In that context, it almost seems futile to share the gospel. If the expectation is that, unless God acts, the message (and maybe the messenger) will be ignored, rejected, mocked and opposed, why would anyone share it? Why put yourself through that?

I used to answer that question with “Because it is true.” But I am more and more convinced that even believing in the truth of the gospel will not actually get us sharing it. More than knowing that the news about Jesus is true, we need to know deep in our soul that the news is good.

So, the third thing I need to remember in order to share the “good news” is that it is indeed good news! The gospel is the hope for the world, the light in the darkness, the solution to the problem of the human condition. It is epic enough to fix the brokenness of the entire universe and intimate enough to reconcile an individual soul to their Creator.

God the Son truly did come to earth 2,000 years ago. He truly walked the dusty roads of Jerusalem, performed miracles, taught the truth about God’s kingdom and loved people as we never could. He truly did take our sins and die in our place on the cross and on Easter morning he truly was raised from the dead and now rules the Universe! And all people, no matter who they are or what they have done are called to abandon their sin, turn to Jesus and take this free gift of forgiveness, reconciliation and eternal life. This is the good news and it is truly good!

But do we really believe that? Do we honestly believe that your friends and family will be better off if they embrace the gospel? If we do believe it is good news, then why aren’t we sharing it?

When someone has discovered a new crazy diet that has changed their life, or has started watching a show on Netflix that is blowing them away, or has just won TattsLotto, or is going to get married and everyone’s invited, they have no problem telling people about it. It is natural to share good news, especially when others can join in on it too.

But is that how you think about the news about Jesus? Or do you think about it as simply a weird set of beliefs that we Christians ascribe to, but you wouldn’t want to burden anyone else with? If that’s the case, then you will never share Jesus with anyone, or if you do, it will only be out of some begrudging sense of duty.

If you want to joyfully and naturally introduce people to Jesus, you have to be convinced, as Paul was, of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Consider these poetic words of King David:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.

Psalm 63:1-3

His lips can’t help but speak about God because he knows that God’s steadfast love is better than life. We need to remember that too. We are such distracted and forgetful creatures. We need to daily remind ourselves and each other of the goodness of the good news.

In this “dry and weary land”, we need to spend time in God’s Word, drinking deep from the gospel and letting it overflow onto our lips in words of praise and gospel sharing. Then we will join with King David as he calls to people in another great psalm:

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 34:8

I hope this article challenges and encourages you. I hope for some it convicts and humbles you. But really, this article is for me. Even in the process of writing it, I have become more aware of the words I use and the opportunities I have to talk about Jesus.

Most importantly, I have become more aware of my need to continuously thirst for God and be reminded every day of the goodness of the good news. May we all spur each other on as we try to share the good news about Jesus with prayerful dependence and godly courage.

And as you do, remember these three things – the gospel is so good, it’s wonderful news and it’s all about Jesus.

(72)

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February 24 2019

Does the Bible permit the drinking of alcohol?

There is some debate amongst Christians about what the bible teaches about drinking alcohol and getting drunk. There are generally four positions that Christians fall under:

  1. Drinking any alcohol at all is forbidden for all Christians.
  2. Getting drunk is forbidden. To avoid this sin, no Christian should drink any alcohol at all.
  3. Getting drunk is forbidden. Drinking responsibly is permissible.
  4. Drinking alcohol, even to the point of drunkenness is not forbidden.

I think the bible holds position 3. Let me show you why I reach that conclusion.

Old Testament Warnings

There are many passages that warn God’s people of the dangers of wine’s alcoholic properties. The wisdom of the Old Testament for example warns us that “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1) An even more descriptive passage says:


“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, Like one who lies on the top of a mast. ‘They struck me,’ you will say, ‘but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.’” (Proverbs 23:29-35)

The dangers of wine were well known and for the sake of them ruling with justice and wisdom, the kings of the Old Testament were instructed not to drink alcohol at all (Proverbs 31:4-5). This was also true of the Old Testament priesthood (Leviticus 10:9) and the Nazarites (Numbers 6:1-4).


New Testament Warnings

The New Testament also warns against alcohol, describing “drunkenness” and “drinking parties” as “sin” (1 Peter 4:1-3) and in both Galatians 5:21 and 1 Corinthians 6:10 the Apostle Paul makes the very heavy statement that drunkards “will not inherit the kingdom of God”.

It’s no surprise therefore, that one of the qualifications of being an elder in the first century church was that you could not be a “drunkard” (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7) and a deacon also had to be one who was “not addicted to much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8). Likewise, godly older women were instructed not to be “slaves to much wine” (Titus 2:3). Last but not least, if there was still any confusion, Paul the Apostle gives Christians a clear command to not drink alcohol to excess: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” (Ephesians 5:18)

The Bible’s celebration of wine

As we have seen, the bible in both Testaments clearly warns against and forbids drunkenness and this prohibition is especially important for anyone in any form of spiritual leadership or religious duty. But whilst it is clear that the bible forbids drinking alcohol to excess, it should not be concluded that the bible forbids drinking alcohol at all.

In fact, the bible is generally quite positive about wine as a good gift from God and there are clear passages where the drinking of wine is not only permitted, but recommended and celebrated:

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7)

“You [God] cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate,

that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man.” (Psalm 104:14-15)

“Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord.’” (Nehemiah 8:10)

“Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.” (Song of 7:8-9)

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins.” (Mark 2:22)

“No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:23)

Although these passages are quite an endorsement for wine, the clearest and arguably most relevant passages in the bible that demonstrates that God does not forbid wine is the Wedding at Cana in John 21-11. If you don’t know the story, I will describe it in more detail later, but the point is that this passage records the first of Jesus’ miracles – the famous turning of water into wine. If drinking wine itself was sinful, then when they had run out of wine, Jesus would not have miraculously produced more. Jesus’ actions show that not only is wine not forbidden – it’s actually a good and wonderful thing.

So, to summarise, it would seem that in general (apart from Old Testament religious leaders) the bible permits the drinking of alcohol, but it does not permit drinking so much that you get drunk.

Biologically this lines up with how God has designed our bodies. He has given us a liver which has the capacity to filter alcohol at a certain rate and if we exceed that we will intoxicate ourselves which is a form of bad stewardship of our bodies and a recipe for leading us into foolishness and sin.

We are also called to be “sober-minded” in many passages (see for example, 1 Peter 1:13, 4:7 & 5:8) so that we are ready to do good, help others, avoid temptation and be ready for any action that we may be needed for.

The only position that agrees with all of the bible’s passages on alcohol, is the third position mentioned at the start of this article: Getting drunk is forbidden. Drinking responsibly is permissible.

So wine is fine but you booze, you lose.

It is similar to the gift of sex. Sex is good and should be celebrated as long as it is within the confines which God has ordained – namely, a marriage between a man and a woman. Food too is a good gift that can sinfully be enjoyed to excess. So sex can be expressed sinfully in orgies and immorality and eating food can become a source of greed and gluttony. In the same way, drinking wine can turn into drunken parties and debauchery. Of course, neither sex, food nor alcohol should be considered forbidden for Christians, but we must not abuse or misuse these good gifts either. Keep sex for marriage, eat healthy, and if you drink, don’t get drunk.

Permission not a command

Now, just because the bible says that it is ok for a Christian to drink alcohol in moderation, it doesn’t mean you have to. Many Christians have decided that for them, the best way to avoid drunkenness is to not drink at all. You are very free to hold that position. In fact, some people should. If you feel particularly tempted to drink to excess, maybe consider not drinking at all. Also, I know that some ministers choose not to drink, not because they particularly feel vulnerable, but to not leave any room of possibility for the sin of drunkenness to take hold.

Of course, others may argue that it is good for a minister to share in a drink with others, to model moderation and to avoid the appearance of suggesting that alcohol itself is forbidden. They may also see the evangelistic benefits to being able to enjoy a beer with someone as for some guys that can be a social sign of friendship and comfortability.

So, on the issue about whether you personally should drink alcohol, that is something that you must decide for yourself. The bible does not forbid it, so you shouldn’t think it sin, but it may be for you unwise.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12, just after warning against drunkenness, Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me but I will not be dominated by anything.” If you are worried about wine not being “helpful” or potentially “dominating” you, then even if alcohol may be “lawful”, you don’t have to drink.

There is also wisdom in not drinking alcohol, if it will cause another Christian to be tempted to drunkenness or due to their lack of understanding about the bible, will believe you are sinning by drinking. Consider this instruction from Paul:

“I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.” (Romans 14:14-22)

As you can see by this passage, there is nothing sinful or “unclean” about drinking wine, but also it is good not to drink wine if it causes your brother in Christ to stumble. We may have a right to drink, but we give up our rights for the sake of “peace and for mutual upbuilding”.

A practical application of this might be if you are having some Christian friends over for dinner and you know that one of them is a new Christian and believes that drinking alcohol is sinful, for their sake, you probably should not offer a bottle of wine with the meal.

So feel free to drink responsibly and feel free not to drink for your good and the good of others.

One last thing I would say is, if you choose not to drink, you should not judge any other Christian for making a different choice. If you think they are unwise for drinking due to some particular circumstance, by all means tell them in love. But do so with the awareness that you are giving them what you believe to be wise and godly counsel, and not rebuking them for sinning. In the same chapter I referred to above, Paul covers this principle: “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” (Romans 14:3-4)

Could it be Non Alcoholic Grapejuice?

The last point I want to cover is the suggestion by some Christians that when the bible commends or permits the drinking of wine that drink was not actually alcoholic, it was unfermented grapejuice. In Matthew 26:29, for example, Jesus refers to wine as simply “fruit of the vine” and there’s no necessary indication that it was alcoholic. Those that argue this position, point out that fact that there is no differentiation in the original greek for the word for grapejuice and the word for alcoholic wine.

Despite the truth of this linguistic reality, I don’t think this gives a loophole to hold the position that drinking alcohol is sinful.

The reality is that all grapejuice eventually fermented naturally as they had no technology or method of preventing that. So the suggestion by those that hold this position is that when the bible encourages and celebrates the drinking of wine, it is only referring to freshly squeezed grapejuice, whereas the wine that it warns about as potentially leading to drunkenness is the older fermented grapejuice. This distinction is simply not made in the bible.

For example, in 1 Timothy, Paul first warns against wine’s addictive potential (1 Timothy 3:8), but then near the end of the same epistle, he suggests that Timothy “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:23). It is a big stretch to suggest that Paul is talking about one drink in chapter 3 but a different drink in chapter 5, even though he uses the same word for both. The more obvious conclusion is that Paul is simply talking about wine – normal alcoholic wine. Wine has the potential for being addictive, but that does not make it sinful to drink in moderation. In fact, as Paul points out, it may even be good for your health.

The Wine at the Wedding

Lastly, the story of the Wedding at Cana is for me, the best passage to demonstrate that Jesus both endorses the drinking of wine and that the wine that is being talked about is alcoholic wine, not unfermented grapejuice.

The story is found in John 2:1-11 and tells of Jesus’ first miracle. Jesus attends a wedding where wine is being served and to the great social shame of the bridegroom, they had run out of wine before the party was over. You probably know what happens next – Jesus turns six jars of water into delicious high quality wine, saving the reputation of the bridegroom and displaying his glory and power to his disciples. The question is, when this passage talks about “wine” is the grapejuice being talked about something that is non-alcoholic or alcoholic? I think it is undeniably alcoholic. Here’s why:

Firstly, there’s really no reason for thinking it is non-alcoholic. The idea of having alcoholic wine at a celebration was culturally acceptable, which is why drunkenness was still an issue that needed to be addressed even amongst Jews. Remember, even Jesus was accused of being a “glutton and drunkard” (Matthew 11:19) by those that opposed him. Jews were not “teetotallers”. The only reason why you would think that the wine at the Wedding in Cana must be non-alcoholic is because you were trying to force that idea into the story.

Secondly, as I have already mentioned, in the first century there was no way of preventing grapejuice from fermenting. So to suggest that all the wine at the wedding was non-alcoholic, you’d have to also suggest that they were supplying completely freshly squeezed grapejuice as required, to avoid any of it fermenting. This is simply impractical, especially as weddings in ancient Israel would often involve days of feasting and celebration.

Thirdly, and most convincingly, the words of the master of the feast himself tells us that the wine was alcoholic. After tasting the wine that Jesus had miraculously created, he is amazed that the bridegroom was only bringing out this fine drop at the later stages of the wedding celebration. He says: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:10) Think about that. Why do you bring the good wine out first and leave the cheap grog for later in the party? Because later on, everyone is too drunk to discern or care about how good the wine is.

The ESV is slightly subtle in it’s language, but as you can see here, the root of the Greek word that is used is always referring to when someone is affected by alcohol. For example, in Acts 2:15 when Peter tells the crowd that “these people are not drunk, as you suppose”, the Greek word for “drunk” used here is almost identical to the Greek word translated as “people have drunk freely” in John 2:10.

The point is hopefully clear. The wine that was being drunk at the Wedding in Cana was definitely alcoholic, and the new wine that Jesus created was even better. I won’t even entertain the suggestion that although the rest of the wine at the feast was alcoholic, Jesus created non-alcoholic freshly squeezed grapejuice and the master of the feast still thought it was better. Try serving high quality Ribena after you’ve run out of Merlow at your next wedding and see if your guests think you’ve given them an upgrade!


Conclusion

The Bible has much to say on wine. A lot of it is good. Some of it is bad. Wine is definitely a dangerous thing and alcohol has caused much damage over the millenia because people have not listened to the bible’s warnings about it’s addictive and intoxicating potential.

But if you are wanting a straight answer as to what the bible says on the topic of alcohol and what is or isn’t permissible, here is my summary:

  • Is it permissible for Christians to drink alcohol? Yes.
  • Do Christians ever have to drink alcohol? No.
  • Is it at times wise and loving for Christians not to drink alcohol? Yes.
  • Is it permissible for Christians to get drunk? No.

(121)

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February 12 2019

When Google Learned the Gospel

Back around March last year, I noticed that when I asked my Google Home about Jesus, it responded like an overly polite person at a party who had just been asked about some controversial issue of theology:

“Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning.”

Yeah, right Google! Don’t give us that fake humility. You’re just afraid to nail your colours to the mast!

Who Do You Say I Am?

Well, to give Google a break, there are many different views about Jesus amongst Google’s customers. Muslims believe Jesus is a prophet but not divine. Jews believe he is a teacher but not a prophet. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe he is the Archangel Michael and some skeptics even doubt Jesus existed at all!

Even back when Jesus walked the streets of the Middle East, there were lots of views about who he was. Jesus actually asked his disciples this very question:

“And on the way [Jesus] asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”
And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”” 
(Mark 8:27-29)

So at least the disciples understand who Jesus was and what he came to do… Well, not exactly. Peter did initially answer the question correctly, but in the very next few verses, it all goes downhill. Jesus tells his disciples that he has come to die on the cross and that same Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him for getting his mission wrong (see Mark 8:30-33)!

Fortunately, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, his disciples finally came to more fully understand who he was and what he had come to do. This is seen in the clarity of the unanimous testimony about Jesus’ identity throughout the New Testament gospels and epistles. If you want to know who Jesus is, it is shouted from every page of the New Testament.

There are many passages I could point to, but one of the boldest (and my favourite) comes from Colossians 1:15-20…

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Google’s Still Learning

Despite this, I do understand Google’s tentativeness in giving a definitive answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” It is an important question and much of the population of the world disagree on the answer.

Also, to cut Google even more slack, last year they made it a policy to answer “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning”, no matter which major religious figure you asked about.

They received a lot of criticism at the time from people who suspected Google of deliberately targeting Christianity and this was Google’s official attempt at explaining their reasoning:

A New Answer

Well, that was a year ago, and gone is the answer “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning”.  Religion may still be complicated, but Google seems to have done some learning. Or at least, whatever algorithm they had set up to side-step the taboo topic of religion, they have now opened the doors to allow Wikipedia to answer your religious questions.

I discovered this recently when I asked my Google Home the questions “Who is Jesus?” and “Who was Jesus?”, and I was rather surprised by the way it answered…

To “Who is Jesus?” Google replied:

“The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s will as revealed in the Old Testament, and he is the Lord of the Church. He is the “Son of David”, a “king”, and the Messiah.”

To “Who was Jesus?” Google replied:

“Jesus (c. 4 BC – c. AD 30 / 33), also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity and is widely described as the most influential person in history.”

Both pretty good answers if you ask me!

In fact, after a bit of experimenting, I found a few other questions that have great answers. If you’ve got Google Assistant, try these out:

  • What is God?
  • What is the gospel?
  • What is the only rule of faith and practice?
  • What is the chief end of man?

Now as fun as it is to ask Google questions, you don’t need to own the latest voice-activated technology to ask “Who is Jesus?”. The answer is not found in the robotic voice of Google, but in the living Word of God. My hope is that if you are curious about the identity of Jesus, you might pick up a bible and read one of the gospels or New Testament epistles for yourself. Two thousand years after he asked it, Jesus’ question to his disciples still echoes to each one of us: “But who do you say I am?”

Google was right last year when it said that religion can be complicated. The answer to the important question of Jesus’ identity is neither simple nor easy. But like Google seems to have done in the last year, there is indeed much to be learned.

(430)

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January 21 2019

Wow God! Thank You. Sorry. Please.

Wow God! Thank You. Sorry. Please.

A Kid’s Guide To Prayer

What is prayer? It may sound odd,

But prayer is just talking to God.

You can do it anywhere!

Tucked in bed or on a chair.

In a park or in the car.

It doesn’t matter where you are!

And even if no one else heard,

God would hear your every word.

So why not say a prayer right now? If you’re not sure, I’ll show you how.

See, when I talk to God each day, there are four things I like to say:

Wow God. Thank you. Sorry. Please.

I pray about each one of these…

WOW GOD

Wow God, you’re loving! Wow God, you’re great!

Wow God! All things you did create!

You made the sun, the worm, the cow,

So first of all I just say “Wow!”

THANK YOU

I thank you God for all you give.

I thank you for the life I live.

I thank you most for Jesus who

Did die for me. Dear God, thank you.

SORRY

I’m sorry God when I’m not good,

When I don’t love you as I should.

Through Jesus’ death forgive my sin

And help me love and live like Him.

PLEASE

And lastly God I ask you please

Provide all of my daily needs.

Please help me grow to trust in you

And help all those who need you too.

Wow God.

Thank you.

Sorry.

Please.

And now I’ve prayed all four of these.

And every prayer I end the same:

I pray these things in Jesus’ name.

Amen.


(This poem will be, Lord willing, the heart of the new children’s book I am working on. Along with this poem being illustrated into a fun little story, it will also include tips for parents about how to pray with their young children and pages that will be useful for going through this model of prayer with your child.)

For more info go to: www.kidsguidetoprayer.com

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January 5 2019

A Goodie and a Baddie go to the Temple

To some who were too familiar with Bible stories, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a tax collector and the other a Pharisee. The tax collector stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am a character in bible stories that is known for being a marginalised outcast who you’re supposed to sympathise with, not like the obvious villains in the story – the teachers of the law, the Jewish rulers, the rich, the powerful – or even like this Pharisee. I’m always the one that Jesus wants to eat with and the one that in the end, you are supposed to want to emulate.’

“But the Pharisee stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that the Pharisee, rather than the tax collector, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

(adapted from Luke 18:9-14)

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October 22 2018

The Little Mermaid and The Wonderful Exchange

 

A Terrible Message

I took my daughter to see her first ever movie the other day – a screening of the Disney Classic, The Little Mermaid. The songs were lots of fun, the slapstick was silly and the animation was beautiful, just as I remembered back when I last saw it at the cinemas 28 years ago. But the message! Oh boy!

The message of the film to a young girl is absolutely terrible. Ariel is a rebellious, selfish and disobedient teenager who falls for a guy after just seeing his body and then sells a part of her body (her voice) in order to try to use the rest of her body to get the guy to kiss her so she can completely abandon her family forever. In the end, she gets everything she wants with absolutely no consequences for her foolish behavior. She learns nothing. She doesn’t change. She has absolutely no character arch.

The worst line in the whole film comes when Sabastian the crab, who has been charged with protecting Ariel, offers to help her get her voice back and reverse the deal Ariel has made with the Sea Witch. He looks into her immature, tear-filled, 16-year-old eyes, and says to her that if he helped her get out of her deal with the devil then she would “just be miserable for the rest of her life”. Come on! She’s 16! She’ll get over it! And what a way to re-enforce to a girl that her happiness “for the rest of her life” is wrapped up in whether she can be with a guy! When that line happened, my wife and I shook our heads and laughed at how terrible it was.

Now some may say that we shouldn’t have taken our young daughter to see such a film, but hey, we are raising her to critique these sort of messages and every day we pour into her the message that her worth, value and true happiness is found in the God who loves her and made her in His image. I’m not too worried that one movie will counteract all that.

Also (and here’s the real point of this article), there’s another interesting story thread in the movie that I can point out to her. It follows another flawed character who makes mistakes, but unlike Ariel, this character learns a lesson and actually changes. This is the story of King Triton, Ariel’s father.

A Flawed King

King Triton is not a very good king. He rules with an iron fist and when his daughter Ariel disobeys him, he responds with a violent rage that is just as immature as his daughter’s actions. But the one good thing about King Triton is he sees his folly and learns his lesson. Once he discovers that his anger has driven away his daughter, he cries out “Oh, what have I done? What have I done?”

Not only does he learn about parenting, but as I’ll explain, I saw in his story some wonderful parallels to the story of the gospel.

The Gospel According to The Little Mermaid

The first part of seeing the gospel themes in The Little Mermaid is to stop thinking of Ariel as the hero of the story who we should try to emulate. Rather, think of Ariel as a representative of humanity. Like Adam & Eve, she lives as a royal child under the rule of the king and yet she yearns for freedom. As she puts it, “Wouldn’t you think I’m a girl. a girl who has everything”, and yet she sings “I want more!” She is naturally interested in and curious about the human world, which is a good thing, but her stubbornness and arrogance leads her to disobey her father and ignore his warnings not to go to the ocean’s surface.

It is there she sees an attractive human and her immature superficiality leads her to immediately falls in love. All her healthy and natural desire for knowledge about humanity gets replaced with an intense focus on this one human. Like Eve with the apple, the Prince was “pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6) and now she was willing to reject life with her father and his kingdom in order to get what she wanted.

She goes to see Ursula, the Sea Witch, an evil character who Sebastian calls a “demon”. The parallels between Ursula and Satan are interesting. Both used to live with the King but at some point in the past both were “banished and exiled” from the kingdom. The scene between Ariel and Ursula plays out just like Genesis 3:1-7. Like Satan in the garden tempting Eve, Ursula tempts Ariel with false promises of having all her desires fulfilled. Eve bites the apple, Ariel signs the contract, and both are left naked.

The difference between Eve and Ariel is that Ariel has no shame for signing over her life to the Sea Witch. In fact, she really never feels any shame about it. It’s only when it all doesn’t work out and she’s trapped by Ursula’s contact against her that she finally says, “Daddy, sorry! I didn’t mean to!” Yeah right. Of course she meant to. That’s regret she’s feeling, not genuine repentance. Eve on the other hand (and her hubby Adam), get to that emotion much quicker. But either way, for both Eve and Ariel, it is when the King arrives that they realise their foolishness and the fact that they are completely helpless.

They both are left guilty standing before the King with a document that condemns them. A document that, as Ursula declares, is “legal, binding and completely unbreakable.” For Ariel, it is the contract that she made with Ursula. For Eve (and for all humanity), it is the record of our sin as referred to in Revelation 20:12. It’s what Paul describes in Colossians 2:14 as “the charge of our legal indebtedness”. We stand before our King, with no hope, with no appeal, with no chance of saving ourselves. Ariel is not a model for little girls to follow. She is a mirror for the human race.

The Wonderful Exchange

So, if we have no hope of saving ourselves, how then can we be saved? Well, again, The Little Mermaid tells us.

With Ariel trapped and about to sent to Ursula’s “garden”, the Sea Witch says, The daughter of the great sea king is a very precious commodity.  But I might be willing to make an exchange for someone even better.” And with that, King Triton puts his name on the contract in Ariel’s place. And with that, King Triton gives up his glory and his power and substitute’s himself for Ariel. And with that, King Triton, although innocent, bears the consequences for Ariel’s guilt.

What a perfect image of the gospel. 

As the bible says, Jesus – though he was equal to God – relinquished his heavenly place to take our place on the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). He bore our sin and took the punishment that we deserved (1 Peter 2:24, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

This is what theologians call “substitutionary atonement”. Or to use less academic language, it’s what the Reformer Martin Luther called a “wonderful exchange”:

“That is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it, and fill us with it. And He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them.” – Martin Luther, Werke (Weimar, 1883), 5: 608.

And then, at the end of the story, after King Triton’s “resurrection” and the defeat of the evil Ursula, the King looks upon Ariel with mercy and kindness. Although she in no way deserves it, the King uses his power to restore her to her beloved Prince. And so, Ariel has gone through the entire story of the Bible from start to finish. She rejects the King, sins in rebellion, is trapped by her sin, needs a Saviour, is rescued from condemnation by the King taking her place, and then, just like the Bible, the story ends with a beautiful wedding and they all live happily ever after.

Maybe Not So Terrible a Message After All

In the end, I still think The Little Mermaid has a lot of problems with it. But in a weird way, I sort of do want my daughter to be like Ariel.

Not in Ariel’s stupidity, superficiality and sin. I do hope I raise her to be smarter than that.

But like Ariel did (and like I and my wife have), I want my daughter to experience the undeserved kindness of the King. In the gospel of Jesus, I want her to know the joy of the freedom, salvation and amazing grace bought by his wonderful exchange.

 

 

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October 15 2018

The Bible – 8 Talks by Neil Chambers

The Bible: 8 talks by Rev Neil Chambers

Ever wondered what it really means to call the bible the “Word of God”?

Can we trust that the words in the book we hold are a reliable record?

How does our understanding of the Bible shape the way we read and interpret it?

Discover answers to these and many more questions in this brilliant collection of 7 hours of Rev Neil Chambers’ insightful, scholarly and in-depth teaching on the Christian understanding of the Bible.

Presented during the 2018 Winter Teaching Series at Bundoora Presbyterian Church.

Note: Unfortunately, a few of the talks start halfway through Neil’s first sentence.


Why is it God’s Word?

Talk 1:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180704_0700_NC_WhyIsItGod_sWordSession1Of2.m4a

Talk 2:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180704_2000_NC_WhyIsItGod_sWordSession2Of2.m4a


Is My Translation Reliable?

Talk 1:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180711_1900_NC_TheBibleIsMyTranslationReliableSession1Of2.m4a

Talk 2:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180711_2000_NC_TheBibleIsMyTranslationReliableSession2Of2.m4a


How Can it Be Reliably Interpreted?

Talk 1:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180718_1900_NC_TheBibleHowCanItBeReliablyInterpretedSession1Of2.m4a

Talk 2:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180718_2000_NC_TheBibleHowCanItBeReliablyInterpretedSession2Of2.m4a

Talk 3:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180725_1900_NC_TheBibleHowCanItBeReliablyInterpretedSession3Of2.m4a

Talk 4:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180725_2000_NC_TheBibleHowCanItBeReliablyInterpretedSession4Of2.m4a

 

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July 9 2018

Our Father who art in Parliament

(Photo credit: MARK GRAHAM/AFP/Getty Images)

How God got into Parliament

Every day in Australia, the President of the Senate is required to open parliament by reciting the following words:

Almighty God, we humbly beseech Thee to vouchsafe Thy special blessing upon this Parliament, and that Thou wouldst be pleased to direct and prosper the work of Thy servants to the advancement of Thy glory, and to the true welfare of the people of Australia.

Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

The inclusion of these words were added in 1903 after a petition by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of NSW, and apart from a slight amendment here and there, they have remained unchanged for 115 years.

Not that there hasn’t been opposition. The first motion for the prayer’s removal was put forward in 1997 by senator Bob Brown, the first leader of The Greens. More recently, Greens senators Richard Di Natale and Lee Rhiannon have taken up the cause.

Senator Lee Rhiannon initially raised her objections in 2003 on the 100 year aniversary of the prayer’s inclusion, but 15 years of trying hasn’t detered her. When she spoke to ABC Insider last year, she revealed that she was still very determined to see the prayer’s removal, saying, “It is actually insulting the way parliament is opened. Considering there’s many people who aren’t religious, there’s many people of different faiths, it is time we started having an institution that is relevant to the 21st century.”

Now, just a month or so before Rhiannon retires from politics, she is giving it one last go, and this time, The Greens might be successful. On the 27th of June 2018, Rhiannon announced:

“Today the Senate has supported a Greens motion requiring the Senate Procedure Committee to set up an inquiry into changing the Senate opening from a Christian prayer to an inclusive statement.” 

The motion proposes that this “inclusive statement” should be the following:

“Senators, let us in silence pray or reflect upon our responsibilities to all people of Australia and to future generations.”

The Green’s motion also suggests that as they consider this change they should “consult with all senators” and “invite submissions and take evidence in public session”. So, if you feel passionately either way on this issue, I encourage you to get involved in the democratic process and voice your opinion! Write to your senators. Start a petition, if you like. Remember, it was a petition from Christians that got The Lord’s Prayer into the Senate over a century ago. Maybe you can be one of the voices that helps decide whether it stays or goes.

It may surprise you though… I actually agree with The Greens on this one.

Giving God Lip Service

Now, agreeing with them on this is not easy to admit (and not simply because I rarely agree with The Greens on many topics). If I’m honest, I really like those powerful words being read every day in Parliament. They describe God as Almighty and our Heavenly Father. They call out to God for help and provision, guidance and forgiveness. They refer to politicians as servants of God whose goal is to advance God’s glory, God’s kingdom and the welfare of the Australians they represent. These are all concepts that I deeply believe. I would truly love every politician to say and believe these words as they begin every day of public service. It warms my heart that these words are spoken in Parliament, but I suspect that is probably because I am a superficial human. As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

The reality is, whilst I would love for every politician to believe the words of the prayer that opens the Senate, I know most of them don’t. Now, some would argue that forcing non-Christians (if only the Senate President) to publicly recite the Lord’s Prayer every day may inspire them to be more humble and mindful of their Creator, but I don’t see any Biblical precedent for suggesting that. In fact, I think the bible consistently teaches the opposite. The outward expression of religious affection with no inward conviction doesn’t warm God’s heart. It turns His stomach.

One of the clearest expressions of this is found in the opening chapter of the book of Isaiah the prophet, where God expresses how deeply He hates the performance of hollow religious rituals.

“’What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?’ says the Lord; ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations – I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.'” (Isaiah 1:11-15)

When we read these strong words we must remember that God isn’t saying He hates the idea of the sacrificial system. He gave it to the people of Israel. No, He is saying that He hates hypocrisy. God expands this idea later in the book of Isaiah when He says:

“…this people draw near with their mouth and honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13)

In Matthew 15:7-9, when Jesus sees the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, he quotes this verse saying that Isaiah wasn’t simply talking about the people of his day, he was also prophesying about all types of religious hypocrisy.

I would argue that God’s words condemning religious lip service should also apply to the daily repetition of the Lord’s Prayer in parliament. The words are great. But that is all they are – words. In repeating this prayer, most of our politicians honour God with their lips, while their hearts are far from Him.

Now I am sure that there are politicians over the last 115 years that have prayed those words every day with an earnest humility. But I would think that any genuine Christian does not require their secular workplace (which the Senate is) to supplement their own private times of prayer. To have this prayer read at the daily opening of parliament suggests that the parliament itself believes these words. This is quite obviously not the case. At least not any more. We may have started off with a general Christian veneer over our society and parliament, but that veneer is quickly being peeled off.

I actually think that may be an important process for the West to go through. As the cultural Christianity is peeled away, the genuine church has an opportunity to shine. Like many Christians, I do feel a deep grief in admitting that many of my friends, family members, colleagues and neighbours do not love Jesus or know God as their Heavenly Father as I wish they did. I do worry for our nation as the Christian worldview becomes more and more alien. But we should not put our energy into gluing back on a Christian veneer that is cracked and peeling. We don’t help our nation become more “Christian” by forcing the daily recitation of Christian prayers by non-Christian Senate Presidents. People become followers of Christ by hearing the gospel in the mouths and seeing it in the lives of genuine Christians.

Pray then like this

The more I hear some prominent Christians present their argument for why The Lord’s Prayer should remain in parliament the less I am convinced. The Australian Christian Lobby for example, describes the Lord’s Prayer as “an important part of Australia’s cultural heritage” with the ACL managing director Lyle Sheldon suggesting “prayer in parliament recognises western cultural heritage”.

This view treats the reading of The Lord’s Prayer like an ancient religious artifact in a museum that is deserving of protection due to its historic significance. It was never meant to be treated like this.

If you go back to where Jesus actually introduced his disciple’s to the words of The Lord’s Prayer, you see that he gave it – not as a formula or words to be repeated for public religious theatre – but as an example of how his followers ought to pray in private.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 

Pray then like this: 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.” (Matthew 6:5-13)

You can see from this passage, these words of Jesus were possibly never meant to be used as an official prayer. Jesus wasn’t prescribing for us exactly WHAT we should pray – he was teaching us HOW we should pray. And the contrast between Jesus’ teaching and the way that his words are daily recited in parliament couldn’t be clearer.

Jesus tells his followers they must not pray like a hypocrite. They must not pray just for the outward show of a religious observance. They must not heap up empty phrases over and over as if God will be impressed by their many words. Rather, Jesus tells us that when Christians pray they should go in their room, shut the door and talk one on one with their Heavenly Father.

Now, I do think there is a place for public prayer (see John 11:41-42 for example), but generally, prayer is not for others to hear. It’s not even for God to hear, as Jesus teaches us that God already knows what we need. Prayer is for the fostering of intimate communion between a child of God and their Heavenly Father. It is an act of private Christian dependence, not public secular performance.

Our Father and Theirs

It does grieve me that our culture is becoming less prayerful. It does sadden me that there seems to be a push by some to remove the expression of great Christian truths from the public sphere.

But more than this, it saddens me what The Lord’s Prayer has become.

It was never meant to be used as a political tool in the culture wars. It was never meant to be treated as merely a symbol of our Christian heritage.

These precious and intimate words were given by Jesus to his disciples for so much more than to protect us from the slippery slope of secularism… So let’s not waste time fighting to save our culture by keeping The Lord’s Prayer in parliament. Rather, let us prayerfully go out into our culture and share the good news about Jesus, so that in Christ our fellow citizens can come to know that “Our Father in Heaven” can be their Heavenly Father as well.

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June 20 2018

The Gospel According to Chris Pratt’s 9 Rules

Now I am not one to get excited whenever a celebrity starts talking about their faith or mentioning God. I think there is way too much celebrity worship and Christians seem to get sucked into it like everyone else. It’s like we feel that if we get a celebrity endorsement for Jesus then that means something. It doesn’t. So don’t take it the wrong way when I say that I was really excited when I heard Hollywood actor Chris Pratt’s acceptance speech for the “Generation” Award at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards.

The guts of his speech was a presentation of what he called “9 Rules from Chris Pratt”. When I heard that title, my mind immediately went to Professor Jordan Peterson’s bestselling book, “12 Rules for Life”, which recently was a talking point amongst many Christians. In this list of “rules” though, Pratt is no professor. His speech was peppered with poop jokes and other silliness. But amongst the humour, you could see that Pratt’s primary intention was to communicate some important ideas about God, human beings and yes, even the cross of Jesus.

Watch his “9 Rules” here:

Here are Chris Pratt’s 9 rules:

1. “Breathe — If you don’t, you’ll suffocate.”

2. “You have a soul. Be careful with it.”

3. “Don’t be a t*rd. If you’re strong be a protector and if you’re smart be a humble influencer; strength and intelligence can be weapons, and do not wield them against the weak. That makes you a bully. Be bigger than that.”

4. “When giving a dog medicine, put the medicine in a little piece of hamburger, they won’t even know they’re eating medicine.”

5. “Doesn’t matter what it is, earn it. A good deed, reach out to someone in pain, be of service. It feels good and it’s good for your soul.”

6. “God is real. God loves you. God wants the best for you. Believe that. I do.”

7. “If you have to poop at a party, but you’re embarrassed because you’re gonna stink up the bathroom, do what I do: lock the door, sit down, get all the pee out first. Okay? And then, once all the pee’s done, poop, flush, boom. You minimise the amount of time the poop is touching the air, because if you poop first, it takes you longer to pee and then you’re peeing on top of it, stirring it up, the poop particles create a cloud, it goes out and then everyone in the party’ll know that you pooped. Just trust me, it’s science.”

8. “Learn to pray. It’s easy, and it’s so good for your soul.”

9. “Nobody is perfect. People are going to tell you you’re perfect just the way you are, you’re not. You are imperfect. You always will be. But there is a powerful force that designed you that way, and if you’re willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift. And like the freedom that we enjoy in this country that grace was paid for with somebody else’s blood. Do not forget it. Don’t take it for granted.”


The Silly and the Serious

Although the occasional silly or vulgar comments grab our attention and superficially make us laugh, if you look carefully at the structure of Chris Pratt’s 9 Rules, you can see what he is actually focusing on.

Number 1 is a funny life lesson. Then 2 is a spiritual truth and 3 a deep life lesson.

Then he breaks it up with 4 which is another funny life lesson, and follows that up with another two important ones – 5 a deep life lesson and 6 a spiritual truth.

With 7 he gives one final funny life lesson, before finishing it with 2 more important ones – both of which are deep life lessons wrapped in spiritual truths. Sure the silly jokes are there, but they simply serve the purpose of breaking up the serious points he wants to make.

The ideas that stuck out to me were his proclamations about the reality of the soul, the reality of a loving God and the reality of human imperfection. I loved his call to use our strengths to serve those in need and his encouragement to learn to pray. But most of all I loved his mention of grace and the cross of Christ. Now, you might have missed that last one, but it was there right at the end of his last rule.

Grace that’s free but not cheap

In Rule #9 he begins by reminding us of the universal truth that we all know about ourselves – none of us are perfect. That’s a soft way of saying that we are all sinful and broken and in need of a Saviour. Pratt is right. As Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

Pratt goes on to say the truth that God designed us and we need to accept the reality of our sinfulness. He is right again. God’s Word teaches clearly that we are uniquely created by God and accountable to God. Now, when he talks about God, he again uses softer language, calling God a “powerful force”, but we at least see from Rule #6 that he actually believes God is a personal Being that loves us and desires our good.

Finally, Pratt goes on to say that those who accept their imperfection in the light of God as our creator, will be given grace. Now, Pratt is a bit fuzzy here on the details, but he does give us some characteristics of this thing called “grace”.

Grace, says Pratt, is a gift. It is free. But it is not cheap. In fact, it cost a great deal. Comparing it to “freedom” that was achieved only through the blood of those who fought to win America’s independence, Pratt suggests that the gift of grace is the same. The grace that we need was paid for, not with our good deeds or our moral effort, but “with somebody else’s blood”. This, if you hadn’t picked it up is referring to Jesus. It is his bloody death that pays for our sin and imperfection and purchases us the grace that reconciles us to God. This is the gospel. It was a bit obscured, but it was there and it was exciting to hear it proclaimed from a stage like the MTV Awards.

“Nobody is perfect”

Now, there are many things I wished Chris Pratt had said, or hadn’t said during his speech. Mostly, I wish he had mentioned the actual name of Jesus. It would have given people a direct person to go to to find grace when they follow Rule #8 and start praying to the God that is real and who loves them.

But like the commentary surrounding the recent royal wedding sermon of Bishop Michael Curry, I think it’s best to simply look at the positives and put our energy into using it as a launchpad to gospel conversations, rather than tear down the messenger or the imperfections in the message.

To be honest, after listening to the speech, I wasn’t focused on the parts Chris Pratt missed out. I was excited. And it wasn’t because these words came from the mouth of a Hollywood actor. Not at all. I was excited because his speech, mixed with comedy and crassness, also contained a few simple nuggets of spiritual truth that – if heard correctly – actually would point people to the gospel. It was exciting to hear these truths being proclaimed from a platform that will be heard by millions. Remember, just a few days earlier, Robert Deniro’s virtue signaling, self-congratulatory “F*** Trump” speech at the Tony Awards was getting headlines. Let’s hope Pratt’s speech about humility, grace and a loving God, replaces it.

Sure some who hear it will respond with mockery and many others will simply forget it in a day or so, but I pray that there may be a few who are intrigued by these declarations of unpopular spiritual realities. And most of all, I pray that someone out there will wonder what Chris Pratt meant when he spoke of a “grace [that] was paid for with somebody else’s blood”. May God guide them to find that the answer is in the grace-giving sacrifice of Jesus.

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June 18 2018

The cross that turns life upside-down

 

When you see that shining, bright red cross in Hobart, you can’t help but notice that it is the wrong way up. Sure, you can see it is as a direct insult to Christianity. Or you can be inspired by what the stark image compels you to do. The black pole prevents the cross from being turned around and so to make the image seem right in our minds, it’s us that has to turn. We have to flip the image. We have to stand on our heads. We have to turn upside-down.

That’s what the cross of Jesus does… It turns life upside-down.

And that’s what Jesus did too. When the people expected the Messiah to arrive as a king in a palace, he came as a baby in a manger. When they expected him to claim Jerusalem riding into the city on a war-horse he came riding a donkey. When the Pharisees expected him to praise their moral efforts and good works, he condemned them as hypocrites, and when those who knew they were sinners deserving judgment expected to be turned away, Jesus ate and drank with them and offered them forgiveness. When he taught to the crowds that expected that we should only have to love our friends, Jesus flipped this expectation on its head and told them that they must love their enemies. And then, in the great climax of his ministry, he turned all their expectations upside-down.

When they expected the Messiah to crush the pagan Roman Empire and establish God’s kingdom by the death of those who oppose God, Jesus gave himself over to the Romans and let them torture and crucify him. Instead of killing those who opposed God, Jesus died in their place. Instead of pouring God’s judgment out on sinners, he willingly let it be poured out on himself, so that sinners could be set free.

So the message of Christianity is not – Good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell. It’s completely the opposite. It turns that false message upside-down. The truth that Jesus taught was that good people go to Hell and bad people go to Heaven. Those who think they’re good enough for God are the ones who will be disappointed in the end and those who acknowledge their need for mercy are the only ones who will find it.

And how do they find it? Well, they do so by heeding Jesus’ call to turn upside-down. Well, he doesn’t say “turn upside-down”. He uses the older word: “repent”. It literally means to “change your mind”. To do a 180. It means to recognise you’ve been treating God with indifference, contempt or outright rebellion and to turn that whole attitude to God upside-down. To come to him in humility and trust in Jesus – the one who turned the judgment of God upside-down and took it for you on the cross.

That’s what I think about when I see those crosses in Hobart.

I reflect on how back when I was only 16, Jesus flipped my expectations of what Christianity was all about and I responded to his call to repent and trust in that cross. And I reflect on how Jesus has continued for the last 24 years, to turn my life upside-down.

 

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