Destroying Christianity

How could you destroy Christianity? Many have tried through force. From the earliest years of the church, people have been trying to tear it down. The religious leaders in Jerusalem did their best (Acts 5:40), as did Saul (Acts 9:1-2). Ancient Rome tried. Today, Christian leaders and lay people are regularly discriminated against, beaten, murdered, and more. Yet the church continues.

Others have tried to destroy it from within by bringing in practices that go against the Bible, or bringing in teaching to undermine the core message. In the earliest days there was a move to divide Christians by race (Gal 2:11-14). There was also a move to not recognise that Jesus not only God, but also a man (1 John 4:1-3). Today, there are many practices and beliefs within what are called churches which are not biblical and lead people down the garden path. Yet the church continues.

There is only one sure-fire way to destroy Christianity: show that Jesus didn’t rise. Paul is adamant that if you do that, then Christians have nothing to hold on to.

‘If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain .. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins … If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied’ (1 Cor 15:14, 17, 19).

Only Christianity, of all the religions, has an historical event upon which it hangs its hat. You can’t disprove that someone had a vision in a cave (Islam) or a realisation under a tree (Buddhism). But Christianity is founded on an empty tomb. This means his death worked as a sacrifice. Have you found forgiveness in the risen Lord?

Searching for God

Everyone worships. We all live for and serve something. The possibilities are endless. Youth, family, children, travel, money, adventure, fame, success, pleasure, comfort, approval, technology, self, Allah, the Hindu gods, Brahman, our ancestors – all these and more are just examples of what some people around us worship.

For many in Australia, that language of ‘worship’ is unfamiliar. But it’s something we all do, whether we’re aware of it or not; whether it’s part of our vocabulary or not.

We can often identify what we worship by asking ourselves questions: ‘What can I not live without?’ ‘What do I desperately want?’ ‘What, if taken away from me, would devastate me?’

What do you worship? Is it worthy of your worship?

Psalm 96:5 says, ‘For all the gods of the people are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.’

Everything we worship that is not the God of the Bible is an idol. Does that sound old-fashioned? Does it stir images of stone or metal statues, sacrifices on an altar, physical bowing and prayers? This is happening all around us, of course. Open your eyes in some restaurants. See how many go to the Stupa.

But they don’t need to be statues. As above, many of us worship the idol of travel or success. But all these idols will fail and disappoint us. Some of these things we worship are good things, but they have become idols because we treasure them too much.

There is only one God who is worthy of your worship. Only one who will never disappoint you, who can give you all you need – who knows what you need better than you do! Stop your search: ‘Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee’ (Augustine).

The Blessing of Children

‘Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate’ (Ps 127:3-5).

The value placed on children in the Bible cannot be overstated. All throughout the Bible children are meant to give a sense of hope and expectation. Eve overheard a promise (when God was cursing the serpent) that one of her children would be the serpent’s downfall (Gen 3:15). Abram (Gen 12:1-3) and David (2 Sam 7:13) likewise focus our hopes.

This blessing, of course, comes with great responsibility. Parents are to teach their children the ways of God. They are to teach their children the law, the salvation that has been achieved for God’s people, and the way of wisdom.

But parents should not be on their own. God has placed us into a community. He has given us the church; people who have also been united to Christ by faith, who are our brothers and sisters. So how can we, as a church, help parents of children in our church?

Prayer and practical help are a great start, deserving some time of discussion themselves! But another real help will be volunteering to be a helper in our soon-to-start Sunday School! Because of Safe Church requirements we (understandably) can’t just have one teacher with the children. We need helpers. People to be in the room and lend a hand where needed. We’re not asking for teachers, but men and women willing to be present in the room. Can you help? Speak to Bec and experience the blessing of being a servant (Mark 10:43-44).

Why Easter?

Easter is one of those wonderful times of the year for us to get back to the basics, and to once again ask the question “why?”

“Why did Jesus have to die?” “Why would Christians celebrate this event?” “Why would we decorate our churches with crosses, or wear crosses around our necks?”

Consider Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Think about what Paul says there – He’s already rammed home the point that all people are sinful. We can’t minimise or balance out our sin by good deeds – we’re guilty of crimes against the God who gives us life and breath and everything else.

So Paul says what our punishment is. “The wages of sin is death.” And we’ve earned our wages. We’ve done the crime, now we do the time.

But that’s not the end of the story! This is where Easter comes in, because the one person who didn’t earn those horrible wages is the one who received them! Jesus lived the perfect life we couldn’t, died the death we should have, and gives us a free gift which we didn’t deserve and couldn’t earn. A gift we receive when we repent and believe: Eternal life.

This is the gospel, the good news. This is why we celebrate Easter. Christ died to save sinners, to give them eternal life. And he proved it by being raised to life again himself. The one who gives life freely is alive now.

Why celebrate Easter? Because the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Join us this Easter as we consider the work of Jesus on the cross and rejoice that God raised him from the dead.

Taking up our Cross

Israel Folau has again made news for expressing views on sexuality that go against the prevailing views of four culture. He dared to express that homosexuality was sinful, it would bring judgement, and salvation could be found in Christ. In other words, he dared to state what the Bible says, and what has been the view of Christians for 2000 years.

How should we as a church respond to this? We can recognise the hypocrisy of a culture that speaks so much about tolerance yet refuses to tolerate those with views that differ on sexuality to the cultural norm. We remember Jesus’ promise/warning that ‘if they persecuted me they will also persecute you’ (John 15:20).

And we also remember what Jesus calls us to do as his disciples. Just after Peter had identified him as the Christ, and then declared his mission (that he would suffer, die and then rise), he gave some of the most challenging words in the Bible.

‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’ (Mark 8:34-37).

Christ paid the ultimate price for our salvation. Folau is now paying the price for his refusal to go along with the world, and instead cling to God’s Word. What price are we willing to pay?

Are we willing to let people think we are strange because we keep speaking of Jesus? To be thought of as bigots? To be considered strange because we are willing to speak the truth and don’t hide behind lies?

Are we willing to suffer?

They mock

‘All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”’ (Psalm 22:7-8)

You can feel the heartache, the drowning despair, in these words. The loneliness in the sea of people, as they all turn on this person in mocking derision. The shame as he is attacked for his trust and loyalty to God.

These are the words of David, King of Israel. When did he feel this way? When did this event happen? It is hard to pinpoint exactly when anything like this happened in his lifetime. Was this when Saul was chasing him? When Ish-bosheth challenged him?

While David may have had moments where it felt like everyone was against him and mocking him, this Psalm is not about him (when did verses 16-18 happen to David?!). This Psalm describes the heart-wrenching pain of great David’s Greater Son. It is a prophecy about the King of God’s people who was willing to suffer to save his people.

What a Saviour we have. What a King! It has long been the pattern throughout biblical history that’s God’s people have suffered at the hands of their enemies – e.g. Abel, Joseph, Israel in Egypt. And Jesus not only followed the pattern – he was the reason for the pattern! He didn’t suffer to be like them; they suffered to be like him, to show what the Saviour-King would endure.

He endured the cross, depising the shame (Heb 12:2). He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:7). He set the pattern – shame now, glory later. That is a fundamental truth Easter teaches, and it’s a pattern we must follow ourselves. Are you ready to be mocked like Christ?

Christ, our Passover

‘Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and envy, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ (1 Cor 5:7-8).

Easter is coming quickly. Many in the churches and in the world don’t understand, however, that this was an event long planned and promised, and even prefigured. Rather than being a random and brutal death of someone who became the founder of a religious movement, this was the fulfilment of God’s eternal plan to save his people from sin, judgement, and the one who would judge them – God himself.

This lack of understanding in the churches is tragic and is reflected in an unwillingness to read and teach through the Old Testament. Rather than seeing a unified story of God’s grace – that the Old Testament is the record of promises made, and the New Testament is the record of promises kept – they see a God of anger and judgement in the Old, and a God of love in the New.

But this is plainly wrong! Christ is our Passover lamb. In the Exodus, God saved his people through the Passover lamb. He saved them from both the cruel slavery of the Egyptians, and also from himself. He saved them from the plague of death, instead only bringing it upon the Egyptians.

Repeatedly, this event is used as a prefiguring of Jesus’ work on the cross. The lamb died instead of the firstborn – Jesus died instead of the sinner. Israel were slaves to Egypt – we were slaves to sin. Israel were led to the promised land – we are being led to the promised land of heaven/the new creation.

Let us then trust in the sacrifice, ‘celebrate the festival,’ and live lives of sincerity and truth.

The God of grace and sacrifice

‘So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided’ (Gen 22:14).

In Abraham’s time, this story would have been shocking for the opposite reason it is shocking to us today. The gods of the cultures around Abraham were selfish, callous, and uncaring. They wanted sacrifice, and human sacrifices were the ultimate. That command Abraham received – ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’ (v2) – would be considered completely normal.

What would have been shocking to them, however, is the grace from God! The sudden appearance of the angel calling out for Abraham to stop before completing the sacrifice would be completely unfamiliar. Grace and kindness were not characteristics prized in those societies. Instead, they were brutal and sexualised, and the gods were worshipped through brutality and sex.

In our culture, what is shocking is not the call for Abraham to stop, but the fact he was given the command to sacrifice his son at all! The gods of our culture aren’t gods who command us to sacrifice; they’re gods who invite us to enjoy our sinful pleasures and be enslaved by them. Our culture is not opposed to kindness, but to sacrifice of any kind.

But we have a God who not only demands sacrifice but is the one who in kindness and grace gave himself as that sacrifice. God provided a ram in Gen 22, but he provided his own Son as the Lamb in the Gospel. What else could we do but give everything we are and have to him?

Made Valuable by God

Have you heard of ‘imposter syndrome’? It’s a phenomenon where those who are perfectly qualified, with all the required skills, fear being exposed as a fraud in their workplace. They could be one of the top people in their field yet be paralysed by a nagging anxiety that it will all come crashing down.

Many Christians struggle from ‘imposter syndrome’ when we think about our faith. We’re tempted to doubt our value as God’s child, either because we are burdened by the shame of sin or we feel useless because we can’t contribute in various ways.

But truth is not found by looking at our feelings. We cannot discover who we are by looking within. When tempted to despair, we should stop looking within ourselves and start looking outside ourselves. We should look to God’s Word.

In God’s Word we find those comforting words, ‘in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body … and all were made to drink of one Spirit’ (1 Cor 12:13). Feel like a foot but wish you were a hand? Wish you could offer more? Listen to God’s Word. Your value is not found in what you offer. Your value is in what God has made you. You are part of the church, the body of Christ.

Feel worse than a foot? Completely useless? ‘The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honourable we bestow the greatest honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty…’ (v22-23).

We are all valuable to the body. Can you pray? That is a valuable contribution – more than you can imagine. But our value isn’t in what we can offer, but in who God has made us – part of Christ’s body.

Trusting while hated

The world has always hated God’s people, because they have always hated God. That might sound overly brash but consider the words of Jesus: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you’ (John 15:18). Jesus is the showcase of the world’s hatred – he is the God-Man.

But hatred of God and his people didn’t begin with Jesus. There was a long pedigree of hatred. Jesus himself recognised this in the parable of the wicked tenants (Luke 20:9-18), and we can trace it back to God’s Word to the serpent in Gen 3:15 (‘I will put enmity between … [the serpent’s] offspring and [the woman’s] offspring.’)

Cain (of the serpent) killed Abel (of the woman). And on it goes through biblical history – Pharaoh and Israel, Goliath and David, Haman and Mordechai. The hatred the world shows towards God’s people is nothing new.

We shouldn’t be surprised when the world continues to show its hatred towards us and God. In some places and people it is easily recognisable. Violence, arrests, verbal abuse and blatant contempt are regular occurrences. In other places and people it is much more subtle. Hatred shows itself in polite rejection of the gospel and ‘logical’ arguments against God’s claims to decide morality (consider Rom 1:30).

This may feel overwhelming. How should we respond? We could point to any number of godly reactions, and condemn ungodly reactions. David points us to one godly reaction in Psalm 52:8. ‘I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.’

Will you continue to trust God when trouble from the world comes? He loves you and has shown that supremely at the cross. His love will never fail. Hold on to him.