Change (Mark 1:14-20)

One day during my holidays I thought I might go for a ride on my bicycle. I don’t get to ride it very much and there was so much happening towards the end of last year that my push bike has sat in the shed neglected for a long time. When I pulled it out to go for a ride, I found that the front tyre was flat. I pumped it up and left it to see what would happen, but when I came back the following day, it was flat again.

The tube had a hole in it.

I figured there were a few things I could do. I could put the bike back in the shed and ignore the problem. Or I could pump the tyre up every time I went for a ride and try to get home before it went flat again. A third option was to take the tyre off the bike, find the hole and put a patch on the tube. Or I could change the tube and replace it with a new one.

The options I faced with my bike tyre are similar to those we face in our lives whenever something isn’t the way it’s supposed to be or isn’t doing what it’s designed to do. We can apply these same options to our relationships, our jobs, our church, or any aspect of our lives. When things aren’t right, we can either just ignore it, keep going like there’s nothing wrong, try to patch it up, or we can look for a change that will restore what isn’t working properly and help it become the way it was intended to be.

A lot of theologians point to Jesus’ message at the start of his earthly ministry as a summary of everything that follows in the gospels. We read in Mark 1:14,15,

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (NIV)

Jesus spent the next three years of his earthly ministry explaining what he meant when he announced that ‘the kingdom of God has come near’ and called for people to ‘repent and believe the good news.’ Every time Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…’ he gave us a different perspective on what it means to live in God’s coming kingdom through faith in the gospel. Obviously, I won’t be able to fully explore Jesus’ teachings on God’s kingdom in one message, but there are a few things we can learn from Jesus’ opening announcement.

The first is what it means to repent. Some Bibles translate Jesus’ words as ‘Repent of your sins’ (NLT) which reflects how people can understand repentance a lot of the time. We can hear calls to ‘Repent’ telling us to stop doing bad things and change our behaviours so that we do what is considered to be morally right and good. However, the Greek word for repentance isn’t just about not sinning. It is more about an inner change. As we read the gospel stories, we hear Jesus calling people who were regarded as ‘sinners’ to change, but he also spent a lot of time calling respectable religious people to change as well. In fact, some argue that Jesus showed a lot of grace to people who were on the wrong side of the moral ledger and he was much more critical of the people whose lives looked more morally acceptable but whose hearts were not oriented towards God’s grace and mercy. Maybe Jesus isn’t just telling ‘bad’ people to change their behaviours, but for all of us to change in some way.

In these opening words of his earthly ministry, Jesus called people to ‘believe the good news’ (NIV). Our natural inclination is to find it easier to trust in ourselves than to trust in God – it’s part of our human condition. However, Jesus’ earthly ministry showed why we can trust God and why believing in him leads to a better life. Faith is the essential change God wants to see in our lives. Faith in God, along with the goodness and grace that he extends to us in Jesus through the gospel, makes a significant difference in our lives. It leads us into greater peace, joy, hope and love. It gives us freedom from guilt, fear, shame and worry. Believing the good news of Jesus and the message of his life, death, and resurrection for us makes us new like a new tube in my bike tyre. We don’t have to ignore the problems or struggles in our lives, or pretend that everything’s fine when it isn’t, or try to patch things up when they go wrong. Through the gospel, God changes our hearts, our attitudes and behaviours, our relationships, and our communities. We encounter and live in God’s life-giving grace when we believe the gospel and live like it’s true. Believing the good news of God’s kingdom becomes the fundamental change Jesus calls for in our lives.

I’ve heard someone say that the good news of God’s kingdom is just as much about the life we live here and now as it is about going to heaven when we die. Jesus announced the good news that the kingdom of heaven isn’t just something we look forward to in the future, but it is with us here and now. Jesus said, ‘the kingdom of God has come near’ (v15 NIV). It is as close to us as the word of God which speaks the good news of Jesus to us. When we trust the good news of God’s kingdom which comes to us in Jesus, and we become part of his kingdom of grace, mercy, love, and peace through faith in Jesus, then Jesus becomes our king and we are his people. Jesus spent the next three years helping his followers to see the reality of God’s kingdom so we can have a fuller picture of what God’s kingdom looks like and what it means for us to live in it now. Whenever Jesus told parables or performed miracles, he was giving us a picture of what God’s kingdom looks like and the difference it makes in our lives.

Jesus began his ministry by announcing the coming kingdom of God and calling people to repent and believe this good news. He wasn’t just telling sinners to change their behaviours. He was calling all of us into a deep and profound change by trusting the good news of his coming kingdom and living like it’s already here. It can be hard for us to accept change for a whole lot of reasons. However, Jesus’ call for change means we don’t have to ignore the broken parts of our lives. We don’t have to pretend they don’t exist or try to patch them up ourselves. We can bring our broken lives, relationships, communities, and church to him in the faith that he makes us and all things new through the gospel.

Jesus just asks us to trust the good news of his coming kingdom, which ends up changing us.

More to think about & discuss:

  • If you had a puncture in a bicycle tube what would you do: ignore it, pretend it wasn’t there, try to fix it yourself, or change the tube? Explain why you’d do that…
  • How do you usually understand the word ‘repent’? To whom do you think it applies?
  • Does using the word ‘change’ instead of ‘repent’ help you understand v15 in a different way? Explain why…
  • What do you think of when you hear ‘the kingdom of God’? How might you explain what God’s kingdom is like to another Christian? How might you describe it to someone who isn’t Christian?
  • How is the coming of God’s kingdom in Jesus good news for you?
  • What do you think it might look like to believe in God’s coming kingdom and live like it’s near to us here and now?
  • How might this faith lead to change in you? your relationships? your church?
  • When you read Mark 1:14-20, what else can you hear about what God wants us to do?
  • Is there anything else you can hear about what God has done, is doing or will do for us in Jesus? In other words, is there more good news you can hear in this text?
  • What do you hear this story teaching us about how to live as Jesus’ followers in faith, hope, and love?

You can watch a video version of this message at https://youtu.be/WsoTcyUciHI

God bless you with faith in the good news of God’s coming kingdom in Jesus and the changes that brings.

Introducing Jesus (John 1:43-51)

Last weekend one of our children was invited to the birthday party of a school friend at a local park. I took him to the party and stayed around, along with parents of other children. After he left me to go with his friends, I saw one of the mums I knew and went to talk with her. She was talking to another mum that I hadn’t met yet, so she introduced me to her, and we started talking together.

In a lot of ways, this is a pretty normal social interaction. When we are talking with a friend, and another person we don’t know is also part of the conversation, we usually introduce each other – unless we can’t remember one of the people’s names which can be a bit awkward!

Can you imagine what it would be like to meet someone for the first time and be so excited by the encounter that you would want to immediately introduce that person to someone else? What kind of person might make you want to do that – maybe someone famous like a sportsperson, musician, or actor? Or possibly someone who had some exciting news? What might motivate you, having just met someone for the first time, to run off, find someone else you know, and bring them back to introduce them to that person?

In some ways, what Philip did after Jesus called him to be his disciple was a little strange. We read in John 1:43-51 that Jesus had just called Philip to follow him. The next thing Philip did was to go looking for his friend Nathanael and tell him that he had met Jesus. Philip’s words to Nathanael gives us a clue about why he was so excited to have met Jesus. He said, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth” (v45 NLT).

Philip was excited about meeting Jesus because he believed that Jesus was the person Moses and the Old Testament prophets had written about who was coming to save God’s people. For example, in Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses had promised, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him” (NLT). We don’t know from what John tells us how Philip was able to identify Jesus as the saviour God had promised in the Old Testament. This was at the very start of Jesus’ ministry and, as far as we can tell, Jesus hadn’t performed any miracles or done anything yet to show that he was the promised Messiah. However, when Jesus called Philip to follow him, something happened in Philip which made him want to find Nathanael and introduce him to Jesus.

It’s worth contemplating why Philip might have wanted to introduce Nathanael to Jesus because it can help us find reasons why we might want to introduce the people in our lives to Jesus as well. I have heard this story used by some preachers to tell people in their congregation that they should be telling others about Jesus, just like Philip did. I can understand why they would say that, but over the years I have asked myself ‘Why?’ Why would we want introduce people to Jesus? Or another way of thinking about it might be, what is it about Jesus that would encourage us to introduce people we know to him?

One reason why Philip might have been eager to introduce Nathanael to Jesus could have been that the Jewish people of that time were waiting for someone to set them free from the Roman forces who were occupying their nation. In lots of places throughout the Old Testament, which is what Philip meant when he talked about ‘Moses and the prophets’, God promised that he would send a Messiah to bring freedom and peace to God’s people by establishing God’s Kingdom on earth. Philip recognized Jesus as the one who was going to set up this Kingdom and he wanted Nathanael to be part of it, so he introduced him to Jesus so he could share in the freedom and peace that Jesus would bring.

What Jesus’ disciples discovered over the next few years as they followed Jesus and learned from him was that the kingdom Jesus came to establish wasn’t an earthly, political kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom where we find freedom and peace in our hearts, minds and souls. This is the kingdom Jesus proclaimed at the start of his ministry (see Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15) and taught about through the gospels. We participate this Kingdom through faith in Jesus. As we meet Jesus, as he calls us to follow him, and as we learn to live in the reality of his Kingdom in faith, hope and love, we find with Philip what he found in Jesus – the very person that Moses, the prophets, and all of Scripture talk about: Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.

I guess that this is where a lot of preachers I have heard would tell us to get out there and do what Philip did by telling others about Jesus. I’m not going to do that. It’s not because I don’t think it’s important to tell other people about Jesus like Philip told Nathanael, but because maybe we need to spend more time with Jesus to get to know him better before we do that. I usually introduce people to others when I believe it will be good for them to get to know them. Before we start introducing others to Jesus, maybe it would be good for us to know Jesus ourselves, along with the benefits and blessings he gives to us in our relationship with him through faith. If we don’t know why it is good to know Jesus, there won’t be much reason to introduce him to others. If we can find in Jesus what Philip found in him – God’s chosen saviour who came to include us in his kingdom of freedom and peace – then we know someone who is worth introducing others to because we know the difference he makes in our lives when we follow him and learn to live as his disciples.

Our country might not be controlled by foreign invaders, but we have our own enemies to battle. They might look like fear, guilt, shame, hopelessness, or something similar which occupies our hearts and minds, holding us captive. Jesus comes to establish his Kingdom in us so we can live in freedom from these and other enemies, and we can find peace that passes all human understanding (Philippians 4:7). He calls us to follow him, just like he called Philip, to lead us into a new way of living as his disciples, so we can learn to live in the freedom and peace God’s Kingdom brings.

It can be challenging to introduce people to each other, but it can also result in fruitful, life-giving relationships. As we get to know Jesus better this year as his disciples, how might we get to know Jesus better? Who do we know that would benefit from the freedom and peace Jesus brings? How might we be able to introduce them to Jesus?

More to think about & discuss:

  • Do you find it easy or difficult to introduce people you know to others? Explain your reasons for your answer…
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to introduce people to Jesus? Can you give reasons why?
  • Why do you think Philip might have been eager to introduce Nathanael to Jesus?
  • Why do you find Jesus worth knowing? Discuss or reflect on some of the good things you find in your relationship with Jesus as you trust in him and learn to live in the ways he teaches…
  • What are some practical ways you can get to know Jesus better as his disciple this year so you can grow in his goodness in your life?
  • Do you know anyone who might benefit from sharing in the good you find in your relationship with Jesus? Do you know anyone whose life might be better in any other way by being introduced to Jesus?
  • How might you be able to introduce someone you know to Jesus?
  • Are there ways in which we as a community of faith can help equip you to introduce others to Jesus? (please pass on any ideas you might have on to me)
  • Is there anything else in this story that you hear God saying he wants us to do?
  • Is there anything else in this story that you hear God saying he has done, is doing or will do for us? In other words, what is the good news you hear in this story?
  • What might God be teaching us about learning to live in faith, hope and love from Jesus as his disciples?

You can watch a video version of this message by following this link: https://youtu.be/fEIDEq3ObpQ

God bless you with everything you need as you follow Jesus and introduce people in your life to him…

A few articles…

I’ve come across a few articles online in the past few days that I’d like to re-post to hear your thoughts on…

The first is called “8 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2021 (The Rise of the Post-Pandemic Church)” by Carey Nieuwhof. He suggests that this year will be a gradual emergence into whatever our normalized future looks like. But at some point in 2021 you’ll look back and realize most of the pandemic is behind you and the future is ahead of you and then puts forward some ideas about what this future might look like.

The second is “What Does ‘Different’ Look Like?” written by Christina Embree who blogs about inter-generational ministry. Her main point is that what keeps people connected to their faith is the creation of a community that is integrated and intentional about being part of one another’s lives, regardless of time and space, and committed to being there for one another through all of life’s ups and downs. She goes on to look at 4 ways to head towards this kind of community.

What do you think of what they say? What do you think we might be able to learn from them as God leads us into the future he intends for us?

God’s Plan and Purpose (Ephesians 3:1-12)

One of our family’s favourite holiday activities is building Lego. I am constantly amazed that bricks of so many different shapes, colours and sizes can be brought together to make an incredible assortment of models. In the right hands, these little bricks can be united to make something new which can bring joy to the people who play with them.

We usually start any Lego build by opening the plastic bags and spreading the bricks out across our lounge room floor. At that stage, we can see all the different bricks in the kit and they just look like a big mess. When we begin to read the instructions, however, we can start to see how the people who designed the kit planned for them to come together. Piece by piece, as we follow the plan, the model begins to take shape until all the pieces are put in place and they combine to become a finished model. Usually what happens next is whoever was putting the model together wants to show us what they’ve made, so our children will come to us with their new creation to display to us.

There are times when I’m playing with Lego that I think it’s a lot like the church. No Lego kit is made up of just one type of brick. Instead, it takes lots of different pieces which vary in size, colour, and shape to make up a finished model. In the same way, God doesn’t just use one type of person to build his church. The Holy Spirit calls a wide variety of people into the church to build it up into what God plans for it to be. Like the Lego bricks, we are all different shapes, sizes, and colours. We all have different backgrounds, preferences, perspectives, gifts, and strengths which the Holy Spirit brings together to complement each other, encourage each other, provide for each other, and help each other.

This was always God’s plan for the church. Paul explains this plan in Ephesians 3:1-12. In the past, God’s plan for his church had been a mystery but was revealed by the Holy Spirit to God’s ‘holy apostles and prophets’ (v5 NLT) in New Testament times. Paul writes,

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. (v6 NLT)

When the Jewish people of Jesus’ time thought that they were the only ones who deserved God’s salvation, Jesus opened up God’s plan and showed it to his followers. Jesus revealed that all people, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, could share in God’s saving love through faith in him. If we think about it from the analogy of a Lego kit, Jesus opened the instructions to show that God’s plan is to bring together people with all sorts of differences, not just one select group, to form his church in the world.

God’s plan tells us what God intended to do. God’s purpose tells us why God planned to build the church this way. Paul explains God’s why in verses 10 and 11 when he writes,

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)

God’s plan was to bring a rich diversity of different people together into the one body of Christ through faith in Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. Now Paul tells us that God’s purpose, his reason for doing that, was to ‘display his wisdom in its rich variety’ (NLT).

If we go back to our analogy of the Lego model, when our children had finished building the kit they usually came and showed us how all the different bricks had fit together to make something new. In a similar way, when the Holy Spirit unites all the diverse people of the church through faith in Jesus, God shows what he has made to the world and ‘the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.’ In other words, God’s purpose in bringing all the different people together as his church is to make his wisdom known to all creation.

We can understand the wisdom of God as the good news of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 1:24, Paul writes, ‘to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (NLT). When God displays his ‘wisdom’ by bringing together the diverse people of his church, he is showing all creation that the wisdom he reveals in Jesus has the power to make something new and good. This wisdom is the grace and love we find in Jesus which gifts us with the forgiveness of sins and new life as God’s children and members of Jesus’ living body in the world. The wisdom God displays through the church shows what God can do through his grace by bringing diverse people together to live in peace, hope, joy, and love with each other, even with all our differences.

A couple of weeks ago I suggested that God’s purpose for his church is to re-present his love for all people through Jesus. This echoes what Paul in saying here. Ephesians 3:10 tells us that we display God’s wisdom when we live together according to God’s plan for us through the gospel as a community of believers in faith, hope, and love. When we live out all the ‘one another’ statements of the New Testament, such as loving (John 13:34), living in harmony with (Romans 12:16), accepting (Romans 15:7), agreeing with (1 Corinthians 1:10), encouraging (2 Corinthians 13:11), serving (Galatians 5:13), submitting to (Ephesians 5:21), and forgiving (Colossians 3:13) one another, we show the world and ‘the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places’ (v10 NLT) the wisdom of the grace of God in Jesus which makes something new out of a widely diverse group of people.

When we use lots of different bricks to build a Lego model, it shows that the plan was to bring them together to make something new and good. When we live as God’s church, participating in his plan of grace through the gospel and sharing his grace in our relationships with each other, we display to the world and the heavenly authorities that God’s wisdom can bring a diverse group of different people together and make something new and good as a community of faith. God’s plan is to bring us together as one through faith in Jesus. His purpose is to make his grace known in the world and beyond. We become part of God’s plan and purpose as we learn to live in faith, hope, and love as Jesus’ disciples with people who are very different from us.

More to think about and discuss:

  • Do you or someone you know enjoy building Lego kits? What do you or they enjoy about it?
  • What is the most difficult Lego model you have seen? Do you think you would enjoy building it? Explain why…
  • I have suggested that the church is like a Lego model because God brings together very different people to create something new and good. What do you think of that analogy for the church? In what ways does it work for you? In what ways doesn’t it?
  • What do you usually think of when you hear people talk about ‘God’s plan’? How does that compare with what Paul says about God’s plan in verse 6? How is it similar? How is it different?
  • God’s plan tells us what he wants to do. God’s purpose tells us why he wants to do it. What do you hear Paul saying about God’s purpose for his church in verse 10? What are your thoughts about what he is saying?
  • What might your life be like if you were to live in step with God’s plan and purpose in Ephesians 3:1-12? What might not change? What might need to change?
  • How can you help your community of faith to follow God’s plan and purpose from Ephesians 3:1-12 in the coming year?
  • What else do you hear Paul telling us about what God wants us to do in this text?
  • What else do you hear Paul telling us about what God has done, is doing, or will do in this text? In other words, what is the good news you hear in this text?
  • What do you hear Paul teaching us about living in faith, hope, and love through this text?

You can find a video version of this message by following this link: https://youtu.be/lO-eO_s_NIg

God keep you in the grace of the good news of Jesus as you live according to God’s plan and purpose!

Secure Living (Psalm 102:24-28)

Since my childhood I’ve enjoyed reading Peanuts comics by Charles M. Schulz. If you’re not familiar with Peanuts, the comic strips tell the stories of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and their friends as they experience and contemplate the mysteries and complexities of life, identity, and relationships in a humorous way.

I have always been fascinated with the character of Linus. He is the younger brother of Lucy and always carries a blanket with him. It is regularly referred to as his ‘security blanket’ and he is constantly hanging on to it, especially when he faces situations which are uncertain or threatening in some way. Linus’ blanket gives him something to hang on to so he can feel secure and safe when life seems to be very insecure and unsafe for him.

I used to think this was strange until I began meeting other young children who did something similar. I have known a number young children who have had an object to hang on to which helped them to find a sense of security. For some it was a toy, for others a soft animal, for others, like Linus, it was a blanket or some other piece of soft cloth. There was one child in particular that I know who had his own version of a security blanket which he carried with him everywhere. He had it with him when he woke up in the morning, when he ate his meals, when he played, and especially when he went to sleep at night. Of course, it would often get dirty and need to be washed. Because he constantly carried or held on to it, and with the frequent washings it needed, the blanket began to wear out. Eventually it frayed, tore, and fell apart. This child’s security blanket disintegrated into nothing after years of being held, cuddled, and washed.

We might look at characters like Linus, or young children with their toys, blankets, or other objects they hang on to for security, and think it’s a bit silly. However, as I look at most adults I know and reflect on my own life, we can all look for something in our lives to hang on to for a sense of security, especially when life seems uncertain or unpredictable. These adult ‘security blankets’ might be something like our work, a relationship, an object we own, our finances, a hobby we have, or even our involvement in a church. We can look for our security in lots of different things. However, like all things, they are often temporary which leaves us needing to find something else in which to look for our security and safety.

People have always looked for security and safety in the things of this world, and these things have always proved to be temporary and unable to provide what we hope for. In Psalm 102, the author of the psalm was going through a particularly difficult time which was threatening his life. However, in verses 24 to 28 he looked to God who ‘laid the foundations of the earth and made the heavens with (his) hands’ and realised that even these would one day ‘wear out like old clothing’ (NLT) or like my young friend’s security blanket. The author of the psalm realised that, like everything in this world, the day will come when the things in which we look for our security and safety will wear out and disappear.

Because of this, the writer of the psalm looked for his security in the unchanging nature of God. In verse 27 he wrote, ‘But you are always the same; you will live forever’ (NLT). When everything around us shifts and changes and wears out over time, one thing we can rely on and in which we can find our security and safety is in the unchanging nature of God.

This is true especially when we encounter God in Jesus. In the incarnate Immanuel, we find God meeting us in the middle of the uncertainties of life in this world. Throughout his life on earth, Jesus relied on God’s goodness as his security in all sorts of ways. Especially when he faced his suffering and death on the cross, Jesus held on to the promises of God in the Scriptures to keep him secure. When everyone had deserted him and after everything he had was taken from him, Jesus went to the cross hanging on to the love of our Father in heaven. Jesus’ faith in the life-giving love of the Father was justified as God raised him from the dead and lifted him to be with the Father again in his ascension. When we listen to and read the story of Jesus, we can see that God can be trusted. Faith in him gives us a security and safety which is even stronger than death.

That’s why the writer of the psalm says, ‘The children of your people will live in security. Their children’s children will thrive in your presence’ (v28 NLT). When we hang on to God and his promises to us in Jesus for our security and safety, we find everything we need to remain secure and safe, and we have something valuable and good to pass on to the coming generations. We can offer our children and grandchildren security in a rapidly changing world when they learn from us how to find our security in Jesus.

This has become especially important for us this year. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the things in which we look for our security have been either taken away from us or put on hold. Looking ahead towards 2021, we can hope for a better year but with the new strains of the virus being detected, we still face an unpredictable future. In all these uncertainties, we can find a deep sense of security in the faith that God is with us through all of these in Jesus, that the virus and other things that cause our insecurity or uncertainty will also pass away, and that God’s love for us in Jesus will outlast everything in this world.

We find this security through the basic Christian disciplines of reading our Bibles and prayer. As we read God’s word, we hear God’s promises which give us security and safety through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. As we read the stories of God’s people from ancient times, we see how God is faithful to his promises and provides security and safety for all who trust in him to encourage us. In our prayers, we can talk honestly with God about the insecurities and uncertainties we face, giving them over to him and trusting him with them. We don’t have to handle them on our own. Neither do we need to look for security in the temporary things of this world. We can find security and safety in Christ as we give everything over to him in sincere, honest prayer and listening to God’s promises in his word.

As we look towards an uncertain future, in what are we looking for our security? Can the things of this world really give us the security we hope for? Or, like my young friend’s security blanket, will they wear out and fall apart in time? God’s love and grace for us in Jesus will never fall apart or wear out. They are eternal, just like the nature of God. As we hang on to them in faith and hope, we can find a sense of security and safety which will outlast everything else in this world and will give us all we need to get through the uncertainties we face.

More to think about & discuss:

  • What are some things that children you know might hang on to for a sense of security and safety?
  • What are some things that adults you know might hang on to for a sense of security and safety?
  • Have the things the adults have hung on to been able to give them the security or safety they were hoping for? Why or why not do you think that happened?
  • What do you hang on to for security in your life? Is it able to give you what you hope for? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the author of Psalm 102 finds security in God? What is it about God that can provide this security?
  • When you think about the character of God that we see in Jesus, what about him doesn’t change that can help us find security in him?
  • What are you most worried about in 2021? How might faith in Jesus help you find the security you hope for?
  • If you don’t already, would you consider reading your Bible and praying more regularly next year? Would you be encouraged to practise these spiritual disciplines more regularly if they could help you find a greater sense of security? Give reasons for your answer…
  • What do you hear this Bible text saying that God wants us to do?
  • What do you hear this text saying that God has done, is doing or will do for you? In other words, what is the good news you hear in this text?
  • What does this text teach you about following Jesus in faith, hope, and love?

You can watch a video version of this message by following this link: https://youtu.be/lO-eO_s_NIg

God bless you with the security that comes with faith in Jesus as we start the new year!

Redeemed Children (Galatians 4:4-7)

Some parts of the Bible can be difficult to understand because they were written in a different time and place in a culture unlike our own. Whether we are preachers of God’s word or disciples of Jesus who are learning to listen to God speak to us through the Bible, it can be challenging to make sense of language and ideas that are often very different from our own.

For example, when we read Galatians 4:4-7 we can misunderstand some of the language Paul used because our society works very differently from the way Paul’s did. Unfortunately, when that happens, we can also miss the good news he wants to share with us. We need to listen to what he is saying very carefully, doing our best to not jump to conclusions about the words he is using, and hoping to understand what he meant by what he wrote.

When Paul starts talking about being ‘slaves’, he thinks about it differently to the way we do. In Paul’s day, owning slaves was an accepted part of their culture, whereas today we reject the abuses that go with treating people like property. We can also struggle with Paul’s use of the word ‘son’ which sounds much more exclusive than a word like ‘children’. So why does Paul use this language? And what is he trying to tell us about the good news of Jesus?

Paul begins this passage by describing the original condition of all people as slaves. In the ancient world, if people had debts they weren’t able to repay, they could sell themselves into slavery until those debts were repaid. They would work for nothing and the money that their labour earned would go to the person to whom they owed the debt. Paul uses this is an analogy for the human condition for two reasons. Firstly, we all have a debt to God we can’t repay because of our sin. Secondly, we can sometimes feel like slaves when we live under the demands and expectations of other people and the society in which we live to do more, work longer, and try harder, sometimes with little or no reward in return. When we are under the constant pressure to live up to what others think that we should be doing, or even what we think we should be doing, we can feel like a slave.

Paul says that, at the right time, God sent his Son to be ‘born under the law’ (v4 NIV). He means that God entered into our condition as slaves to experience what life is like for us. In Jesus, God joins us under all the demands and expectations that are placed on us. Jesus placed himself under God’s law, the expectations God has on us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others like we love ourselves. Jesus didn’t just come to be an example of what a perfect life looks like. He came to do for us what we can’t do ourselves – to live the perfect life in our place on our behalf. If we go back to Paul’s illustration of slavery, Jesus came to live as a slave, doing all our work for us, and completing every task that is expected of us, so we don’t have to live under that burden.

Paul continues that Jesus came to ‘redeem’ us (v5 NIV). To redeem someone in the ancient world meant to pay the debt that person owed so they could be ‘bought back’ out of slavery. A person could be redeemed when someone else paid what they were worth to their master. Jesus redeems us by paying what he thinks we are worth and buying us back to liberate us from slavery. Jesus’ perfect life was the payment he made when he died on the cross for us (1 Peter 1:18,19). Jesus’ death paid off the debts we owe because of our sin. In giving his life for ours, Jesus redeems us and gives our lives new value. His act of redeeming love frees us from the demands and expectations on us because he fulfilled all of them for us and set us free from their condemning power. Jesus’ one great act of obedience to his Father, giving his life for us on the cross, cancels our debts and frees us from the demands of the law so we can live every day of our lives in the freedom of the gospel.

God then goes on to adopt us as his ‘sons’. Paul’s analogy is that the people who were once considered slaves are now given a new identity and status as children of the Master. We are brought into a new, intimate relationship with almighty God who we can now call ‘Dad’. Paul uses the word ‘son’ as a legal term. In the ancient world, sons had a more privileged status than daughters because they received the inheritance from their father. Paul has just stated in Galatians 3:28, ‘there is neither Jew or Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (NIV). Paul refers to his readers as ‘sons’, not to give preferential treatment or a higher status to males, but to highlight that God gives the legal status of heirs to both men and women through what Jesus has done for us. Paul confirms this in verse 7 when he explicitly states that we are God’s ‘heirs’ (NIV). Because of Jesus’ death for us, men and women receive everything that belongs to God as our inheritance – his righteousness, goodness, holiness, perfection, and purity.

These words of Paul in Galatians 4:4-7 become really important to us when we live our lives under the burden of expectations, demands and pressures of others. We can feel like slaves as we work hard to do what we’re supposed to and don’t seem to get anything back in return. Paul is telling us that we are no longer slaves to anyone or anything! We are free people who can go to almighty God, call him ‘Dad’, and live in a new, intimate relationship with him. Jesus’ redeeming love liberates us from being slaves to the expectations or demands of our society, other people, and even those we place on ourselves, because the gift of his life for us on the cross gives our lives freedom and value. Even when we fail to live up to what we or others think we should be or do, God embraces us as his children, loves us unconditionally, and gives us his inheritance of goodness, righteousness, purity, and holiness. We can live every day in the freedom Jesus gives us through the good news of his life, death and resurrection for us, trusting that we are no longer slaves to anyone or anything, but we are liberated children of God who have status and value through Jesus.

Paul lived in a very different world to ours, but his words still speak grace and peace to us through the centuries. We might understand words like ‘slaves’ and ‘sons’ differently, but they can still give our lives freedom and value. Because of God’s redeeming love for us in Jesus, we don’t have to live as slaves to anyone or anything. Instead, because Jesus joined us in our lives by being born under the law, because he has paid our debts and bought us back through his innocent death for us, and because of his gift of new life through his resurrection, we can live every day of our lives in freedom as God’s children and heirs to whom he gives everything he has and everything he is.

More to think about or discuss:

  • Paul uses words in Galatians 4:4-7 which have different meanings to the way we understand them today. For example, how is Paul’s use of ‘slave’ as a person who is working to pay off a debt different to the way we can understand it in our time and place?
  • How is Paul’s use of ‘son’ as a legal heir different from how we might hear it today?
  • Paul’s main point in this passage is to point to the freedom and value we have in Jesus. What do you think it might be like to be free from feeling like you have to live up to the expectations of others? How can faith in Jesus help you find that freedom?
  • Jesus redeems us by giving his life for us on the cross (see 1 Peter 1:18,19). What does that say about what you are worth to him? How can finding your value in Jesus’ redeeming love make a difference in your life?
  • Discuss some of the things that belong to God. What might it mean to be God’s heir if he gives us all these and more through Jesus’ death for us?
  • What else do you hear God saying he wants us to do in this passage?
  • What else do you hear Paul telling us about what God has done, is doing, or will do for us through Jesus in this passage? In other words, what else do you hear in this reading that is good news for you?
  • What do you hear this reading telling you about how we can live our lives as Jesus’ disciples in faith, hope, and love?

You can watch a video version of this message by following this link: https://youtu.be/KGa-GeNEvj8

God bless you with everything you need to live as his liberated, redeemed child and heir through your faith in Jesus…

Good News For All People (Luke 2:1-20)

We had a lot of bad news this year: bushfires, floods, and then the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted our plans, confined us to our homes, closed our buildings and some of our businesses, and separated us from people we love. For a whole range of reasons, this has been a hard year with lots of bad news for most people I know.

A few weeks ago, we finally heard some good news which many of us have been waiting most of the year to hear: scientists had found a vaccine for the coronavirus! The hopes of the world had been hanging on the people who have been working hard to find a vaccine which will protect us from the harmful effects of COVID-19, save us from sickness and possible death, and help our lives to return to what they were before the pandemic.

In a year which seemed to bring never-ending bad news, the announcement of a vaccine came as good news for all of us.

Compared to the announcement of a COVID-19 vaccine, the angels’ announcement of a baby born in Bethlehem might not sound like such good news to us. Babies are born every day to people all around the world, so why should this one birth be proclaimed as ‘good news that will bring great joy to all people’ (Luke 2:10 NLT)?

All of the bad news we have heard or experienced this and every year of our lives have one common origin: sin. We can often think of sin as the wrong things people do. Like a cough or a fever, our actions or behaviours are more like symptoms of sin. We can experience sin’s symptoms in lots of other ways in our lives such as physical or mental illness, broken relationships, loneliness and isolation, addictions, guilt or shame, and death. In fact, anything that robs us of the life that God intends for us is the result of sin in one way or another. Like a virus, we carry sin within us, unknowingly and unintentionally spreading it to everyone we meet through the wrongs we say and do, and through the good we fail to say and do. We are all infected by sin and we all spread sin to others in so many ways.

The good news the angels proclaimed to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem on the night when Jesus was born, and the good news that we still hear and celebrate this Christmas, is that God has given us the cure for sin. Like a vaccine against the coronavirus, God has sent us the remedy for the viral sin that we carry so we can be healed of its effects in our lives. Rather than just give us a short-term fix for the symptoms of sin, God gives us a long-lasting cure which eradicates the source of the infection in us so we can be free from its symptoms and we can become carriers of the antidote, spreading it to everyone we meet.

The cure for sin that God gives us is Jesus. He is God’s antibody as God gifts humanity with Jesus’ goodness, purity, and righteousness. Jesus came into the world as the only person since Adam and Eve who wasn’t infected with sin. As the eternal Son of God, Jesus is everything God intended us to be, and when he entered the world, he came to free us from sin and fill us with life that is stronger than death and which lasts forever. Jesus took the world’s sin on himself, carrying our infection to the cross where he put the virus of sin to death once and for all. Then, he replaced our sin-carrying selves with his righteous self so that we become new people who are free from sin and its effects in our lives. We might at times suffer a relapse because sin will never be eradicated in our lives until we join Jesus in eternity, but even though we might show some symptoms of sin, Jesus provides us with the antidote through his forgiveness, grace, and love.

There is a debate at this time around the pros and cons of vaccinations. I can understand people’s concerns about compulsory vaccinations, but if we could put our concerns about a vaccine on hold just for a few moments, I would like to ask: If you heard that there was a cure for the coronavirus which was one hundred per cent safe and would cause no harm to you or your loved ones, would you accept the vaccination? Or would you be glad that there was a vaccine but never get one?

We can hear the good news of the angels who proclaim the birth of Jesus who saves us from sin, but it’s important that we turn up to receive what he came to bring us. God gives us the cure for sin and eternal life through faith in Jesus. When we trust in Jesus, living as his disciples and learning a new way of living in faith, hope and love from him, God gives us the sin-free life of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Anyone who has ever been on medication knows that we need to take the whole course of medicine for it to be effective. In the same way that a one-off inoculation rarely cures an illness, we need to be in constant relationship with Jesus to receive the full blessings of his cure for sin. Like a full course of medicine, faith in Jesus is a way of life that we practice every day.

Participating in Jesus’ healing love makes us carriers of his cure for sin. As we learn a new way of living in faith, hope and love from Jesus, we spread his remedy for sin to everyone we meet through our words and actions. Christ-like love means spreading God’s sin-curing remedy to everyone we meet as we trust in God’s love for us in Jesus and love others in the same way Jesus loves us. When we are living as Jesus’ disciples, we connect others with God’s life-saving love and spread his grace-filled antibodies to our families, our communities, and throughout the world.

Finding a vaccine for COVID-19 is definitely good news for the world. However, the coronavirus is just a symptom of a much bigger problem in our world – the problem of sin. Jesus’ birth is good news for all people because he is God’s cure for sin in the world as he takes our sin on himself in his birth, dies with it on the cross, and fills us with new life as God’s holy people through his resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This really is good news for all people, no matter what the effects of sin might be that we are experiencing in our lives this Christmas. We all have access to this cure through faith in Jesus and a life following Jesus. We can then bring this life-saving love to others as God sends us into the world with the cure for sin by living in faith, hope and love every day of our lives.

More to think about or discuss:

  • Would you rather hear good news or bad news? Can you explain why?
  • What is some of the worst news you have received this year?
  • What is some of the best news you have received this year?
  • How do you usually understand the birth of Jesus as good news? Why is it good news for you?
  • Do you ever think of sin as a sickness? What do you like or not like about that analogy?
  • What is your reaction to the idea of Jesus being God’s cure for sin in our lives? Does the image connect with you? Explain why or why not…?
  • If Jesus is God’s cure for sin in your life, what are some of the ways you might be able to receive him in your life?
  • Through faith in Jesus, we become carriers of God’s remedy for the world. What are some ways you can share that remedy with others, especially this Christmas?

If you would like to watch a video version of this message, please follow this link: https://youtu.be/HQDpQaTC5pY

God keep you in Jesus and the good spiritual health he gives you through the Holy Spirit.

Love All (Romans 16:25-27)

When I was a child, I could not understand how Father Christmas was able to receive requests for presents from children around the whole world, make them, and then deliver those gifts all in one night. For a kid growing up in the Adelaide Hills long before satellite communications and digital technology, it seemed like an absolutely impossible task.

Then I found out that Father Christmas has help! I was told he has a whole lot of elves at his workshop at the North Pole who help him go through all the letters children write to him, make the toys, and pack his sled ready for the big delivery night. I have even heard that some of these elves, who are also called ‘Santa’s little helpers’, go with Father Christmas on Christmas Eve to help him deliver toys and other gifts to children in every part of the earth.

I acknowledge that there are risks in comparing Father Christmas with Jesus. There are definite differences between the two, for example that Father Christmas is making a list and checking it twice to tell if children have been naughty or nice. Jesus gives forgiveness and new life to all of God’s children as free gifts because none of us really deserve them – which is why we call them grace. However, we can also find similarities between some interpretations of Father Christmas and the real-life person of Jesus.

One similarity is that neither Father Christmas or Jesus share his gifts with the world by himself. Jesus calls people to partner with him in sharing his grace-filled gifts, especially his gift of life-giving love, with the world. At Christmas we celebrate the gift of God’s love which he gives to us in Jesus. He is the incarnation of God’s love as God takes on human flesh and blood in the birth of Jesus. God is love (1 John 4:16) so when the divine enters our human experience and embraces our human condition in himself, love takes on human form so we can experience the life-changing reality of God’s love for us in a personal way.

Sometimes people can equate love with words, such as saying, ‘I love you.’ Loving words are important, but they also need to be reflected in and supported by actions and the ways we treat others. That’s why the Bible says, ‘let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions’ (1 John 3:18 NLT). Loving words need to go together with loving actions and behaviours if there is going to be a genuine expression of that love.

The Evangelist John identifies Jesus as the Word of God who spoke everything into existence at the start of creation (John 1:1-4). This was God’s Word of eternal and perfect, life-giving love. When Jesus was born, this Word of Love became a physical, flesh and blood expression of God’s love for us, which we also see in his suffering and death for us (1 John 4:10). When Jesus was born, and when he gives himself to us through the Holy Spirit, God is loving us in ways that aren’t just words, but which show us the truth of his love for us by his actions.

One of the most radical things about this love is that it is for all people. At the time of Jesus, the Jewish religious people were very exclusive in their understanding of God’s love. They thought it was for a select group of people from a particular racial background who kept a precise set of religious rules. Jesus revolutionized people’s understanding of God’s love by showing that it was for all people, especially those who deserved it the least but needed it the most. That was why the Apostle Paul dedicated himself to bringing the good news of God’s love in Jesus to Gentiles, or non-Jewish, people. As we read in Romans 16:25-27, God’s plan was always to bring the good news of Jesus and the unconditional love we find in him to those people who were previously outside of the Kingdom of God. Paul teaches us that the love of God is radically inclusive, freely available to all people.

This brings us back to the analogy of Father Christmas giving his gifts to others with his elves’ help. Just like Santa’s little helpers work with Father Christmas to make sure that all children around the world receive their presents at Christmas, God calls his people to work with him to distribute his gift of perfect and unconditional love through Jesus. Throughout the Bible, God called people to work with him in sharing the gift of his love to others. In our time and place, God still calls us to be ‘Jesus’ little helpers’ in bringing the gift of his love to the world.

Jesus gave his followers the new command to love each other in the same way that he had loved them to prove to the world that they were his disciples (John 13:34,35). His way of sharing his love with the world is through the loving actions of those who were learning his new way of loving through their relationship with him. We became Jesus’ little helpers as we receive the gift of his love and then share that same love with other people. Just like Santa’s elves might hand out gifts to children in a shopping centre, we receive God’s love for us from Jesus so we can share his love with everyone in the world.

That can seem overwhelming when we consider the number of people in the world with the variety and magnitude of their needs. We don’t have to do it all. Instead, God calls each member of the body of Christ to share Jesus’ love wherever we are and wherever he leads us. It begins right here on our own doorstop. We can start by sharing the gift of God’s love with people in our own families, our own friendship groups, our own congregation. When we are loving the young, elderly, single, the married, or vulnerable people of our congregation in the way Jesus teaches, we pass on the gift of God’s love for them. Giving God’s gift of love to the world as Jesus’ little helpers starts with the people in our lives here and now.

God’s purpose for his Church is to re-present his love for all people through Jesus. The fourth week of the Advent Conspiracy reminds us that the heart of our identity and purpose as a Christian community of faith is to Love All with the same grace-filled, self-sacrificing, life-giving love that God gives to us through Jesus. This is not just a Christmas thing, but it begins at the manger with Jesus’ birth, continues through all the ups and downs of life in this world, leads us to the cross where we see this love poured out for us in Jesus’ death, and to the resurrection where we witness the life-giving power of Jesus’ love. Santa’s little helpers work with Father Christmas to achieve something that seems impossible. We are Jesus’ little helpers who are invited to participate with him in delivering the gift of his radically inclusive love to all people. This Christmas, and into the New Year, each of us will have countless opportunities to share the gift of God’s love that comes to us as a flesh and blood person, as we trust in God’s love for us and Love All, just like Jesus does.

More to think about or discuss:

  • Do you ever need some extra help at Christmas? What might be something you could use help with?
  • How important is it to have helpers at Christmas? Why might that be important for you? for others?
  • When you read Romans 16:25-27, to whom did God plan to give his gift of love? Who are some of the people included in that plan that you can think of?
  • How do you think God distributes his gift of love to all people? Discuss your answers…
  • What does Jesus’ love mean to you? How does it make a difference in your life?
  • What is your reaction to thinking about Christians as ‘Jesus’ little helpers’ who distribute the gift of his love to all people? Share your thoughts about that…
  • God’s purpose for his Church is to re-present his love for all people through Jesus. What is your reaction to that statement? What do you think is good about it? What might be not so good about it? (You’re welcome to leave a comment with any thoughts you might have)
  • What do you find positive about the Advent Conspiracy challenge to Love All?
  • What do you find difficult about the AC challenge to Love All?
  • What is one thing you can do to be ‘Jesus’ little helper’ this Christmas as you Love All in the way that he loves you?

You can watch a video version of this message by following this link: https://youtu.be/Bc2-w-7_4Bo

God bless you with his love in Jesus so you can Love All in your life this Christmas and into the future…

Give More (Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11)

When I ask children what they like most about Christmas, the most common answer I get is presents. Some might give what they think the correct answer should be and say, ‘Jesus’, but when I ask them what they really think, they usually change their answer to presents.

I don’t write that to be critical of their answer – I probably would have said the same thing when I was their age – but to highlight a reality about the way we celebrate Christmas. Giving and receiving gifts are a vital part of our Christmas celebrations. They communicate value and appreciation for others. They can signify a genuine love for each other. I get concerned that excessive consumerism taints the blessings which can come through giving and receiving gifts, but that doesn’t mean that sharing presents is wrong or should be avoided. Instead, as disciples of Jesus we can be looking for ways to give gifts which are meaningful and which build up healthy, life-giving relationships with each other. This is what the Advent Conspiracy asks us to think about as it challenges us to Give More.

I asked my children why we give presents at Christmas. They answered that we give gifts because God gave us the gift of his Son, which is a good answer. However, if that is true for us, then we can also ask how do we give in ways that reflect and point others towards God’s gift of his Son to us at Christmas?

In other words, how might the gifts we give each other at Christmas signify and extend God’s grace to us in Jesus?

To answer these questions, it might be good for us to go back and have another look at what God gives us through the birth of Jesus. When we discover for ourselves what God gives to us through the coming of his Son, then we might be more able to share gifts with each other that point to that grace.

For example, when we look at the Old Testament reading for the third Sunday of Advent, Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11, we can find some amazing gifts God gives to us through the gift of his Son. God gives good news for the poor, comfort for the broken-hearted, release for captives and freedom for prisoners. To those who mourn, God gifts his favour, a crown of beauty, and joyous blessing. He gives us all these amazing presents through his gift of Jesus who brings us the infinite and perfect goodness of God as a flesh and blood person.

Jesus read this passage of Scripture out when we taught in the Synagogue in Luke 4:16-21. He proclaimed that on that day the words of Isaiah were fulfilled. Jesus was born into the world to be the embodiment of God’s good and gracious gifts to us of comfort, release, freedom, favour, beauty, blessing and more. As God gifts his Son to us at Christmas, he also gives us all these gifts through him. We can think of Jesus as being God’s gift to us, as well as all the good and grace-filled gifts that God gives to us through Jesus.

As we read Isaiah 61:1-4, we can be asking ourselves what we need this Christmas. We can interpret Jesus’ words in a physical sense, but also in emotional and spiritual ways. For example, we might be financially poor, especially after buying all our Christmas presents, but we can also feel emotionally or spiritually impoverished, like we have nothing to offer in our hearts or souls. We might be broken-hearted for a lot of different reasons. There might be things in our lives that hold us captive, for example fear, guilt, or shame. Or we might be imprisoned by an addiction, mental illness, or lack of self-worth.

It can be a difficult question to ask, but as you read Isaiah 61:1-4, with whom do you identify the most? What does your heart and soul need this Christmas?

God promises to provide for our needs through Jesus. At Christmas we can find the goodness of God which he gives to us in the person of Jesus. God gifts us with comfort, release, freedom, favour, beauty, blessing and more, so that all the needs of our hearts, minds and souls can be met through him. When we find God’s goodness in the gift of Jesus, we can find everything else we need in him as well.

When the Advent Conspiracy challenges us to Give More, it isn’t talking about giving an increased number of presents to others or making longer lists of things to buy. To Give More means giving to others more like God gives to us, so our gifts more closely resemble his gift to us in Jesus. The book talks about giving ourselves to others in more relational ways and gifting our presence to others in meaningful ways to build them up and encourage them.

It can also mean thinking about ways that we can extend God’s grace-filled gifts to us with people around us. We can think of it as looking at people’s deeper needs and gifting ourselves to them to meet those needs. For example, if someone is impoverished in their hearts or souls, how can we show them God’s grace to enrich their lives? If their hearts are broken for some reason, how can we gift them with comfort? If they are captive or prisoners in some way, how can we help them to find freedom and release? How can we show favour, beauty or blessing to someone who is mourning a loss in their life? If we use Isaiah 61 as a template, we can find God’s grace-filled gifts to us in the gift of Jesus, but we can also start looking at the people around us and start to consider how we can give to them in ways that meet the deeper needs of their hearts and souls.

To Give More isn’t just a Christmas thing but becomes something we can carry with us throughout the whole year. Christmas is an ideal time to start thinking about the grace God extends to us and the grace we can extend to others because for most people gifts are a really important part of Christmas. We can give more superficial gifts, but we can also think about the gifts we share and the grace we extend to others in deeper, more meaningful ways.

Our children know that we share gifts with each other at Christmas because God gave the gift of his Son to us. Maybe, the more we explore and appreciate the depths of God’s gifts to us in Jesus and through Jesus, the more we will be able to find God’s life-giving grace for ourselves, and the more we will be able to give God’s life-giving grace to others.

More to think about & discuss:

  • Why do you give gifts at Christmas? Is it because of the expectations of our society, family, or someone else? Is it from a genuine love or appreciation for someone? Is there some other reason? Discuss your thoughts…
  • Do you think it might be possible to give more of yourself to others by spending less money on them? How might you be able to give more of yourself in relational ways at Christmas and through the year? (follow this link for some relational gift ideas from the Advent Conspiracy)
  • What does it mean to you that God gifted his Son to you in the birth of Jesus? Try to explain why you think that way…
  • When you read Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11, who do you tend to identify with most: the poor or impoverished, the broken-hearted, the captives or imprisoned, those who mourn, or someone else…? Why do you identify with them?
  • What do you hear Isaiah promise that God gives you through his gift of Jesus to you and for you? How might the presence of Jesus with you give you those gifts?
  • Who do you know that might be poor or impoverished, broken-hearted, captive or imprisoned, or mourning in some way? How might the gift of Jesus give them good news, comfort, release, freedom, or favour?
  • How might you be able to share this gift from God in Jesus with them this Christmas?
  • Is there anything else you hear God asking you to do in Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11?
  • Is there anything else you hear God promising to do for you in this text? In other words, do you hear any other good news in this passage?
  • What do you hear God teaching us about living in faith, hope and love as Jesus’ disciples in this text?

You can find a video version of this message at https://youtu.be/n0Sq4RJiVWE

God bless you with the gift of his Son so you can give more of his grace in Jesus to others…

Spend Less (2 Peter 3:8-15a)

We have a moneybox in our home where we put our loose change. Every now and then I’ll open the moneybox to check on how much is in it and then we do something with the cash we find.

The big question then becomes: how were we going to spend the money?

The other day I opened our moneybox to discover about $10 in it. I started imagining what I could do with the extra $10, such as buying a coffee and cake at a local bakery, fuel for my motorbike to go for a quick ride in the Hills, or some Christmas lollies to share with our family.

As I was contemplating the possibilities that a bonus $10 could offer, I saw this year’s Gifts of Grace catalogue from Australian Lutheran World Service sitting on the benchtop. I started wondering see what $10 could buy. I discovered that $5 will buy tree saplings for people in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, $6 will purchase a mobility kit for someone in Kenya who has a disability, $8 will help care for an elderly refugee in Kenya, $9 will provide a 20 litre water tank for a family in Indonesia, and $10 will feed babies in Myanmar.

As I looked through the catalogue and contemplated what my $10 could provide for someone in real need in another part of the world, my coffee, motorbike ride and Christmas lollies didn’t seem that important. Let’s face it, $10 doesn’t seem like very much, especially when we compare it to the $18.8 billion Australians spent on Christmas last year (which works out to about $969 per household on average). We can easily justify spending $10 on something we want, but if we combined $10 from every household around Australia, it would add up to a lot of money! When we compare what we want with the real needs people have in Australia and other parts of the world, we can find ourselves being challenged to re-think how we spend our money, especially at Christmas.

One lesson we are trying to teach our children is the difference between what we want and what we need. They will often come to us, telling us that they ‘need’ something, when really they just want it. It is an important distinction to apply to our lives, no matter how old we are. There are lots of things that we think we ‘need’ which are really just things we want. This doesn’t mean it is bad or wrong to want things. It is important to keep 1 Timothy 6:17b in mind when we talk about how we spend our money, because it teaches us that God ‘richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment’ (NIV). God might not give us everything we want, but he promises to give us what we need and he wants us to enjoy his gifts to us. It is also important to keep in mind that one way in which God gives other people what they need is through us. He gives us more than we need, not so we can be self-indulgent with his gifts, but to provide for others who are in need through us.

As we look at the second week of the Advent Conspiracy, we are encouraged to think about our spending at Christmas under the theme of Spend Less. This isn’t about being miserly or Scrooge-like in our spending. Instead, it challenges us to think about how much we spend at Christmas in comparison to the needs people have around the world, or even in our own communities. This becomes especially important if we get caught up in the spending tsunami at Christmas and we end up with so much debt that we spend a lot of the coming year trying to pay it off. I understand that a healthy economy needs people to spend money, in particular after the challenges businesses have faced this year with the COVID-19 restrictions, but we still need to be careful that we are not overextending ourselves financially and getting ourselves further in debt for the sake of buying a whole lot of stuff that we don’t need or that other people don’t actually want.

2 Peter 3:8-15a reminds us that everything in this world will pass away and disappear one day. If the focus of our lives is on making and spending money, then our efforts become pretty futile when we realise that nothing we have will last. Again, keeping 1 Timothy 6:17 in mind, it’s not bad or wrong because God gives us gifts to enjoy. However, if the main purpose of our lives is to make money and spend it on things that won’t last, then our lives are in danger of lacking any real meaning. Everything we buy is temporary, no matter how good it looks, how nice it tastes, or how much fun it is. God creates us for eternity. When we invest what God has given us into people, especially those in need, instead of things that are temporary, then what we do has significance which can literally last forever.

One element of living ‘holy and godly lives’ (v11 NLT) is thinking about how we use the gifts God has given us. To help our congregation think through how we are spending the money God has blessed us with, we are challenging our people to raise $5000 to partner with a village through the ALWS Gifts of Grace. We are challenging the people connected with our community of faith to think about what we are doing with the money God has given to us and ask how he would prefer that we use those resources. By sharing what God has first given us with those in need, we participate with God in filling the world with his righteousness (v13). For example, I could spend the $10 in our moneybox on coffee and cake, or maybe some Christmas treats for the kids. Or I can put it in an envelope, write AC Village or something similar on the front, and place it in the offerings this Sunday at worship. It’s easy to know which option will have the greater long-term significance…

Everything we have is a gift from our God who loves us and provides us with everything we need for this life and the next. God doesn’t always give us what we want, but because of Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, and resurrection for us, God promises to always give us what we need. He doesn’t just do this for ‘good’ people, but for everyone! (see Matthew 5:44,45) As God pours his grace into our lives, he asks us to show the same grace to others so he can provide for them through us.

How much money will you spend this Christmas? What might happen if you reduced your spending by one tenth, a quarter, or even more? Or what if you gave one less present, or asked for one less gift, and gave that money to someone who really needed it? Can we escape the trap of uncontrolled spending and rampant consumerism, and bring God’s goodness and righteousness into people’s lives who need it in the most basic of ways this Christmas?

More to think about & discuss:

  • How much money do you think you will spend this Christmas? Are you comfortable with that amount? Explain why or why not…?
  • What is your reaction when you read how much Australians spent at Christmas last year? Can you give reasons for why you react that way?
  • What do you hear 2 Peter 3:8-15a teaching us about the things we spend a lot of time, effort and money on, especially at Christmas? What are your thoughts about what Peter might be saying to us?
  • Peter encourages Christians to live ‘holy and godly lives’ (v11 NLT). What do you think that might look like in our time and place, especially as we celebrate Christmas?
  • How might spending less and sharing some of that money with people in need help bring God’s righteousness to the world? Is that something you would like to be part of? Explain why…
  • The Advent Conspiracy is basically about asking if there is a better way to celebrate Christmas. When you compare the amount of money you’ll spend this Christmas with the needs of people around the world or in your own community, do you think it would be good to find a better way to celebrate Christmas? How might committing to spend less help us find greater meaning in your Christmas celebrations?
  • How do you plan to spend less this Christmas?

You can find a video version of this message by following this link: https://youtu.be/ousz2pi1itw

God bless you so his righteousness can fill the world through you!