Planted by the Waters (Psalm 1)

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When you travel through the Australian Outback, for hours all you see is desert or low, scrubby salt-bush. Every now and then you might find tall gum trees rising from the dry landscape. These trees are signs that there is water somewhere nearby. It might be a river or a waterhole or even an underground water source, but for trees to grow strong and tall, they need water to sustain them in the long, hot, dry Australian summers and droughts. Their presence tells us that there is water somewhere close for their roots to provide them with the goodness they need for life.

The ancient people of the Bible lived in a hot, dry climate like Australia. They knew how important water is for life. Plants or trees didn’t last long if they tried to grow a long way from a dependable water source like a river. For a tree to grow strong and produce the fruit that it was intended to, then it would have to be planted near water to give it what it needed to survive and thrive.

We can learn a lot from this image from Psalm 1 of a person who meditates on God’s word being like a tree planted along a riverbank. In lots of different ways, we can experience dry spells or droughts in life. When that happens, where do we go for strength, nourishment or hope? Where do we look for what we need to survive in this world and try to find what we need for life?

The promise of Psalm 1 is that when we are planted next to the life-giving water of God’s word, we will find everything we need to not just survive in life, but to thrive in even the driest times of life, and to produce the fruit that God wants to share with the world through us. When our roots go deep into God’s word and his promises to us through it, we will be like trees whose leaves never wither and are always fresh and green like a gum tree in the Outback. I know that the analogy is flawed because gum trees don’t produce fruit, so maybe it’s more appropriate to think about an apricot, apple or orange tree thriving in the middle of an Australian desert – can you imagine that? God’s promise to us in Psalm 1 is that no matter how things might try to suck the life out of us, when we are planted in God’s word with our roots going down deep into his love, grace and goodness, God will provide us with everything we need to have green leaves and produce delicious fruit in season.

At the heart of God’s word is the promise of his grace and love in Jesus. We can read God’s word as laws, rules and direction for our lives, but they are there to point us towards Jesus (Galatians 3:24). He is the source of a life which is stronger than the dry spells and droughts we go through, even stronger than death. When we read the Bible and hear the good that God promises to do for us and in us through Jesus, the Holy Spirit feeds and strengthens us, giving us everything we need for life in this world and the next (Romans 8:32). When we put our roots down deep into the good news of Jesus and draw on the grace and love of God for us in him, then the Bible gives us life to survive through and even thrive in every situation of life (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

That’s why it is vital that we are meditating on God’s word daily. If I just water a plant every now and then it’s not going to be as healthy and the fruit won’t be as sweet as when I water it regularly. It’s the same with us. When we are planted near God’s word and it’s a part of our everyday life, it gives us what we need for life to the full (John 10:10). It also means that when the dry times come, when tragedy strikes or life gets really hard for any reason, we are already prepared. Trees which have roots that go deep into the soil have a much better chance of surviving a drought than those with shallow roots. When our roots are diving deeper into the goodness of God’s word every day, we are already drawing on its goodness and finding what we need to thrive and continue to produce the fruit of good works when the dry times of our lives come.

Psalm 1 says this comes through meditating on God’s word (v2). The word ‘meditation’ might make some people think of sitting cross-legged on a mat while we try to achieve inner peace. Meditation doesn’t have to look like that. We all meditate when we think about things, turning ideas and other thoughts over in our heads. We all think about things such as what we’re going to do, what we’re going to eat, what do other people might think about us, what people may have said to us or about us, and so on. The main question for us isn’t so much ‘Do we meditate?’ but ‘On what do we meditate?’

The art of Christian meditation is bringing what God says to us in his word into those thoughts, so that our focus is on what God says to us and about us. Being planted by God’s word might be carrying one word of God’s grace, love or peace from the Bible with us through our whole day. The way I do it is to read the verse of the day on a Bible app on my phone before I look at the weather or my email first thing in the morning. Or I’ll read a couple chapters of my Bible in my office before I turn on my computer. My goal is to find one piece of good news or one promise from God which I can carry with me. During the day, then, I go back to that verse, promise or piece of good news to give me God’s perspective on what’s going on, to filter what’s happening through God’s word or to find God’s goodness in Jesus through it. Meditation is about seeing the whole of our existence from God’s perspective, through the lens of God’s grace and love for us in Jesus.
Learning to meditate on God’s word isn’t just for professional ministers. It’s an art for all of Jesus’ followers to grow in so that we can be planted near God’s word like a tree by a billabong in the Outback, drawing on and finding life in the goodness of God in Jesus which we encounter through the Bible.

I know the difference being planted near a river can make to a gum tree in the Outback. Being planted near God’s word can make the same difference to our lives.

More to think about:

  • Why is it important for trees and plants to have a constant source or water? What happens if they don’t get regular water, especially during hot, dry summers or droughts?
  • What are some things that can cause people to experience ‘dry periods’ in life? What are some of the ‘dry spells’ you’ve experienced in your life?
  • Where did you go or what did you do to try to get through those dry spells? Did they help?
  • What do you think of God’s promise in Psalm 1 that we will find life when we are planted near & meditating on God’s word? Is that a difficult promise to believe? What do you like about that promise?
  • How do you go with reading your Bible? What might help you read your Bible more regularly?
  • How do you think you would go if you committed to reading your Bible every day, found one piece of good news or promise from God in your Bible, and then carried it with you through your day? Would that be easy or difficult for you? How might it help you find God’s goodness in your life during the day?
  • What are some other ways you might be able to be planted near God’s word to draw goodness from it to help you in your life?

Into the Harvest (Luke 10:1-11,16-20)

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I’m always on the lookout for effective evangelism techniques to help the people of our church share the gospel with others. For example, one approach is to do a neighbourhood door-knock to tell the people about Jesus in their homes. When that happens to me, however, I’m usually pretty quick to thank them for their time, close the door and get back to what I was doing. Another evangelism strategy is to warn people about hell and then point them to Jesus as the one who can save them. We have seen that approach used in social media recently in Australia by a prominent rugby union player. The backlash on commercial and social media tells us how successful that tactic usually is.

With these and other evangelism strategies in mind, I am fascinated to read about Jesus’ evangelism strategy in Luke 10:1-20. As far as I can tell, he gave them no formal training other than a few instructions. Jesus then sent these followers out ahead of him in a similar way a farmer would send workers into his fields to gather in a harvest. They went to the villages that Jesus was about to visit with a message of peace and the coming kingdom of God. This looks like Jesus’ main evangelism strategy – send people out to tell others that they could find peace through Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

What if evangelism is that simple? Is it possible that effective evangelism isn’t about programs or campaigns or multi-million dollar extravaganzas, but simply about followers of Jesus sharing a message of peace with the people we come across every day?
There was a time when people saw the mission field across the seas, in different countries where people didn’t know Jesus and needed to hear the message of salvation. That need still exists, but for a few decades now people who study our society have been telling us that worshiping attendance in our own country has been getting less and less. Australia is now identified as a ‘post-Christian’ country. What this means is that most people in Australia don’t attend church or, more importantly, don’t know Jesus. The fields ready for the harvest aren’t just ‘out there’ any more. They are all around us.

What I find significant about the way in which Jesus sent out his disciples in Luke 10 is that he didn’t send them out to bring people into church. Instead, he sent them out with a message of peace through the coming of God’s kingdom. It is important for us to be listening to what Jesus says because so many people in our society don’t know peace in their lives and are looking for a greater sense of peace.

Jesus’ sent his disciples out with the promise that people could find peace through him. Two thousand years later, Jesus is still promising peace through faith in him and the presence of the Kingdom of God to the people of our time and place as well. Jesus gives us good news for the people of our world. Our job is not to try to get people into church. Our job is not to threaten people with hell. Jesus sends us into the world as his followers like workers in God’s harvest field with the job of bringing God’s peace to the people we meet. Jesus’ strategy for people to hear and believe this good news in his time and for ours is simply for us to share the message of God’s peace so others can know the peace of God which passes all human understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Passing on the peace that Jesus gives to others begins with us finding God’s peace in our own lives. We can’t give to others what we don’t have ourselves. One way we can understand our congregation’s discipling plan is for each of us to be connecting with God’s peace through the gospel and growing in that peace through faith in Jesus. As we grow in God’s peace in every area of our lives, God equips us through his Spirit to be able to bring the good news of peace to others. We can share stories of how we have found God’s peace in different ways in our lives. We can tell others about the difference God’s peace makes in our lives. Like the seventy-two disciples that Jesus sent out, when we are finding God’s peace in our relationship with Jesus, then we can bring his peace to everyone we meet in the harvest field of our own homes, schools, workplaces and city.

Luke doesn’t tell us what the seventy-two disciples were thinking or feeling when Jesus sent them out to bring his message of peace to the villages. I wonder if they were excited to be part of the mission of God in the world, whether they were afraid, cautious, uneasy or just unsure about what they were getting into. When they came back to Jesus, though, they were full of joy because of the way they had seen the Kingdom of God at work in people’s lives.

Can you imagine finding that same joy as we participate in God’s mission in the world by bringing his message of peace to the people we meet? I understand that most people are uncomfortable with sharing their faith for a whole range of reasons. My hope is that all of us would be growing in our faith, as God equips us with good news to share with others and sends us out into his mission fields as his workers in his harvest.

Whatever might be happening in your life, Jesus promises you peace through a growing faith in him and his love for you. Is there someone in your life who needs a greater sense of peace? Is Jesus sending you to that person to give them his message of peace through faith in him? Jesus has given us the message of peace for people who are trapped in conflict, whether within themselves or in their relationships with others, and sends us out like workers in the harvest to bring this good news to others.

With whom can you share the good news of God’s peace in Jesus this week?

More to think about:

  • Imagine you were one of the 72 disciples that Jesus sent out with his message of peace. What do you think your reaction might have been? Do you think you would have been able to do what Jesus sent you to do? Why or why not?
  • What do you think God’s peace is like? Can you describe it?
  • Are there things in your life at the moment that are causing you worry, stress or anxiety? How might you be able to find a greater sense of God’s peace in your own life?
  • How might growing in God’s peace in Jesus help to equip you to share God’s peace with others?
  • Do you have a story to tell of how you encountered God’s peace in your own life?
  • Is there someone you know who needs a greater sense of God’s peace in their own lives? How might you be able to share God’s peace with them this week?

Christ’s Ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

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Being an ambassador is an important job.

When monarchs, governments or people in positions of authority send ambassadors to a foreign country, those ambassadors go with the full authority of the person or people who sent them. Ambassadors are given a message for those to whom they are sent. When they deliver that message, it is received as though the people who sent the ambassadors were speaking themselves. So ambassadors have a critical role to play in the relationships between nations, especially when the they might be tense or they are in conflict with each other. Ambassadors need to be faithful to the message they have been given if the message is going to be communicated, good relations between nations preserved and peace achieved.

When Paul says, ‘We are Christ’s ambassadors’ (2 Corinthians 5:20), he is saying that God gives people the important work of bringing his message to the world. The message he entrusts to his ambassadors is the good news of reconciliation. This message is about the end of hostilities as two parties which had been in conflict with each other are brought together in peace. The message of reconciliation is about acknowledging the wrongs of the past, wanting to make things right again, and bringing healing to past wounds. The message God has entrusted to his ambassadors is a message of peace and restored relationships.

One question I have about this text is who does Paul mean when he talks about ‘us’ and ‘we’? On the one hand, Paul could be referring to himself as the writer of this letter, along with Timothy and others who might have been traveling with Paul at the time. If we understand Paul’s ‘we’ and ‘us’ as himself and those with him, then the appeal he is making is obviously to those who received the letter, the people of Corinth.

As modern hearers of Paul’s words, it is important that we hear Paul talking to us as well. Sometimes our biggest problem is that we don’t have a problem. We like to think that we can live our lives for ourselves, doing whatever suits us best, and God’s OK with that. We need to recognise that we all have the natural tendency to live like either the younger son or the older son, or sometimes both, from the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32). We can behave like the younger son when we take what God has given us and use it selfishly. We can be like the older son when we think that God owes us something for the ‘good’ things we do. Either way, our actions bring us into conflict with God when we fail to trust in his grace and love others in the same self-sacrificing way that God loves us in Jesus.

That’s why Paul writes to Christian communities as Christ’s ambassador, pleading us to come back to God and be reconciled to him again. As Australians, we know how failing to admit past wrongs gets in the way of reconciling with others. In Jesus, God has done everything to reconcile with us. As Paul writes in this text,

God made him who had no sin to be son for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (v21 NIV).

Because of this great exchange Jesus made when he traded our wrongs and brokenness for his goodness and purity,

if anyone is in Christ, the new creation is come: The old has gone, the new is here! (v17 NIV)

We are reconciled to God through God’s work for us in Christ Jesus as he takes away everything about us that gets in the way of a relationship with God and restores that broken relationship by making us new.

This gives us a new purpose in life. As people who have been reconciled with God through the work of Jesus, God appoints us to serve in his Kingdom as Jesus’ ambassadors. This gives us a second way to understand Paul’s use of ‘we’ and ‘us’. He is saying that everyone who has been reconciled with God the Father through Christ Jesus has now been given the job of being his ambassadors to a broken and hurting world. God has authorised us to bring this good news to the people of the world: be reconciled to God!

This is important work because the world needs to hear this good news. Instead of thinking about God as some nasty being in the sky who plays games with people’s lives, or as a distant, uncaring thing who has abandoned us to suffer alone and work things out for ourselves, the work God is calling us to as his ambassadors is to help people see God as someone who is appealing to people, pleading with us, begging all people to come back to a new relationship with him so we can find life in all of its fullness.

The Parable of the Lost Son gives us a new way of understanding God as the father who is waiting at the front gate of his property, looking in desperate hope for his child to return. Ours is the God who throws away all of his dignity and pride as he runs up the road to embrace his child and welcome him home again. This is the God who wants all of humanity to come back to him, to live in a new, reconciled relationship with him, so we can all know God as our loving heavenly Father who doesn’t hold our sins against us but has done everything in his power, who has literally gone through hell and back in the person of Jesus, to reconcile with us. This is the good news we have to share as Christ’s ambassadors with our families, with our friends, with our community and with the world.

Being Christ’s ambassador is a very important job. It brings the message of reconciliation to people so we can live every day in peace with God, with ourselves and with the people around us. It gives us a place in our Father’s home for all eternity, but it also gives us value and purpose now. As people who have been reconciled to God through Jesus, we have good news to bring to the world. God’s not angry with us. God doesn’t count our sins against us. God just wants to embrace us in perfect love and grace.

As we work towards reconciling with the people in our lives with whom we are in conflict, we also have the opportunity to represent Jesus as his ambassadors as we plead with Paul: Be reconciled to God!