Taking Up Our Cross (Matthew 10:24-39)

carrying the cross 03

In a lot of workplaces, employees need to complete manual handling training. These courses basically teach people how to lift things safely. When I worked as a supermarket casual during my student years, I first thought that doing a course to learn how to lift things was a waste of time. I had been lifting things my while life, so why did I need training in it? However, then I started meeting people with serious back problems because they didn’t lift properly. My mind was changed – maybe we need to learn how to lift so we don’t injure ourselves and we can enjoy the life we have been given.

Have you ever thought about Jesus as a manual handling trainer? Towards the end of Matthew 10:24-39, the Gospel Reading for this week, Jesus calls us to do some heavy lifting in our lives. He says, ‘If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine’ (v38 NLT). Here, as in other places in the gospel, Jesus calls people to follow him as his disciples by taking up our cross (see also Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23).

People interpret what it means it take up a cross in different ways. In the most literal sense, however, Jesus took up his cross when he suffered and died for us. Jesus knew that the only way that we could live as God’s children in this world and the next was for him to literally pick up a heavy wooden cross and carry it to Calvary where he would suffer and die. He walked this path trusting in the love of his Father in heaven and the promises he received through the Scriptures. Jesus walked this path in love for us, knowing that his death would mean life for us as it gives us forgiveness, grace, acceptance, and new life. Jesus lifted the heavy weight of the cross and walked the path of suffering and death in faith and love.

Jesus wants us to learn to live like this as well. He calls us to take up our cross and follow him on the path of faith and love. The word used in Matthew 10: 24 as ‘student’ in both the NIV and NLT is translated in other passages of the New Testament as ‘disciple’. Disciples are students who are learning a new way of living from their teacher. Jesus calls us to follow him as his students. He wants to teach us a new way of living by learning from the way he lived his life. This new way of life involves picking up our crosses and following Jesus in the path of faith and love.

This is where the illustration of Jesus as a manual handling trainer might help us understand more about being his disciples or students. Following Jesus is not an easy road to walk. In this reading from Matthew 10:24-39 Jesus is warning us that there will be a cost in following him. Jesus did not pick up his cross to suffer and die to make our lives convenient, safe, easy, or comfortable. Instead, he calls us to follow him so we can find what life is all about and then share the life Jesus gives us with others.

The life of faith and love to which Jesus calls us and that he models for us is not an easy one. It is a complete reorientation of our lives away from ourselves towards God and other people. When Jesus took up his cross to suffer and die, he was trusting in the love of his Father in heaven and extending that love to us. Jesus’ life was oriented away from himself towards God and us. The way of faith and love which Jesus teaches us follows the same orientation. It turns our focus away from ourselves towards him and others. It is a life lived in faith as we trust God to give us everything we need for life in this world and the next because of what Jesus did for us. This faith frees us from having to worry about ourselves so we can focus on the people around us and how we can serve them, just like Jesus serves us.

This kind of life involves some heavy lifting. It will cost us, in the same way it cost Jesus, as we prioritize others by serving, blessing and extending grace to them, just as Jesus serves, blesses and shows infinite, perfect grace to us. Jesus wants us to live this life in a way that is healthy and good for us, so he teaches us how to do it in a life-giving way. Like a manual handling trainer, Jesus wants to teach us how to lift our crosses in ways that won’t hurt or injure us but will give us life so we can pass his life on to others. Like a manual handling trainer, Jesus wants us to learn how to lift our crosses well so we can continue to live for him and for others in faith and love.

It is really important for us to hear this at this time. For a while now people have been telling me how much they are enjoying worshiping at home because we can do it when we like, how they we, and with people we like. Worship at home is safe, comfortable, convenient, and easy. I understand why we have needed to worship at home over the last few months, however, this is not the life to which Jesus calls us. Jesus’ teaching to love others in the way that he loves us (John 13:34,35 etc) only makes sense when it is practised in community with people who are different to us. It’s easy to love people who we like and who agree with us. It is much harder to love people who have different opinions, who look different, who behave different, who have different worship preferences, or who think in different ways to us. To love in the way that Jesus teaches means loving people who we find hard to love, just like Jesus loves me.

Jesus calls us to follow him as his student disciples so we can learn his new way of loving and living from him. This way of life doesn’t come naturally to us, so we need Jesus to teach us how to lift our crosses, how to trust the love of our Father in heaven, and how to love other people in the same way he does. This will cost us, and in a world that teaches us that my life should be oriented around me and what I want, it will bring us into conflict with the world and culture in which we live. However, Jesus promises us in Matthew 10:39 that when we learn this way of living from him, and when we re-orient our lives by trusting Jesus and loving other people, we will find greater meaning in a life which is stronger than death.

There was a time when manual handling training didn’t make sense to me. Then I learned how important it is to lift correctly so we can stay fit and enjoy the life that God has given us. As our manual handling trainer, Jesus wants us to learn from him how to lift our cross in faith and love so we can enter into the life God has for us. Jesus didn’t take up his cross to suffer and die to make our lives safe, convenient, or comfortable. When we follow him, our lives won’t be either. However, when we trust Jesus and follow in his way of faith and love, not only do we find the life to the full that he promises (John 10:10), we can also pass his life on to others.

More to think about & discuss:

  • Have you or someone you know ever done any manual handling training or been taught how to lift things safely? What did you or they think of it? How has it helped you or them?
  • How have you understood Jesus’ teaching to take up our cross in the past? What has it meant to you?
  • Have you ever considered yourself a student of Jesus? What do you think being Jesus’ student might mean?
  • What is your reaction to the idea of Jesus wanting us to learn from him how to take up our cross and live in faith and love? What do you like about it? What is hard to understand about it?
  • Does this way of life sound easy or difficult to you? Explain why you think that way…
  • How might your life look different if you re-oriented it around faith in Jesus and love for other people? How might Jesus be able to help you learn how to do that in ways that are healthy and life-giving?
  • What are some practical ways that can you take this teaching of Jesus seriously in the coming week?

If you would like to watch a video form of this message, you can find it at https://youtu.be/MhGfjV2abvI

God bless!

The Trinity at Work (Genesis 1:1-2:4a)

creation 01

Since the beginning of time, people have looked at the world around them and wondered where it all came from. Every culture has had its own story or myth to try to explain the origin of the world and everything in it. Even in our own time, our culture is trying to explain the origin of the universe in scientific terms to understand where it all began and what its purpose or future might be.

I’m going to ask that you don’t discuss how long the Genesis 1 Creation Story took in your conversation about this message. Please take the advice of the Apostle Paul who warns God’s people ‘against quarrelling about words’ because ‘it is of no value and only ruins those who listen’ (2 Timothy 2:14). I believe that too much time and energy has been lost in arguments about how long a ‘day’ was in Jewish thinking. Because of those disagreements, we have often missed much of the good news that Genesis 1 can speak into our lives.

One thing we can miss about the Genesis 1 Creation Story is the way the Trinity is at work. It is true that the word Trinity never appears in the Bible. An early church leader named Tertullian began using it about two hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to try to communicate the mystery of the one God who makes himself known to us as three distinct but still unified persons. While the Bible doesn’t use the word Trinity, we can still see plenty of evidence of the One-God-In-Three-Persons throughout Scripture.

One passage where we see evidence for the Trinity is in Genesis 1. We read that God created everything in the story simply by speaking. For example, in verse 3 ‘God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light’ (NIV). God spoke and his Word did what it said.
We can see the Trinity at work in Creation if we look a little closer at the story. Firstly, there is the Speaker who proclaims the Word that is spoken. Secondly, we have the Word itself which brings what is spoken into existence. Thirdly, the Breath of the Speaker carries the Word to do what is said. Whenever we speak, our breath carries our words to those who hear them. Genesis 1:2 has already introduced the Spirit of God to us. The biblical languages use the same word for breath, wind and spirit, so the Spirit of God is involved in Creation as the Speaker’s Breath which carries the Word to create what has been spoken.

This story continues to unfold when we read it through the eyes of the New Testament. The Apostle John identified Jesus as the Word which was spoken at creation who entered the world as a flesh and blood person (John 1:1-17). Jesus gave his followers a new relational way of understanding God by calling him ‘Father’ (John 5:18). Jesus also talked about sending his Spirit to his followers (John 14:15-17,26, etc) to be ‘with’ them and ‘in’ them (v17 NIV). Jesus expanded people’s understanding of God from the ancient Hebrew confession of ‘the Lord is One’ (Deuteronomy 6:4), to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being the Three-In-One and One-In-Three God which we know as the Trinity.

From this point of view, we can see the Triune God at work in the Genesis 1 Creation Story. The Father is the Speaker of the Word who brings everything into existence. The Word proclaimed by the Father is the Son, Jesus, through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that has been made (John 1:3). The Holy Spirit carries the Word from the Father to do what the Father intends and what the Word itself says. When God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning, Father, Son and Holy Spirit was at work creating light where there was darkness, peace where there was chaos, and life where there was emptiness.

There is much more to this reading of Genesis than just a theological analysis. Because of the reality of sin in our world, we continue to see and experience the darkness, chaos and emptiness that was present in the beginning before the Trinity’s creative work. For example, we can see the darkness of racism, hatred and injustice in our world which caused the death of George Floyd in the USA last week, and has been highlighted by protests in that nation and around the world, including Australia. We have all seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged our world into chaos and confusion as nations have tried to prevent the spread of the virus and keep their people safe. We can see darkness and chaos on a global scale, but we can also experience it personally. In lots of different ways, we can also struggle with darkness, chaos or confusion, or emptiness in our own lives.

When we acknowledge the darkness, chaos or emptiness in our own lives, the Genesis 1 Creation Story can speak so much good news to us. It tells us that the Trinity is still at work in the world and in our lives. The same Speaker continues to proclaim the Word which is carried by the Breath into our darkness, chaos, and emptiness to create light, peace, and life in us, just as the Triune God did in the beginning. The Trinity continues to be at work in our lives as the Father proclaims the Son who is carried by the Holy Spirit into our lives and into our hearts to create light, peace and life within us! When we believe that the Trinity was working in this way at the start of Creation, we can also believe that the Trinity is still at work in us and through us, bringing the light of perfect love into dark places, peace into our confusion and chaos, and life where everything seems empty.

The Word of God continues to speak the Trinity’s creative Word to us. It is the message of Jesus which proclaims love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and every good thing that our hearts, our lives, our world needs in these dark, chaotic and empty times. We find this Word in the message of Jesus, the stories of the Bible, the letters of the early Christians who were living in this light, peace and life, sharing what they had found with other believers and helping them to live in the reality of the work of the Trinity in their own dark times. The Bible isn’t just old bedtime stories or information about God. It is the creative Word of God, proclaimed by the Speaker and carried by the Breath into our lives to create light in the darkness, peace in the chaos, and life in the emptiness.

What might it be like for the Trinity to be at work in you, creating light in the darkness you might be experiencing, peace in the chaos or confusion that might be going on within or around you, or life in any emptiness you might be struggling with? I don’t argue about how much time it took God to create the world, or how long a Jewish ‘day’ is anymore because we can miss the main point of the Genesis 1 story. This Creation account tells us that we have a God who speaks a Word of grace, peace and hope into our lives, and whose Breath carries this Word into our hearts, our lives and our world to create light and peace and life, just like in the beginning.

More to think about & discuss:

  • What is your favourite thing about Creation? For example, sunsets or sunrises, autumn leaves, newborn babies, the beach, or something else? Spend some time discussing or reflecting on why you like them so much…
  • Do you ever wonder where everything came from? What does the Genesis 1 Creation Story say to you about God who created it all? (again, please don’t start discussing how long God took or what a Hebrew ‘day’ might mean; you can talk about that another day…)
  • What are your thoughts about finding the Trinity in Genesis 1 as Speaker, Word and Breath? Does it make sense to you? Is there anything about it you’re not sure about?
  • Before God started the work of creation, there was darkness, chaos and emptiness. Where can we still see these in our times? In the global situation? In our own lives personally?
  • In Genesis 1 the Triune God creates light from darkness, peace from chaos, and life from emptiness. Discuss or reflect on the idea that God is still doing the same today. Is that easy or more difficult for you to trust? Why or why not?
  • Where are you experiencing darkness, chaos or confusion, or emptiness in your own life? What might god be saying to you through his Word to create light, peace, or life in you? In someone else’s life?
  • At some stage, go for a walk outside. Look at and listen to creation. Wonder where it all came from as you reflect on the Genesis 1 story. If God can create all this beauty and wonder from darkness, chaos and emptiness, what might God’s Word and Breath be able to create into you?

You can find a video version of this message at https://youtu.be/dSTlQc50vGo

God bless!

 

God’s Breath of Life (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

Mr Potato Head pieces

One of the toys I loved playing with as a kid, and still do now that we have our own children, is Mr Potato Head. If you’re not familiar with this toy, it has a potato-shaped body with a lot of different arms, legs, eyes, ears, noses, ears, hats and other body parts or items which you can mix and match. The idea behind the toy is that you can make a huge number of different potato people using all the different body parts.

Can you imagine what it would be like, though, to be able to bring Mr Potato Head to life? What would your reaction be if someone told you to speak to the wind and tell it to breathe life into your Mr Potato Head so it could come alive?

People who love the Toy Story movies might think that would be awesome! Others might think I’ve gone a bit crazy. Whatever your reaction might be, I wonder if we would react like Ezekiel when God asked him if the dry bones God showed him could become living people again (Ezekiel 37:3)? I know that there are some significant differences between a Mr Potato Head toy and dried-up human bones, but the principle is pretty much the same – can something which has no life in it become a living, breathing being?

As Ezekiel’s story continues in chapter 37, God does something miraculous. God tells Ezekiel to speak a prophetic message, which he does, and the bones reconnect and are covered with muscles, flesh and skin. However, there is still no life in the bodies. Then God tells Ezekiel to speak again, to tell the four winds to breathe life into the dead bodies. When Ezekiel speaks God’s message, breath enters the dead bodies, they come to life and stand up on their feet.

When we read this story, it helps to know that the Hebrew language of the Old Testament has one word which mean breath, wind and spirit – ruach (pronounced roo-ach with the ch sounding like it does in school). It might be a good idea to read the story again, taking note of all the times it mentions spirit, breath or wind. Each time, this one word ruach is used. It is the same word used in Genesis 1:2 when God’s Spirit, or ruach, was hovering over the waters. In the Ezekiel story, God’s Spirit worked through the word God gave to Ezekiel to create new life where there had been death.

We can read this story in the light of the resurrection of Jesus to hear how God can raise the dead and will raise us along with all believers to new life when Jesus returns at the end of time. That is the ultimate hope we have in Jesus as God’s people.

However, God originally told Ezekiel to bring this message to his people who were exiled in captivity in Babylon. They were the ones who were saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones – all hope is gone’ (v11 NLT). This story isn’t just about eternal life in heaven. It is God speaking hope to people who were in exile, isolated from their homes and loved ones, who had lost their national identity and sense of community.

This is where this story can speak to us as well. We are facing a time which could be thought of as a kind of exile. As more people self-isolate because of the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus, we are at risk of becoming like old, dry bones and losing hope. I have seen how destructive fear and isolation can be to people’s well-being and mental health. However, I have also seen how powerful hope, and especially the hope that comes from faith in Jesus, can be as the antidote to fear and isolation.

As we self-isolate to protect ourselves and others from the threat of the virus, what will prevent us from becoming like old, dry bones is the life-giving breath of God, the Holy Spirit of God, which God gives to us through his Word. In the Old Testament times, prophecy was more about bringing a word from God that foretelling the future. The prophetic message God gave to Ezekiel and the other prophets was to speak his word into a particular circumstance. In this story, the word God gave Ezekiel to speak filled the dead with new life as God breathed his Spirit into his people. God’s life-giving Spirit, working through the Word God gave to Ezekiel, brought the dead back to life and gave hope to God’s people in exile – that God would bring them through the exile, give them life, and they would return home again.

As we face an uncertain future and the possibility of our own, personal exiles in our homes, this story becomes God’s prophetic message to us. COVID-19, and the fear and isolation it brings, has the potential to rob us of life. But God’s Word is stronger and more powerful than a virus. No matter what happens, the Holy Spirit will continue to work through God’s life-giving Word to breathe the life of Jesus into us so we can live in the hope that God will get us through this, we will return to our families and communities of faith, and we will live again.

Please consider putting a bookmark in your Bibles at Ezekiel 37. If there are times during the coming months when you begin to feel like you are becoming like old, dry bones, please read this story again. The Breath of God, his Holy Spirit, will continue to work through God’s prophetic Word to breath the resurrection life of Jesus into you, so you will be able to live in the hope that God will bring you through this time and we will be united again as a community of faith in Jesus.

I might not be able to breathe life into Mr Potato Head and make it live, but God can do that for us and for others through us!

More to think about:

  • What questions do you have of this story, or what doesn’t make sense to you?
  • What do you think your reaction might have been if you were Ezekiel and God asked you if a valley of dry bones could become living people again? Why might you have reacted that way?
  • What do you think about this story being more about hope for the future than the resurrection of the dead? How might that change the way you understand the story?
  • As we face time when we will effectively be in exile from each other, what do you hear God saying to you through this story?
  • What scares you most about the spread of the COVID-19 virus? What in this story can give you hope?

Living in the Light (Colossians 1:11-20)

living in the light

Since the beginning of time, the battle between light and darkness has been one of humanity’s most common and powerful stories. We see it from the Creation story of Genesis 1 where God overcame the darkness by speaking light into existence, right through to the battle between Jedi Knights and Sith Lords using the light and dark side of the Force in the Star Wars movies.

For Christians, the battle between the darkness and the light reached its culmination in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. When Jesus was born, the one who personified the light of God came into our world which has been made dark through sin and evil. Jesus entered the darkness of human existence to bring us light, exposing the darkness that lives within all people and driving it out through his love and grace. When Jesus went to the cross, he carried all that is dark in the world and put it to death. This was symbolized by the darkness that fell for three hours as the Son of God was crucified. When Jesus was raised to new life on the third day, he brought the light of eternal life to all people in a similar way that the rays of the rising sun expelled the darkness of the night. The victory of the light of Jesus’ life over the darkness of sin and death is the good news that we receive in faith and which gives us new life as God’s people. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God

has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
(Colossians 1:13,14 NLT)

The tense of the verbs Paul uses is significant. He writes that God has rescued us, and he has brought us into the kingdom of Christ. These are events that have happened in the past and which now determine our current reality.

However, wherever there is light in this world there is also shadow. While we might be living in the Kingdom of the Light of God’s love and peace, we can still encounter the darkness of sin and evil in a range of ways. For example, the darkness can still overshadow us when we experience fear, judgment, guilt or face the reality of death. I’ve known too many Christians who have been brought into the Kingdom of Christ but still live in these and other dark shadows.

I don’t write this to make anyone feel bad about it, but to recognise that in our human condition it can be hard for us to live fully in the light. We can tend to think that the darkness we experience in any form is just the way it is and nothing can ever be different. So, like people who have been kept in the dark for too long, we can feel safe and comfortable in the dark, believing that there is nothing beyond it, and that this is just how it is.

But what if life didn’t have to be this way? What if, instead of living in the darkness of fear, judgement, guilt or death, God intended something better for us? As his people whom he has rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of Christ, what if it was possible to live more and more in the light of his love and grace through the power of the Holy Spirit? What if, instead of living in fear, we could find joy? What if the good news of Jesus could actually set us free from the darkness of judgment in our lives? Where guilt casts its shadow over us, what might life be like if we could find forgiveness in the reality of Christ’s Kingdom? All of these and more would contribute to a life that was fully lived in the light of God’s grace, love and peace which we find in the good news of Jesus.

Where do you live right now – in the darkness of fear, judgment and guilt, or in the light of joy, freedom and forgiveness? I’ll say it again: I don’t want anyone to feel bad or guilty about experiencing darkness of any kind in their lives – it is a reality of living in this world and just plays into the devil’s hands when we focus on the dark. Instead, I want to help people see that the light of God’s grace and love has come to us in Jesus. Through him, to use Paul’s words again, God has already ‘rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his Son’! We don’t have to live in the darkness any more because the light is already here!

Where do you want to live – in the dark or in the light? This is our journey as disciples of Jesus. He calls us to follow him from the dark into the light of the joy, freedom and forgiveness that he gives. We can learn a new way of living from Jesus where we can find increasing joy, freedom and forgiveness by leaving the darkness behind and keeping our eyes fixed on his love, peace and hope through faith in him. As we hear Jesus speak words of good news to us through the Bible, as the Holy Spirit grows faith in us, maturing us as God’s children and making us more like Jesus, then the light of God’s grace will shine brighter within us and others will see the goodness of God in us.

In some ways, the battle between darkness and light seems to be very simple. However, more modern interpretations have shown that sometimes the difference is harder to distinguish. Where would you prefer to live – in the dark or in the light? I understand that sometimes it can seem safer and more comfortable to stay in the dark, or at least in the shadows. However, God has already ‘rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.’ Jesus calls us to follow him into lives that experience the reality of that light so others can find his light in us.

Where would you prefer to live?

Standing Firm (Luke 21:5-19)

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A few months ago I read an article online about an Australian doomsday prepper. A doomsday prepper is a person who believes that a catastrophic event of some kind is coming soon and is preparing what they need in order to survive it. Usually being a doomsday prepper involves buying a property in a remote area far away from a major city, constructing a bunker or another kind of retreat to live in, stockpiling food, water and other supplies necessary for survival, and keeping a few weapons handy, just in case.

When we read the news headlines, sometimes I wonder if doomsday preppers have a point. There are armed conflicts on most continents. There are protests and other forms of serious political unrest going on in various cities around the world. The effects of climate change appear to be causing flooding, droughts and destructive storms across the globe. In this past week New South Wales endured some unprecedented bushfires, and the fires in Queensland look like they could continue out of control for some time yet.

I can understand how a doomsday prepper could look at these and other events around the world, and conclude that something big is coming which we need to prepare for.
Doomsday preppers are nothing new. Over the last two millennia of Christian history, there have been people who have looked at events around them and come to the conclusion that the world as they knew it was about to end. Often, they have used the words of Jesus to back up their fears. For example, in this Sunday’s reading from Luke 21:5-19 we hear Jesus say,

‘Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.’ (vv10,11 NLT)

On a global scale, we could easily think that Jesus was talking about our own times with what we’re reading about in the news. Then Jesus brings things a little closer to home when he says,

‘But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers.’ (v12 NLT)

If anyone says that following Jesus means having fun, they haven’t read him very closely. Here and in other places Jesus warns us that being his disciple will mean suffering persecution. This won’t just come from wider society, but from even our closest relationships. Jesus continues,

‘Even those closest to you – your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends – will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.’ (vv16,17 NLT)

So far this isn’t sounding like good news for Christians. From what Jesus is saying, it sounds like a time was coming when there will be catastrophic destruction, and his followers will suffer persecution and rejection from even those who were closest to them. From an historical perspective, Jesus’ words were fulfilled when the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in AD 70, and when Christians were persecuted by various Roman emperors in the first century. However, many also interpret Jesus words as referring to what will happen in the days leading up to his return at the end of time. This interpretation has led groups of Christians to behave like doomsday preppers over the centuries, as they abandoned their homes and families, went to isolated places, and waited for Jesus to return.

What’s significant about Jesus’ words, however, is that he never wanted his followers abandon the world. Instead, Jesus wants us to remain in the world, even if it is difficult or challenging. He says that when we are persecuted and stand trial in front of secular leaders, we will have the opportunity to tell them about him (v13). When we see the signs of Jesus’ return and are questioned by people who don’t know Jesus, God is giving us the opportunity to tell them about Jesus and the goodness of God we encounter in him. It is really important that we don’t see the end of the world as a threat to be afraid of, but an opportunity to witness to God’s love and grace for us to embrace.

Jesus also tells us not to worry about what we are going to say and how we will answer the accusations people will make against us because he will give us the words to say (vv14,15). There is always value in learning more about how to share our faith or to defend what we believe. However, when we are so immersed in our faith and so grounded in the good news of Jesus that it becomes part of who we are, when people ask us about him we can answer from a deep, personal encounter with and reliance on his message. This is more than having the right arguments about Christian teachings or doctrines. The words that Jesus will give us will come from the Holy Spirit through a deep, committed relationship with him and our own personal experiences of living as his disciples.

When we are living in the reality of the grace God gives us, we will be able to stand firm and receive the life he has promised. The words the New Living Translation interpret as ‘standing firm’ can also mean ‘patient endurance.’ As we wait for Jesus, not knowing exactly when he will return (see Mark 13:32, Luke 12:40), Jesus wants us to persevere in the hope that when he comes again he will fulfil all of his promises to us. The events Jesus describes in this passage will make it hard for us to remain faithful to him. However, when we are standing firm in the faith we have, that God is with us in all the circumstances and events of life, no matter how bad they might be, and that Jesus will come again to make everything wrong in the world right again, we will receive the perfect and eternal life that he promises us.

We can think of doomsday preppers as living their lives in fear of what might be coming. As God’s people, we don’t need to live in fear! Instead, as we wait for Jesus’ return, we can interpret what we see around us as opportunities to point people to the life-giving grace of God that we meet in Jesus, and to share the hope we have with others. As we live as people who look forward to Jesus’ return, standing firm means trusting that Jesus has taken the world’s brokenness on himself, he is making all things new in his resurrection, and he will bring a life that will never end to all who trust in him.

With My Own Eyes (Job 19:23-27a)

Job 19v25 02

I remember the first time I saw the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House for myself. I had grown up seeing pictures of these iconic Australian landmarks my whole life and had always thought they looked pretty impressive. Then, in my early twenties, I was able to travel to Sydney for a holiday. I caught the train into central Sydney, got off at Circular Quay and looked out to see Sydney Harbor with my own eyes for the first time.

Seeing pictures of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House was good. Seeing them for myself with my own eyes was so much better…

Job had everything anyone could possibly want. Then he lost it all. Job’s story presents us with a whole range of philosophical challenges which we will need to wrestle with another time. One thing that amazes me in this story, however, is that when Job was sitting on a garbage pile, with nothing but a wife telling him to curse God and die and three friends who are giving him advice which wasn’t at all helpful, Job still had hope. The optimism which is evident in his words from Job 19:23-27 is just incredible.

The hope Job had was that his Redeemer, the one who could rescue him from his troubles and give him everything he needed for life, was alive. In the context of Job’s story this doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. These words may have been written anything from a couple of hundred years to more than a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. However, in these words Job points us to a Redeemer who overcomes death, who stands on the earth in victory, and whom Job can physically see with his own, two eyes. Even in the darkest place of human existence, Job still had the hope that he will see Jesus face to face as a living, flesh and blood person.

When I think about the joy I had in seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House with my own eyes for the first time, I find it hard to imagine the joy that will come with seeing Jesus for the first time with my own eyes. Like Job, the promise of seeing Jesus face to face as a real flesh and blood person can give us hope when we are going through dark times or when we wonder where God is. It can give us the hope that what we are enduring is temporary, and that what is permanent and eternal is the life of Christ which is stronger than death and is God’s gift to us through the gospel.

This is a different way of thinking about eternity than people often have. A common idea I often come across, among Christians as well as others outside the church, is that when we die, our souls go to heaven but our bodies remain in the ground. However, this is not the Bibles message. The gospels tell us about the physical resurrection of Jesus. The triumph of Jesus over death as a flesh and blood person points us to a physical resurrection for all of God’s people. In the same way that Jesus was physically raised to new life, so the Holy Spirit will also raise all of God’s people to eternal life which will be lived in real, flesh and blood bodies.

The Apostle Paul talks about the physical resurrection a number of times in his letters. In particular, in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes a lot about the resurrection of Jesus and the hope this good news gives to believers. He describes the difference between ‘heavenly bodies’ and ‘earthly bodies’ (1 Corinthians 15:40 NLT), ‘natural bodies’ and ‘spiritual bodies’ (v44 NLT), as well as ‘mortal bodies’ and ‘immortal bodies’ (v53 NLT). His language might sound a little strange, almost contradictory, but Paul is saying that we will have physical bodies which will be different to the bodies we now have. We will need to wait to find out exactly what our heavenly, spiritual and immortal bodies will be like. However, what we can learn from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 is that we will live as real, flesh and blood people, and not disembodied spirits, for eternity with God.

This is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, sometimes people might think that what is spiritual is good but the physical is evil or corrupt. While we need to take the reality of sin seriously, we also need to recognise that when God created the physical world, including people’s bodies, he said that it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Since God has created our bodies, and redeemed them through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we need to see our bodies as good gifts from a loving God and take care of them. Just like we might take care of a valuable gift that someone gives us, when we see our bodies as gifts from God, then we will look after them to honour God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19,20).
The second reason takes us back to Job. When we listen to his words and, remembering Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15, when we trust that even after our bodies have decayed we will see God in our new, eternal bodies, then we can find hope even in the middle of life’s most difficult or darkest times. Like Job, God does not abandon us. Instead, God redeems us as whole people, body and soul, through Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. Our Redeemer lives and one day he will stand on the earth in victory over sin, death and all the powers of evil. When that happens, even though our bodies have decayed in the earth or been cremated, bodies we will see God in all of his glory in our new, physical, flesh and blood bodies. With our own eyes we will see the face of our Redeemer and Saviour in perfect 20/20 vision. When that happens, all the pain, all the sorrow, all the loneliness, confusion and uncertainty will disappear as we see face to face the one we hope for, the one we hope in.

I’ve seen some pretty cool things in my life. I always find that they look a whole lot better when I can see them with my own eyes rather than just a photo. When our lives in this world are over and we finally see Jesus with our own eyes, it will be like nothing else. Like Job, I’m overwhelmed at the thought!

Until that day, we can live every day in the hope that in our bodies, with our own eyes, by the grace of our Redeemer Jesus, we will see God!

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?

What’s the point? (Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14 2:18-23)

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For about six or seven years when I was younger I collected comics. Every fortnight I would go into the comic shop, buy a few regular titles, read each of them a couple of times, put them in plastic bags and place them in specially-bought comic book boxes. Then, after a couple of weeks, I’d go back into the comic store, buy some more comics and do it all again.

After a few years, I began asking myself ‘Why?’ I had a growing number of comics, but the publishers kept producing more and more which meant that I would never have a complete collection. I began wondering why I was investing so much money in something that didn’t really benefit anyone and was potentially endless.

I started asking myself, what’s the point?

We can get so caught up in the things we do that it can be hard for us to step back and ask ourselves whether they actually have any real purpose. Asking if what we do has any real point can lead us to question the purpose and value of our lives because often we look for meaning in what we do. When we question the meaning of our actions or behaviours, it can lead us to ask if there’s any meaning to our existence. That can be a very hard question for us to ask.

When Solomon, also known as ‘the Teacher’ in the Book of Ecclesiastes, wrote that everything is meaningless, he knew what he was talking about. When he became Israel’s third king after his father David, God had offered to give him anything. Solomon asked for wisdom so he could rule the nation of Israel well (1 Kings 3:3-15). God was so pleased with Solomon’s request that he also promised to give him what he didn’t ask for – ‘riches and fame’ (v13 NLT). Over the course of his life, Solomon accumulated massive amounts of riches, power and wisdom, including 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 2:8, he had everything a man could desire!

When he looked at everything he possessed or accomplished, Solomon came to the conclusion that it was meaningless. He had searched for meaning to his life in wisdom and learning, in pursuing pleasures of every kind, in huge building projects, and in hard work. In all of this, though, he failed to find any meaning because he knew that when his life in this world ended that he would leave everything behind. Solomon had no way of knowing if the people who would inherit everything he’d worked so hard for would be foolish or wise, if they would use it well or squander it. So what was the point of it all?

We can look for meaning in life in exactly the same ways he did – through learning and wisdom, through pleasure and relationships, through our work, the things that we build and the things that we own – but the end result is still the same. If we look for meaning in the things we do or have, then our lives will ultimately be meaningless. Secular philosophers have come to the same conclusion and call it nihilism – that in the end nothing really matters. Maybe that’s why so many people in our society live for the present and to have fun. As long as we look for meaning in the things of this world, everything is meaningless because nothing in this world lasts for ever.

Two other Bible readings from last Sunday point us towards looking for meaning in life in a different direction. The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) ends with Jesus teaching us to ‘have a rich relationship with God’ (v21 NLT). In the same way, Paul tells us to ‘set our sights on the realities of heaven’ where ‘your real life is hidden with God’ (Colossians 3:1-3 NLT). When we look for meaning to life in our relationship with God through Jesus instead of the things of this world, we can find meaning which is stronger than death, which goes beyond the grave and which will last for all of eternity. It is a sense of meaning which doesn’t rely on what we have or what we do but remains standing through all our flaws, failures and storms of life when everything else is falling apart.

Jesus knew the meaninglessness of human existence. In particular, his crucifixion seems like a meaningless death. For three years Jesus had taught the crowds that followed him, healed the sick, set people free from guilt and fear, and even raised the dead. After all the good he had done, for Jesus to die a criminal’s death on a cross makes his life look meaningless. However, the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection shows that God can bring meaning out of something that looks meaningless. When Jesus was raised to new life, he showed that meaning in life is not found in the things of this world, but in a rich and solid relationship with God through him.

When we look for and find meaning in our lives through Jesus, then we have a new perspective though which we can see everything we have as a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 5:19) and enjoy them without relying on them to provide meaning for us. When we don’t rely on wisdom or learning, fun and pleasure, work or building things, or money and possessions for our sense of meaning, but find it in Jesus, then we can enjoy all the good things God gives us because he loves us and wants the best for us.

One of the reasons I stopped collecting comics was because it was ultimately meaningless. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong or bad. The problem comes when we look for meaning in life in them or other things like them. That’s when life can appear meaningless. In Jesus, though, we can find meaning that goes beyond everything else in this world.

More to think about:

  • What is the most pointless thing you do in your life? Why do you keep doing it?
  • What do you think about what Solomon’s opinion that everything is meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1:2 etc)? Would you agree or disagree with him? Can you explain why you think that way…?
  • What do you look to for meaning in your life – learning and knowledge? fun and pleasure? work or making things? money and possessions? something else?
  • What would happen if you lost them or if they were taken away? How would that change your sense of meaning in life?
  • I know people who tell me that following Jesus is just as meaningless as everything else in life. Would you agree with them? Can you explain why?
  • How might the meaning Jesus gives to our lives be different from the meaning we look for in other things? How can Jesus’ death and resurrection give us a deeper, more lasting sense of meaning?
  • As people who find our meaning in Jesus, how can that shape the way we see the other things in our lives? If we find our meaning in Jesus instead of the things of this world, how might that help us view them differently?

Saved and Sent (Luke 8:26-39)

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The story of the Gerasene Demoniac in Luke 8:26-39 begins a bit like a horror movie. Jesus and his disciples get out of their boat after going through a severe storm on Lake Galilee. There they are confronted by a man possessed by so many demons that they identify themselves as ‘Legion’ which means ‘many’. This man had been driven from his home, was living among the dead in a cemetery, had broken chains that had been used to try to restrain him with superhuman strength, was naked and shouting at Jesus as he approached him.

We might not feel a strong connection with this story because it can sound very different from the reality of our lives. For most of us, our experience of the demonic is probably more from watching movies than day to day life. So when Jesus cast the demons into the pigs and then sent the man home to tell them how much God had done for him, we might think it’s a nice story but not really get anything out of it for ourselves.

However, if we look closer at the story, we can find that by casting the demons out of the man, Jesus did much more for him than we might initially see. Jesus freed him from the demons that were tormenting him. Jesus covered his nakedness, which is often associated with shame in the Bible, so that when the people found him at the end of the story, he was clothed (v35) showing that Jesus had covered his shame. Luke also tells us that the man was ‘in his right mind’ (v35), which means that his mental health was restored and he had control of his rational faculties again. Through his encounter with Jesus, the man no longer had to live in the tombs and the cemetery but was restored to the world of the living to resume his life again. In doing this, Jesus reconnected him in his relationships with his family and his community.

When we start to think about what Jesus did for this man in these terms, then it becomes easier to see ourselves in this story and to find God’s goodness in Jesus for ourselves. God is able to do all these things for us as well through Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. God can free us from our demons. These might be literal demons, or they might be other things which torment us. They might have names like Guilt, Fear, Regret, Addiction, Anxiety, Insecurity, and so on. God covers our shame by entering into our shame through the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus, and freeing us from shame by covering us with the clothes of Jesus’ righteousness and purity. God gives us the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit so we can find a healthier state of mind and more control over our thoughts and mental faculties, which Paul says is a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23. Jesus lifts us out from living among the dead as he gifts us with new and eternal life through his resurrection. Death does not define us through Jesus, but the new life of the Spirit of God which is given to us through faith in Jesus. This new life overcomes our solitude and loneliness as God brings us into new relationship with himself and incorporates us in the community of faith, the family of God, the living, breathing body of Christ in the world, also known as the church.

When we encounter Jesus like this and we find God’s goodness at work in us through the Holy Spirit, then we have good news to bring to the world. In the same way that Jesus told the man to return to his home and tell how much God had done for him (v39), Jesus also tells us to go into the world to tell people how much good he has done for us.

One significant thing about Jesus’s instructions is that he tells the man to go back to his home. The mission of God begins in our homes as we pass on to those closest to us how much God does for us by setting us free, covering our shame, renewing our minds, giving us new lives to live, and restoring us in our relationships and in community. God’s mission doesn’t stop there obviously, but it starts in our homes and families as we share with them what God has already done for us, as well as the promise of what God can also do for them in Christ Jesus through the power of his Spirit.

Jesus tells us to share with others what God has already done in our lives through Jesus. I wonder sometimes whether we have been told to go out and witness to others about our faith before we have encountered the goodness and power of God in our own lives. In this story, Jesus gives the man something good to share with others. The good news the man had to share was his story, the way God had been at work in his life. Before we start telling others to go out and tell others about Jesus, maybe some of us need to be finding the life-changing goodness of God in our own lives through a deeper relationship with Jesus. When we find his goodness for ourselves, then we have a story to tell that can bring good news to others.

It would be easy to finish this message by repeating Jesus’ last words to the man he had set free from Legion, and telling you to go out and tell how much God has done for you. I want to ask you a question first: if someone asked you what God has done for you, what would you say? Some people in our church have stories of what God has done for them in Jesus and are happy to share that story with others. God bless you as you bring good news to others. If you don’t have a story yet, or don’t know what your story is, I hope and pray that over time, God will give you a story to tell as he works in your life to set you free, cover your shame, renew your mind, give you a new life to live, and restore your relationships and community.

Then you’ll be able to tell others how much God has done for you through Jesus.

More to think about:

  • What questions do you have about this story? What doesn’t make sense to you or are you not sure about?
  • Do you find it easy or more difficult to talk about your faith to others? Why is that?
  • If you were the man in the story, would you have told others about what Jesus had done for you? Explain why…
  • I’m suggesting that when we look closer at the story, we can see that Jesus frees this man from what is tormenting him, covers his shame, renews his mind, gives him a new life to live, and restores him in his relationships and community with others. Is there something like any of these that Jesus has done for you in your life? Is there one in particular that you need Jesus to do for you? Or is there something else you need Jesus to do for you?
  • Do you believe it’s possible that a growing relationship with Jesus can help you find what you’re looking for? Share some thoughts about how that might happen… (please let me know if there’s any way I can help)
  • If someone asked you about what Jesus had done for you, what would you say?
  • Who is one person you can tell about what Jesus has done for you this week?

‘Believe and Live!’ (John 20:19-31)

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How do you tell the difference between fake news and what’s real?

There was a time when people would read the newspapers in the good faith that what they were reading was a trustworthy reporting of the facts. With the rise of social media and ‘fake’ news, it is becoming harder and harder to be able to distinguish between what is real and fake news, between what is truth and what isn’t. So, when you read an article or news story online or in the paper, how do you tell if it is real, fake, or merely one person’s perspective of the truth to try to influence the reader’s opinion?

It would be easy for us to read John 20:30,31 and think this is an editorial spin or even fake news. John says that he wrote down the ‘miraculous signs’ of Jesus ‘so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name’ (John 20:31 NLT).

This is an extraordinary promise. John is saying that his reason for writing his gospel wasn’t so he could have a number 1 on the Jerusalem Time bestseller list. Neither did he write his gospel to justify Jesus after he had died a criminal’s death. John’s intention wasn’t to con anyone or use Jesus’ story to fund a multi-million-dollar megachurch. John states clearly that he recorded what Jesus did so that future readers could hear about the signs which pointed to Jesus being the Messiah who had been promised throughout the Old Testament. By hearing about what Jesus did, John’s hope was that his readers would put their faith in Jesus, and through that faith find the life that Jesus came to give us.

It is important to hear the connection John makes between the Word of God, faith in that Word and the life that God gives through that faith. In the opening verses of his gospel, John identified the Word of God with the person Jesus. The words he was writing point us to the eternal Word of God who became human in the person of Jesus. The Holy Spirit uses this Word to create, sustain and grow faith in the people who listen to it. That’s why it’s so important to be connected with God’s Word, as Jesus teaches with the analogy of the vine and the branch in John 15:1-17. We can only trust God’s promises when we are listening to his promises in his Word.

This faith which the Holy Spirit gives and grows through God’s Word results in a new kind of life in us. The New Testament gives us pictures of what this life is like. We might think of it as life which will last forever in heaven, but it is much more than that because it shapes the lives we are living now. It is life lived in full relationship with God, knowing him as our loving heavenly Father. It is a life in which we can know God and be fully known by God. It is a life that is defined by and overflowing with unconditional love. It is a life in which our identity, belonging and purpose are all defined by and lived in Jesus’ grace and love. Yes, this is a life to be lived forever in heaven but it is also a life to the full (John 10:10) which we can live now in faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

All of which might make John’s promise to us of life lived through faith in the Word sound like an editorial exaggeration, or even fake news. So how do we know? How do we know that what John is saying is trustworthy or not?

Sometimes, the only way to find out is to give it a try. I’m not talking about using intellectual arguments to try to convince anyone of the historical accuracy of the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Instead, I’m talking about verifying the validity of John’s claims by giving a life of faith a go and seeing if it makes a difference. Jesus didn’t come to just give us new information. He came to lead us into a new way of living, a way that is about trusting him and loving others. One way or another, every New Testament writer points us to this way – loving God and loving others (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28), loving one another like Jesus has loved us (John 13:34, 15:12,17), living in faith and love (Galatians 5:6), or showing our faith through our works (James 2:18). It’s all pointing us to the way of Jesus using different language.

Maybe, then, the way of validating what John write is to live like what Jesus said is true and see if it makes a difference to our lives. Psalm 34:8a encourages us to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (NLT). When a new product comes out at the supermarket, the only way to find out if it’s any good is to try it. Maybe finding out if John’s promise about finding life through faith in Jesus is fake news or not is to give it a go, to taste it and see if it really is as good as he claims it is. This means committing to reading God’s Word and learning to listen with others to what God is promising us. It means learning to pray to Jesus, trusting him with both the good and bad which is happening in our lives. It means committing to meet with other Christians in public worship around the meal Jesus gave us and in smaller groups where we can wrestle with the bigger questions of faith. It means committing to follow Jesus by trusting him in all the circumstances of life and loving others in the same self-giving, other-centred way that he loves us. Some people have called this a leap of faith. Others call it trying before you buy. It basically means giving the Way of Jesus a fair dinkum crack, embracing a life of faith, trusting what Jesus said enough to live like it’s true, and finding out for ourselves if the way of Jesus really does lead to a better life or not.

In a world of fake news, it’s easy to dismiss what John says for a lot of reasons. But what if it’s true? What if, by being connected with God’s Word, we can find a faith that leads to a better life? Is this something you might hope for? Is this something that maybe Jesus can lead you into? It’s a massive claim, but John wrote his gospel in the full conviction that by writing the stories of Jesus, people for thousands of years would come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and through faith in him, would find a life which is full to overflowing of infinite, perfect love and is stronger than death.

More to think about:

  • How do you tell the difference between real and ‘fake news’? How do you work out what can be trusted or not?
  • When you read John 20:31, does this sound like something that can be trusted or fake news? Give some reasons why you think that way.
  • Based on what you know of the Bible and/or the teachings of Jesus, what do you imagine the life that John talks about looks like?
  • Is this the kind of life you’d like to be living? Can you explain why or why not?
  • What might happen if you committed to learning to live in the way of Jesus by reading your Bible and talking with God in prayer every day, as well as meeting with other Christians regularly either in worship or a small group, for a month? What difference might it make to your life?
  • Are you willing to give it a go…?