Monday, 20 March 2017

A story of the temptation

I preached the following as a third person narrative story last night at church. I thought it could be a good reflection to read through as well.

From Matthew 4:1-11
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Hunger, a hunger he had never experienced before.  30 years spent on this earth, 30 incredibly humbling years limited to this human form, humbled to have to deal with things like hunger, and thirst, and tiredness… but this hunger… this was intense.

Jesus sat in the wilderness, this desolate mountainous region of Israel… nothing around him lived… none of the palms that gave shade along the coast, no bushes with berries, no fig trees, and certainly no animals.  Jesus looked around… there wasn’t anything living in miles.  As far as any earthly companion went… he was completely alone.

But as he sat there he knew he wasn’t alone.  He hadn’t mindlessly wandered out into this forsaken place and hopelessly gotten himself lost. No he had been led here. 40 days ago in fact.  Jesus had felt the Holy Spirit within Him guide him to come to this place. To pray, to fast, to be away from everyone else. But not to be alone.

As Jesus watched the sunrise he remember the sunrise 40 days earlier that he had seen appearing over the Jordan River, walking down to where John had been baptising people – calling them to repent, to turn away, from their sins. He’d walked right into the water – right up to his cousin – and John had recognised him. Actually His mother had always said that his cousin John had recognised him from even before each of them were born, Aunty Elizabeth saying John had leapt for joy in her womb when his mother had first come to visit while she was pregnant.  John leapt again this time.  Looking up from the water and seeing Jesus there. He hadn’t wanted to Baptise Jesus.  Saying his baptism was one of repentance, and if anything John should be baptised by Jesus, because John himself had sins to repent of… unlike his cousin.

But Jesus remembered the understanding in his cousin’s eyes when Jesus had said that this was the right thing to do, that it was proper for John to baptise Jesus now, to fulfil the righteous life Jesus was to live, that he had been living for 30 years, and was now bringing to the people as he began his ministry.

He’d closed his eyes as the cool water of the Jordan had swept over his face and John had plunged him beneath the surface… but things were so so much brighter when he’d come back up and opened his eyes.  Heaven itself had torn a hole in the sky, and the Holy Spirit had descended… like a dove… down onto him – John wasn’t leaping now, he was staring, awestruck.  Then a voice Jesus knew so well came rolling down from the glory shining in the sky. “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased”.

Jesus closed his eyes remembering the completeness of that moment.  God all together, complete in their different responsibilities, Him serving and submitting to the Father, Holy Spirit dwelling, empowering and bringing glory to the Son, and the Father, loving and ruling from the throne… sitting in glory.  It was the completeness his divine nature new, and he needed nothing else.  But these last 30 years he had experience a different nature, a human nature – which seemed to pull away from that completeness, to not be completely satisfied.

And it was that human nature that was tormenting him right now.  His belly felt tight, twisted even – no food had been in there for 40 days and it was crying out in pain.  Jesus had been sustaining himself with the divine… with Holy Spirit who had led him here, who had empowered him to pray, who had sustained him encouraging him with the relationship he had with his Father.  But now he knew his human nature was standing up and demanding to be heard… feed me it cried. But even if he’d wanted too… nothing lived out here… there was no food.

Immediately he felt a breath over his left shoulder… a voice whispering in his ear. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus’ body lurched, his stomach twisted even more, bread, his mind cried out, yes bread would be perfect.

But Jesus knew this voice as well.  The deceiver, the tempter, Satan, that devil who’s desire was to turn people from his father, from Him… to take that glory for himself.  As much as Jesus felt the need for food, as much as his body cried out to receive nourishment, and as much as he knew that yes he was the Son of God – and yes he created those very stones so could totally turn them into the food he so desperately needed – as much as he knew this. He knew that the Spirit had led him here, that his role in this entire plan God had laid out for humankind was for him to depend on the Father, to submit to the Father.  Not to take the power and glory for his own advantage. God would provide for him, and he need not take matters into his own hands

Turning Jesus faced his tempter – turning away from the stones which his nose was already telling him smelt like the freshest loaf, straight from the oven – and quoting the Word of God to His people squashed the temptation saying; “Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”

God had promised to provide… he didn’t need this deceiver telling him to act on his own.

Within a haze Jesus realises that he’s not in the wilderness anymore… Satan steps up beside him and Jesus realises they are standing right on the edge of a large drop.  Looking around Jesus sees Jerusalem, and knows that he is on the highest point of the temple.  The place God dwells with his people, and the place the people come to worship and make themselves clean before God.  Looking down Jesus sees that the work of the temple for the day has begun in earnest.  People are bringing in livestock and birds… there is music playing… some have even set up vender stalls. There are so many people going about their normal days, entering and leaving the temple.

That whisper comes again in his ear… “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, For it is written – He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

Jesus shudders, hearing the true words of God glides so easily from the lips of the one who hates him so much.  But even as he shudders the thought crosses his mind that this would certainly be the case.  If he leapt from this spot God would most definitely save him – angels would come and protect him, for he was the Son of God, he was here for a purpose that had not yet been fulfilled. And wouldn’t it create a scene.  A man plunging to certain death, stopped mid fall, by angels, sent from God – everyone would see – no one could deny – when he spoke up about being Messiah they would all believe so easily.

But that was not God’s plan.  Holy Spirit was certainly not leading him to this, it was only the warped words of the deceiver… taking the truth of God’s word so horribly out of context to tempt him to yet again act for his own desires and purposes.

Through determined gritted teeth Jesus, looking down at the people he loves so much, rebukes Satan once again “It is also written do not put the Lord you God to the test”

God’s word is true – he didn’t need the deceiver to trick him with misunderstood segments used for his own pleasure.

The wilderness suddenly surround him again… looking out Jesus can see for miles – yes so much desert, but towns, and people – all below him. This earth was an incredibly beautiful place, the mountains rolled to the sea, trees and plants of every description were visible as far as he could see.  Looking Jesus could see that by creating humankind in their own image they had allowed them to become master designers and creators themselves – he could see all the kingdoms of the world, sitting in the splendour of their design.

Satan steps in front of him, obscuring his view and looking directly at Jesus says “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me”

The obnoxious obscenity of this statement is like a slap across Jesus face.  There’s not moment of time that Jesus’ divine nature could ever be tempted to turn away from that completeness it has in bringing glory to themself. In an instant Jesus is sure of the truth, that He is the very Word of God in flesh, that in the beginning was only the Word of God and that Word of God, Himself, had created this entire world that Satan now so spitefully claims to be able to give him.

Pushing Satan out of the way of his view of his creation Jesus declares “Away from me Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only”.

Immediately Jesus feels himself sitting, back in the spot he’d watched the sunrise… but the sun now high in the sky.  Completely sustained in his divine nature, feeling the very same joy he had felt as he’d risen from those baptismal waters in the Jordan.  But his body was wasted.  Tired, exhausted actually.  Still starving… still crying out for respite. And suddenly it was there. God kept the promise he had made.  He sent angels who were concerned for Jesus’ welfare, they fed him, refreshed him, and encouraged him to go and complete this mission he had just begun.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The future of this blog.

Writing has always been a way for me to process my thoughts.  It helps me filter out the things rumbling through my mind.  It's an outlet.  I pass these things through my writing and then they don't keep me up at night.

This blog started as a way to keep in touch with friends all over the world. In a time before Facebook I began "My Jarrol Spot" when I returned home from the mission field to have a good way of communicating with the people I met on the field in The Gambia, some still there and many who had returned home to the USA, England, Finland, South Africa and Canada.  'Jarrol' was the name of the village I lived in while in The Gambia and this blog was my little spot on the net where all my networks of friends intertwined.

Very quickly though I found myself writing about what God was saying to me in my daily life. In some sense I journalled here, writing as a process of understanding what God was saying in my life, and then sharing it with others. I don't mind sharing personal things, I think what God does in my journey can be an example (both good and bad) for others, and a teaching tool on maybe how to listen to God.

In 2012 when I began my pastoral role at Deception Bay Baptist I felt the whole 'catching up with friends' thing was facilitated by Facebook and so redesigned the blog into what it is today. As a pastor I felt a real call to work on the mission God had given the church, namely the Great Commission to go into all the world making disciples, baptising them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus said.  Totally getting that Jesus said He would build His church, but as He does that He calls us to go and do this for Him.

So I began pastorally writing what I felt God was saying to me about Working On The Mission, and sharing it so others in my church and around the place might find some insight and inspiration to follow Jesus even more.

I've slowed down lately though. Personally I'll admit that over the past 6 months or so things have felt pretty dry - it's funny when you're in a good place in ministry you take for granted the seeking God you did when times were tough, and though things are good, you're personal passion dwindles eventually.  That probably effected my passion to write here.  Also I think blogging is a bit old fashioned these days, and across the board it's something that just doesn't happen as much.

Recently though I've rekindled that passion in my faith.  I've recognised again the importance of writing as a process for me, but I have been writing in a journal, for me, for God, and not to share with the world. I don't know where this leaves this blog or if I even have the passion to write anymore. I think things will come up, but it won't be as frequent - I think people still read this blog, though there has never really been any kind of comment discussions or even communication from people who read.  I use to write here for me and then to share, but these days I write for me in my journal, if other's communicated through comments, or even Facebook I might feel more inclined to write - as it is I was feeling I was talking more at people with my blog, than with people.  That doesn't really appeal to me.

There are 12 years of reflections, thoughts and writing here for me.  It's a well of information about what goes on inside my head, what God has said to me, and most importantly what God has done in my life.  It's my 35th birthday today, and I've just been reflecting on things in my life.  One of the things I did was hang the oil paintings I received as a farewell gift from The Gambia in my office, which made me think about Africa, then Jarrol and then this blog.  I've felt I've neglected this blog - but in my ponderings I've come to feel that doesn't really matter, but at the same time I still feel a connection to it, and the 12 years of history it represents.

So we'll see where it goes next...

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Is our overwhelming busyness our own fault?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:38-42
An overwhelming thing I keep hearing from people these days is about their overwhelming busyness.  Unable to commit to anything, because their life is so busy, unable to help with even minor ministry tasks, let alone coming onto a ministry team, or just not even able to consistently attend services or prayer meetings.

I am aware the church asks a lot of people, I look at my week and see how many night I am out doing different ministry groups or events, and I think it's a little overwhelming, and people who aren't in ministry full time would probably find it even more insane.  However, I'm not talking about the church making people too busy, but people making themselves too busy to the point that they neglect their relationship with Jesus... that they don't take time to sit and listen to Jesus... and that is what drives the lack of commitment we are seeing in our churches today.

Running around with things we think are important... and a lot of those things being almost worthless  - there is worth in things like social media for friendship connections, entertainment for rest and relaxation, and work for financial stability, but when they become over emphasised and make us too busy for other more important things they create a worthlessness as they overshadow the Gospel.

Just as Jesus tells Martha that her running around is making her anxious, but there is one thing that is necessary... He wants to tell us the same thing. There is one thing that is necessary, and that is sitting at Jesus' feet and hearing from Him.  That might be in a church service, a prayer meeting, a personal devotion time... but whatever it is, it needs to be prioritised, and it needs to be consistent. If it is prioritised then everything else will fall into place.

The very solution for our busyness is not to try and time manage and cut things from our schedule, but it is to cut everything but sitting at Jesus' feet and then seeing what He says should be our priority.  I truly believe that if we do that He'll guide us into more Gospel ministries, even around our commitments and we won't feel busy or over pressured about it.

Because we start sitting at His feet.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Church Family

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21 ESV)

I was humbly presented with the care and unity of the church family yesterday.  Just as I was pulling into the church my car broke down.  The water pump failed, causing the cooling belt to come off, which shut down pretty much everything - the engine overheated, the power steering failed, the alternator stopped charging the battery - I just managed to man-handle the thing into an easy spot for a tow truck to come pick it up.

But then I was blessed by the church family, these fellow citizens of saints, who together are members of Christ's household who care for one another in exceptional ways.  My student pastor gave me the phone number of a mobile mechanic who goes to another church but who is always willing to help out when needed.  No tow truck necessary this guy would come and repair the car on the church property.

When he got here and we figured it was the water pump and not just the belt, he admitted it was too big a job for him to do right then, but he would come back early the next morning (before work hours) to get it done before he had other appointments to go to. What mechanic opens up early just to complete a  unbooked job?  Hugely blessed!

Then as soon as one of the administrators heard I wouldn't be getting my car fixed till the next day, she hands me her keys. She knew there were things I'd needed to do that day which had meant driving around to see people, but she didn't just lend me her car for that, she told me to take it home, and just leave it back at the church the next day when I came to get my car. WOW!

It was incredibly humbling to have people do such big and selfless things for me. I wasn't looking for any special treatment and had already planned on walking home and cycling in the next day.  But the church family cares for each other... not just because it's family - but because "Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord."  We are a family built on Jesus, and Jesus is completely compassionate and generous.  Who just gives someone else their car? I remember doing it for my sister, my mother and my father in the past... because we were living together and it was just natural that when they needed it I could lend it.  Yesterday has opened my eyes a little more to this idea that that is how we should be with members of our Christian family as well!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The significant change of the Gospel

This just highlights the deeper root of sin doesn't it... not just how we act but who we are. That's what makes the Gospel so life changing... it doesn't just change how we act, it changes who we are!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Celebrating Every Victory

My team, the Essendon Bombers, have had just about the roughest year an AFL team can experience.  Twelve players suspended for the entire season before the season even begins - players who were let down by the club and in most common senses were treated unjustly. With the loss of pretty much their entire senior list of players the Bomber's weren't expected to win a single game in 2016.

Round two came as a surprise then as the Bombers put it all together to beat Melbourne.  As a fan (and club member) a ray of sunshine shone over 2016 - maybe the young guys could pull it together... was this 1993 again and the Baby Bombers doing the impossible?

No... no it wasn't.

Loss after depressing loss was to follow - in round 8 I sat in the members section at Etihad Stadium as North Melbourne walked the Bombers over the park for the first half of the game (the score at half time was 54-4).  There was a comradery among us members sitting in the top row of the stadium... united in our support for a team that had no hope.  But the second half was so much better, the Bombers played well, they pulled the margin all the way back to almost winning, only to lose by 14.  It felt like a win though and I even got a hug from some guy I'd never met just in that moment of celebration.

Then yesterday, round 21 - after 19 straight losses - Essendon beat the Gold Coast Suns. It wasn't a decisive win, it wasn't pretty even... but there was resolve, there was passion, and when the win came there was intense celebration.

The season is still a right off - we'll be the wooden spooners for sure, but even in the small victories, there must be celebration, it wouldn't be worth it if you didn't.  Even back in round 8, we lost by 14 but the way the team played was a victory, and as fans we celebrated what we could - and it felt great!

Celebrating the victories is so important.  Especially when the tide is against you, and you're not in a place to even compete most of the time - like my team in 2016 - then enjoying the wins (even if technically on the scoreboard it may not look like a win) is key to pushing through to a better tomorrow.

In so many cases of ministries in church we are hard up against the world... how can small youth groups compete with the entertainment industry of a consumeristic world?  How can your average church music band compare against the music and pop culture pretty much everyone is influenced by?  Simply the challenge of calling people to something uncommon creates an environment in our world today that makes the tide feel very much against us.

But celebrating any victory is vital - because there is an element for the Church that is not found in the sporting world, and that is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.  The victory is Jesus' - it always has been and always will be - and He puts the playing field in our favour, no matter how hard pressed we feel.

And so to celebrate the wins is to give Jesus the glory for his victory - and that lifts us.  Sometimes we are so focused on our planning, on the next event, or simply on continuing Gospel work that we don't stop to celebrate when Jesus works.  We need to stop, sing the team song, praise the One who is actually at work, and enjoy the moment where we see His hand acting in victory.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Who is Jesus to you?



Another good reminder that it is Jesus, and who He is as Lord and God and Saviour that gives us the foundation for our faith.

Our salvation is not secured in what we do, what we have, or even the amount of faith we have.  It is secured in who Jesus is.

Theology is important to our faith, because it gives us knowledge about who it is we worship, submit to and serve.

And that security allows the deepest roots of our joy to be pure.
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