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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Do Not Forget

There's a thought that came to me yesterday that I want to share. It's a thought roughly connected to my last blog (and to several things that are observable in modern society right at this moment). I do hope you will consider reading and reflecting upon this post, Mainly because I want to see God glorified through my gifts of communication, encouragement and teaching which combine in these different posts.

The single thought that came to me is as follows: 'do not forget'. This thought may not make any sense whatsoever, so let me clarify. It is a particular type of remembering that this thought was about. It was a reminder to not forget what Christ has done for me, for you, for us! To not forget about who He is and the power of His resurrection in us. So many Christians want to live lives which are, sadly, apathetic to this very idea, but whatever gift you have, whatever position in life you have, I encourage you to use it in the memory of what He has done for you and continues to do!

Yesterday I watched Russell Brand's video here on the dangers of pornography, which is brilliant. I don't know a lot about him, but I am aware that despite not being a Christian he has a lot of very intelligent things to say about the social and political issues in the world which are so dangerous. In the video which I have linked, Brand points out that pornography is so dangerous because it distracts individuals from real meaning in the world. I would also further expound that anything which drives you into such a fantasy state is dangerous - it is dangerous to become addicted to anything because it encourages you to forget about truth. And we are living in a world of 'drugged up' people who want to forget about what is really important and what is valuable.

People have also come to look for meaning in anything and people are quicker than anything in how they leap to judge anyone. As seen in the recent case of Glenn McGrath, who is under extreme judgement for his shooting trip in 2008. I agree that it is ridiculous that McGrath can go from the face of preventing breast cancer in one instance, to be so whiplashed by the public. It's as if they forgot about all the good that his charity does around Australia or all the sporting and public actions during his cricketing career. I find it incredibly sad actually to see and read the comments directed at him, because it denotes the sheer lack of thinking and the hypocrisy of modern society. Why, I ask, are people so morally righteous when they themselves are no better or worse?

It's similar to the story of Justine Sacco who was fired for a stupidly inappropriate use of Twitter. Yet, what is far worse to me than the poor 'joke' she made, is the commentary of those who shamed her, attacked her and ridiculed her with spite and disdain across the internet. Because she made one comment and people instantly made the biggest attempt to destroy her character, without any cost to themselves. No wonder Jesus said in Matthew 7:12 "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

There is a danger that is created when the world forgets God: when we say that God is dead. Jay pointed out to me just last night (odd considering I'm the history teacher) that Hitler and the Nazi party ran a secular ideology based on the concept of using science, abusing religion and pushing God out of the picture. We are incredibly seeing the same thing happen in today's society with God being removed from everything, and while we may not be seeing the same kinds of results we are seeing a society with no answers to a moral decline. You might not need God to be moral, but without Him society seems to fall into a pit of moral relativity.

When it comes to remembering what God has done for me however, some might say that I have a 'humble' testimony. My Dad saw a vision of Jesus and I personally know drug dealers and criminals who have been transformed by coming to know Jesus personally. I was never a drug dealer or a prostitute: in fact I was the perfect self-righteous boy who grew up on all the Bible stories, knew everything about God that a kid of between 8 or 9 could and basically was, in my own efforts, a great child. But one night I was struck with the knowledge that, no, I wasn't good enough - that there was some small seed of sin (that desire to remove the need of God from the picture) deep within who I am. That basically, despite growing up in a Christian family, with pastors for parents, I needed God because I was not good enough. And so I made that choice and my life has never been the same.

You see, I might not have been 'saved' from drugs, murderous ways, alcoholism or any other kind of crazy addictive lifestyle, but I was saved from myself. And that in itself is a powerful testimony because if we can (through self-righteousness, fantasy etc.) be convinced that we don't need God - like much of society has from my examples above, then we become the most lost people of all. I was saved from a life that did not bring glory to God at all and even now I might not be perfect but my faith is in the perfection of Jesus Christ who lived the life I should have and died the death I should have that I might be resurrected with Him. As Galatians 2:20 states "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Yesterday I read through the famous verse about the plans God has for us and noticed something in there: Jeremiah 29:11-13

'11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'
 Many people, when they read the Bible like to stop at the parts that apply to them or comfort them. In this case, verse 11. However, I love that the next two verses are a reminder to call on God and seek Him with all that we are. We need God - we need Him more than we can ever know because our entire being was made to be with him, our very souls were breathed into existence by his own spirit. Yet it can be so easy to forget this and what God has done for us. We like to know about the great plans He has for us and forget about the prayer and the seeking Him with all that we are. We turn His plans into subordinates for our plans and trust that everything will be alright.

My challenge is that we remember our salvation - think and reflect upon what God has done for you or ask for a revelation of what that means. Do not just be sucked into the forgetfulness of the rest of the world. Too many people walk about aimlessly and forgetfully, ignorant of their own need for God. It can be easy to judge those with obvious addictions and problems (as in the articles that I posted before) but those who stand in judgement are just as oblivious of the planks in their own eyes and their own need for salvation from themselves. Be the light to others around you, be who they need you to be, but whatever you do: Do Not Forget. Do not forget the power of your testimony and who you are in Christ!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

God's Not Dead

If you've ever read any of the work of Friedrich Nietzsche then you may have found him as arrogant a proponent of the ad hominem argument as anyone. He is, however, most famous for the following statement: "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it."

At church we have begun running through a series on the concept that God is not dead. And He is not, He is very much alive. Nietzsche was essentially saying that God is dead because God was never alive - that he was a concept we no longer need to find fulfillment and happiness in the world. And even that might be true if you have an exceptionally limited understanding of what fulfillment and happiness are. Nietzsche tried his hardest to, more or less, tear down Christianity - to explain that 'we' more rational individuals have gone beyond using 'superstition' to explain morality and the need for morals (of course Nietzsche as it turns out was a rather amoral individual at times). So here's what I want to blog about properly: God isn't dead when we live our faith.

I do agree that you can be a moral person without God. But I disagree with anyone who says that they have a reason to be moral without God. Anytime I ask someone what their reason for being moral without God is it boils down to 'society needs it' or 'because it's necessary for proper human functioning' (I question the second claim highly). These are circular arguments, amounting to little more or less 'I need to be moral because I need to be moral.' But what if the reason you need to be moral is because there is a great, perfect and good God who demands it of you. What if he, even further, demands absolute perfection from you? That is the God who is very much alive.

And as I repetitively say, because he demands perfection from us that's where the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ comes into things. You might know about God, but unless you know Jesus then He doesn't know you - because only in Christ can that standard of perfection be met. I know Christ - I know the living son of God and because of this that impacts how I live my life. But if I don't live my life through faith, or truly show that I believe He is alive, then Nietzsche's claim is shown to be true. In other words: God is dead if I do not show the world that He is alive.

There is a tendency for Christians to assume that pastors and church workers are the only ones in ministry. This is a great lie that the enemy wants us to believe. There is a tendency for those of us with 'average testimonies' to stop and say 'my testimony is nothing really'. This is another lie that shows others that to us God isn't really as alive as we claim. I was speaking to my friend and a real mentor, Jay, about this last Friday - that each of us have a powerful testimony no matter what because it points to a living God who can do great things!

Phillipians 3:8-11 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Each of us have a powerful testimony. Each of us have a powerful ministry - you have a ministry in your work, school or place of recreation. It's not a paid ministry, but it is a spiritual command to prove that God is not dead to the world. To prove that we are living by faith and knowing his resurrection truly and not just living a religious life because everyone else does. That is the true power of your testimony - it's a reminder to not take what God has done for you for granted but to remember the person you are without God.

My challenge to anyone reading this is to not be halfhearted about your faith. My ministry is in teaching and encouraging and my testimony is that I chose to accept the message of faith my parents proclaimed to me (I wasn't born into Christianity). If you've just been going with the flow then listen and wake up, it's not the time to get caught up in all the problems of an offended but offensive world. Everyone needs to hear that God's not dead - and we need to be the ones to prove that Christ is needed and there for a broken world. If not you, then who?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Three Life Lessons

I've been undertaking one of my school placements at the moment and have learnt several interesting lessons along the way that I thought I would blog about.

The very first lesson that I already explained in my previous post was about expectation. You don't set expectations low. Interestingly, throughout the last week people kept using the word 'expectation' - which to me indicates that God was trying to teach me something about that idea.

The second lesson is about having a clear aim. The best lessons that I have taught these past couple of weeks, have started out clearly and continued in an organised and structured manner. They have set out clearer expectations for the students but most importantly they had an aim in mind. Teaching them about the characters in the book was not just about teaching them for the sake of understanding the characters but also for the assessment task they will have to create when they do a monologue from a character's perspective.

Similarly I think that it becomes important in life for us to have aims that we can set out. We should set great expectations and also have aims or dreams that we can keep reminding ourselves about. I'm not saying that our aims or dreams are necessarily always going to succeed - in fact God may have greater goals for us (and we should always set the cross before us first and foremost) - but it is important to see how our life should continue to connect back to the greater dream that we have.

My dream would be to do something with creative or nonfiction writing in the future as well as to teach but my greater purpose in teaching is to be able to encourage and uplift others in a God-honouring way. I may not be able to preach the gospel directly without compromising certain laws, but I can certainly live the gospel to those that might not otherwise see it.

The third lesson is the idea of judgement. I have noticed how teachers tend to categorise their students, and I hope I don't end up doing that without giving them a fair assessment of what they can be rather than what they are. By categorise, I mean that particular students are granted 'brilliant' status while others are 'lazy, poor, hopeless' etc. This doesn't mean that these students aren't still taught, it simply means that there is a particular way that that they are being judged even before any lesson begins.

I know that I will be judged by people around me - Christian or non-Christian. I know that I will sadly judge others, even if I know that I should not and actively try not to. I found myself thinking last night about a particular situation with myself that I suspect some people are critiquing. At times I do wish that people would ask if they have questions about my life, I will provide answers to those questions and I prefer it to anyone talking behind my back (or questioning to themselves). I was thinking to myself 'I guess I just understand God's purpose better than they do.' And instantly I realised that I was being judgemental myself to think in such a way.

Here's how the third lesson really impacted me. It can be easy to be self-righteous, to look at God's own purpose for us and to judge the way others cannot see that purpose or plan. God acts in weird and mysterious ways (he isn't a man after all) and what really matters is that the heart of an individual is seeking after Him. For me to think a thought like 'I understand God's purpose better,' is - I humbly admit - self-righteous, religious and plain wrong. I might understand some of God's purpose for my own life better than another person, but I won't understand God's purpose for your life better. Or else, I would be God.

As I see it the three lessons combine in such a way: 1. Set high expectations with God, expect nothing less than the best. 2. Trust in the dreams, goals and abilities that God has given you for your life and turn back to them as a reminder of where God wants your life to be heading, 3. Don't judge the goals and dreams and life that God has given to another person. Just because you don't understand how God could be working such a career, death, new relationship or old relationship doesn't mean that God isn't doing something. He is always doing something.

So after thinking and reflecting on these three lessons I want to close with Proverbs 3:5-6
"5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight."
I know that I myself am very far from perfect, I don't trust God fully with my heart even though my desire is to do so. I don't always lean on his understanding rather than mine or submit to him. But as I have titled my blog "Getting a Little Closer Every Day", so I want to become more and more able to trust in Him with all my heart and lean on his understanding, submitting to Him so that my path in life becomes straight. I encourage anyone reading this (as I encourage myself) to set those expectations this year, to work out or remind yourself about dreams God has for your life and to not judge others by the personal understanding, blessing or purposes that God has for you. Just because someone else might struggle in an area doesn't mean their faith is stronger or weaker - it just might mean God is doing something different with them that will transform them into a different kind of butterfly...

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Great Expectations

So far this year has started off nicely. Oh, not without a few minor hiccups as happens in life, but God is good and therefore everything has followed his plan - I have no doubt. I've been building relationships, racing through literature, fasting, praying and most recently been preparing for my future career with my teaching rounds. In fact, my teaching rounds have exposed an idea that I wish to discuss with the rest of you.

This is the idea of expectation. In my first class (taken this previous Monday) I was told that I 'cheated' slightly in relying upon the more eager and active students to answer questions. I was advised to make sure that I involve all the students in my questioning so that even if they didn't know the answer that it would provide an interesting little academic challenge to them. They wouldn't be able to drift off to sleep as I droned on, or as the most intelligent and exuberant students participated actively. My supervisor told me this: if you set your expectations for students low they will meet those expectations.

This is a thought that has stuck through me into the rest of the week. I believe it is so true, if you set low expectations for students most of the time they will only just meet those expectations. Certainly, a couple of students might excel - but the rest of the class will try to meet the bare minimum. As they say, you should shoot for the moon so that if you fail you will land among the stars (or crash and burn up in the upper atmosphere as someone else cleverly put it). The point here is that you should not set low expectations in life - don't set unrealistic expectations either of course, but challenge yourself and allow yourself to be challenged by God.

God has the best expectations for your life. He expects nothing but perfection from us - perfection that we cannot meet. Sound like an impossibility? Well yes it is, we cannot meet God's expectation in our own strength. But we can meet these expectations through following Jesus Christ as our Lord and saviour. Only he alone can help us to meet those righteous expectations.

For the believer, God has further expectations on us. That doesn't mean that we succeed all the time. He knows that I do fail (because of my own weakness of character when compared to who He is), but he also provides his grace to help us with our weaknesses. God expects nothing more or less than who we are - to be his living sacrifices in our day-to-day life. In one sense that's a small expectation, on the other it is the greatest thing anyone can expect from you. And as we submit to His expectation of us, to become holy as He is holy then we can expect to see the power of the impossible: Mark 9:23 (ESV) "23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”"

Michael Jordan once said that "I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying." Our church message for this year is to expect to be surprised by God in 2015. I myself want to expect that God will do as He will and that what he wills, shall be good and shall be great. So I challenge myself and anyone reading this to expect the miraculous this year. Don't set your expectations low!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

What I Learnt Fast(ing)

This last week we just undertook a weeklong prayer and fasting as a church. I'll confess I don't normally participate in group fasts - I rarely fast as a habit - because I don't like the idea of doing anything just because the crowd is. Yet this year I felt God prompting me to fast and above all I want to follow his guiding (it's worked well so far in my life). So this is a blog post to share in relation to that.

What God taught me during the time of prayer and fasting was to challenge what it is that I have prioritized in my life before. It has been something that people close to me have been talking to me about before but God clarified this concept and made it more apparent to me. I honestly never realised in such a way how much time I allow social media to consume until I realised that I found myself reaching for Facebook, only to not be able to access it with an easy tap on the app thanks to shutting it down for the fast. I would love instead for my reaction to be to turn to the Bible and see what God has to say rather than scrolling aimlessly through what my friends have to say about the world. Not that friends aren't important - it's just not as important as I have made it before.

But another thing that God taught me in the past two weeks is not to take things in life for granted. It can be easy to slip into a mode of doing that but this week I had an important conversation that challenged me on what I take for granted. On the Australia Day weekend before this I had a very important reminder about not to take things for granted in terms of the potential for that to hurt the person I probably care most about.

Today I walked through the streets of Melbourne and saw several homeless or more down on their luck individuals. I was stopped in front of one guy and he must have asked for money but I was ignoring him so it was then that he swore at me and angrily asked me to move from where I was standing. This got me thinking in connection to taking things in life for granted. Many people cannot help where they end up in the streets - but what they really need, as evidenced by the attitude of this one guy, is not money but someone to show genuine compassion in the right way. I didn't know the right way to do that at that time and I didn't have some super spiritual moment that pointed it out to me. But maybe next time there will be something that lets me know what to do. Maybe the closer I draw to God the better I will be at being loving in my every action so that even if I can't give money I can give something more important.

Acts 3: 5-7 "5And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene-- walk!" 7And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened.…"

You can't help the hand that life deals you sometimes. Sometimes you will go through challenges. Sometimes you will end up on the streets. But what struck me was that the people I saw on the street lying down against the walls, asking people for money were rather devoid of hope. And that is a heart condition more than a physical condition. Fasting taught me that even if I don't have everything in life sorted I need to get my heart attitudes right: to be a God honouring worshiper who worships in spirit and truth. A man whose lips and heart honour God first and foremost with everything else flowing out of that.

Let's be honest, I'm not perfect. I've definitely seen many times recently where I have been too self obsessed and focused on my plans or trying to do everything in my own strength. What I want to say and take away from fasting is that, just like fasting made me weak and made everything tougher to perform, so too I am weak. I need to draw upon God's strength all the more in my day to day life and to walk with his power and integrity.