Wednesday, May 28, 2008

All eyes on Jesus - CROSS PURPOSES 119

A few weeks ago we celebrated the ascension of our Lord. In Luke’s account of the Ascension in Acts 1:10 he records that the disciples were looking intently up into the sky as Jesus ascended to His heavenly throne. That’s a good description of what our witnessing should be like. We need to keep our eyes intently fixed on Jesus Christ – He is the centre of all that matters.

I was given a wonderful reminder of this a few weeks ago. I had an appointment with a mortgage broker and it came up in the conversation that I had spent a year in Adelaide on full-time study. She asked what I had been studying. “Theology,” I told her. “Really? – that’s what I’m studying,” she exclaimed excitedly. As we shared our faith, it transpired that this lady had not really had a Christian upbringing as such, but had become interested in Jesus as a result of attending a leadership seminar conducted by the Christian radio station FM103.2.

It was a joy to chat with her about our faith, and I tell you, she has a rock solid understanding of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ. At one point she pointed to a diagram depicted on the cover of her company’s promotional material. The diagram shows five jig-saw pieces: a centre piece in gold with a dollar sign on it, and four other pieces in grey each with a house symbol on them, and they each slotted into the centre gold piece. It is meant to remind investors that financial strategy is central to property investment – properties are merely vehicles through which the financial strategy is realised. But all too often investors become emotionally involved with their investment properties and lose sight of their financial strategy. They take their eyes off the centre piece.

Pointing to this diagram she said, “Christianity is like that. We all believe Jesus is our Redeemer and Saviour – he is the centre piece of pure gold – but we tend to shift our focus onto other things that are peripheral to the centre piece, Christ,” she explained. She gave several examples where she believed different denominations emphasised certain points of tradition or doctrine. They are all good and well,” she added, “and I’m sure people are well meaning, but they can become so intense about these secondary things that it shifts the focus away from the centre piece, which is Jesus Christ.”

She is absolutely right in her observation and makes a very valid point. When you think about it, there are innumerable examples – and I’m not just talking about points of doctrine or theological interpretations – where we as individuals or collectively as members of the Body of Christ put greater importance on things that are secondary to Christ, and so shift our focus away from Him. We don’t look intently at Him and to Him; we take our eyes off Him and our intensity for Him diminishes.

I said to this lady, “You know there is a second way we can look at this diagram. We can look at it as a target where Christ is at the centre.” I told her that the Greek term for sin is associated with an archery term meaning falling short of the mark. Indeed, Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “Like this diagram shows,” I said, “when we take our eyes off Jesus – the centre piece – we fall short of God’s glory.”

The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of the Father is the fulfilment of God’s glorious plan for humanity. In our falling short of God’s glory we are put right with Him by His grace through the righteousness of Christ. The faith to receive His righteousness is His gift to us and it comes through our hearing of the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Ascension message carries a call to repentance, a call to faith, a call to receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal salvation, and a call to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus – the Risen Lord, the Ascended Lord, the Centre piece of all that is. Praise His name forever.

René van den Tol

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Heart Ache is for real - CROSS PURPOSES 118


Hi Guys

A few weeks ago Rose and Fred were at a Pastors and Wives retreat at Bundanoon. During a sermon on healing the following devotion was distributed. I delight to share it with you and will make one just one comment at the end.

Your Heart Literally Aches

From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2

I remember that there was a single moment in time when my mind formed the words, “so…this is what heartache is.” I was experiencing an actual sensation in the centre of my chest. Not a pain. No… .. that wasn’t it. I don’t remember fearing for my health. I can only describe it as a ‘hollowness.” Like something had been removed. Like there was air in there where it shouldn’t be. Similar to indigestion, I suppose… but higher. It persisted.
And persists, these years Later. Oh, it has certainly diminished. Slowly. But I have accepted it as part of my physiology. I live with heartache.
I was (and am) surprised by that. I expected that death to change me. My mother and I were unusually close. She died too young. She suffered too long. I expected that death to change my attitude… . my emotions… my perspective. I expected to cry. I expected to miss her. I knew it would change me.. and change the world for me.
But I didn’t expect that it would change me PHYSICALLY… permanently. And yet. I have come to embrace that part of’ me-that heartache. It has become for me a persistent reminder that that love was REAL… and STRONG… and is PERSISTENT. That love, like that loss, has changed me.
Is that what our now glorified Lord thinks as he ponders the marks in his own hands… the hollowness in his own side? “My love has changed me. My love… for YOU.”

I rest myself, dear Jesus, in the deep recesses of your love. Amen.
Written by Peter Mead. © 2006 Creative Communications for the Parish (used by permission).

And my comment? We might never know, never have any idea about what is being covered in the hearts of those we meet. Even they might not be able to put it into words. But the pain is real. So let’s commit to grace and mercy and love and compassion. Let’s touch their lives like Jesus might touch their lives.

Bless You


Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Black Socks Church - CROSS PURPOSES 117


In August of 1988 Rose and I were in Holland. This was my first trip back to the country of my birth since I left with my parents as a 1 year old in 1951. It was almost a year since dad had died and I was on a sort of pilgrimage, “spending my inheritance to find my heritage” so to speak.

Come Sunday morning and we wished to attend worship. My Catholic rellies gave us directions to a local church. We found it easily enough. A substantial white building as I recall. Streets awash with cars, the church car-park full. And not a soul in sight. Walked up to the church doors – and found them locked. Thought it must have another entrance. Any doors we found as we circled the building were also locked. Checked our watches – 5 minutes past the hour. And it dawned on us that by conscious decision no one was ever getting into that building after the appointed hour for worship to begin.

Later we discovered that this particular church was nicknamed the “black socks church” because everything was conducted somberly and rigidly. Now, I understand that the word ‘church’ in Greek is ‘ecclesia’ which means called out. ie God’s people are called out of their involvements with sin, death, the world and the devil and called into the community which reveals our God’s holy love and love of holiness in Jesus Christ.

However we are not called to live in ghettos – cut off from all contact with the world. We are those on the receiving end of a clear instruction – “Go into all the world – proclaiming repentance, forgiveness – Good News”. John does tell us that God loved and loves the world…John 3:16.

Are our communities open to those who need the gospel?

Am I, in my heart, open to those who need the gospel?

Could it be that we are at risk of creating our own Christian enclaves in which we no longer ever have to risk contamination? Nowadays you can have Christian playgroups, kindergartens, schools, high schools, gyms, bookshops – complete with café, and of course nursing homes. In between we can limit ourselves only to Christian Real Estate agents, plumbers, builders, architects, accountants, holiday homes etc etc. I forgot to mention hospitals and radio stations! There’s our challenge, isn’t it? Knowing how to build links in daily life which become opportunities and openings for proclaiming the gospel.

It’s not only a wicked world out there which needs to be challenged so forgiveness can be proclaimed. It’s also full of broken people, wounded, confused, searching – sheep without a shepherd – vulnerable and exposed.

And it’s a world in which many of God’s loved humanity have been involved – are involved - in liasons, actions and behaviour which they personally hate – and which have left them feeling forever defiled and unclean.

Maybe it’s time to get off our butts and onto our knees and repent of our exclusiveness and self centeredness. Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit, in full and fullness, who alone conveys and energises Jesus’ plan to save souls.

Nuff said


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Dumb Hitch hiker - Cross Purposes 116


On ‘ABC overnight’, at about 4:00am on Tuesday morning, Trevor Chapple got a discussion going about hitchhiking stories. Hitchhiking was an ‘in thing’ to do in the sixties and seventies. It’s illegal in many places today.

It reminded me of a story of my own. I was going home from Sydney to Wagga. Having caught the suburban train to Liverpool, I parked myself, thumb out, beside the Hume Highway. A Holden sedan pulled up with 2 blokes in it. They were going my way so I was happy for the lift. The bag I was carrying went into the boot which was opened with a screwdriver.

A little further along the highway we stopped to pick up a hippie couple traveling with a dog, which shared the back seat with us. (Yuk!)

Around Yass we needed to fill up with fuel, and since the guys in front were apparently tallying up lots of silver coins rather than notes I did the decent thing and offered them a quid (=$2:00).

We all got some lunch and then renewed the journey, with me aware for the first time that this car didn’t need a key to start.

They were on the way to Melbourne so we parted company at the junction with the Sturt Highway, just short of Tarcutta. The company had been reasonable, if a bit smelly, but I wouldn’t have given them a second thought except for a news item.

That evening it was reported that police had arrested 2 men after a car drove away from a service station at Holbrook without paying for petrol. Furthermore these same 2 men were charged with theft of a motor vehicle in Sydney, and also with robbery from poker machines at a suburban club!

You know, the thought had never occurred to me that the car might be stolen? Nothing in me rang a bell to say “Hang on, there’s something funny here.” Not the screwdriver, not the coins, not the missing key, Nothing! I was naive, not worldly wise, an innocent abroad. I guess a holidaying, hitchhiking policeman would have sussed it out the moment a screwdriver was produced for opening the boot. How easily could I have become entangled in illegal affairs, perhaps even assaulted and robbed for my money.

All of what I’ve written above was somehow processed in just a minute or two. And then the Spirit nudged the thought further and said to me, “Fred, many people, including the people of God, get involved in stuff which is dangerous and entangling for them simply because they are unaware of the dangers. And Fred, sometimes they do not want to know, and do not want to see that they are “hitching rides” which can ensnare them.”

I get the nudges every now and then. And am then reminded again that one of the charges of my call as a pastor is to do whatever I can and must to help Jesus’ followers be on their guard. St Peter says “Be alert, be on the watch! Your enemy, the Devil, roams around like a roaming lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5)

Someone can remonstrate with you about the things you get involved in. We can warn you about how unwise it can be. We can get on your case and nag you. You might not want to know or see. That’s often the reality.

However the best way we have to help you is to help you be immersed in the love affair between God and humanity as we experience it in Jesus the Christ. The more we swim in his things, know his heart, know his mind, experience his community and treasure his word, the more aware we become of things, words, events, situations and involvements that are traps from evil. It’s through these things that the Holy Spirit gives us a spiritual nose to smell trouble even if we can’t define it. He gives us discernment. The Holy susses out the unholy! Our Father in heaven wants us safe and on guard. And he wants our children safe. In these evil days discernment is one gift we cannot live without.

Be blessed Celebrate Pentecost. Ask and you shall receive!