christmas-presentsWhat do you want for Christmas? Have you written to Santa, or made a list? Or have you just given hints around the house about what you want?

Receiving presents is the bit about Christmas that we all like. Don’t you just love opening the presents on Christmas Day and discovering that someone has given you something that you really want? And even the socks and undies are OK because you know that someone has thought about you.

But I think you’ll agree that giving presents is what really gives you a buzz. When I was a kid I used to spend a lot of time disguising and wrapping presents in such a way that the person receiving it wouldn’t have any idea what they were getting. Bits of cardboard, oversized boxes and other disguises would change the size and shape and weight of the present so they’d never guess what was inside.

I know that in spending time with the gift like that I found myself thinking about the person who was receiving it, and the surprise they would have when they got through all the wrapping paper and other bits of disguise.

Jesus said, it’s more blessed to give than to receive, and he’s right you know. Receiving presents is great, but there’s real joy in giving. The process itself is important … thinking about the person you intend to give a present to … making a decision about what they would really like and what would give them joy … wrapping the present … thinking about how and when you are going to give it to them.

In all of these things you are thinking about that person, instead of yourself. You see our natural inclination is to think about ourselves. Thinking about other people ahead of ourselves actually takes a little bit of work. It requires an act of the will, and that’s most effective when it’s motivated by love.

The story of Christmas is a story of love and giving. It’s about God looking on this world that he has made and being overwhelmed with sadness at the way in which people had messed up the earth, damaged relationships and generally turned away from him.

And rather than waiting for people to turn back to him, God was proactive – he took the first step – he exercised his love through giving. In the greatest act of giving you could imagine, God became a human being. He came as a little baby, born in a humble middle-eastern village.

And as he grew up, Jesus taught us how to live. He taught us what it means to live in a right relationship with God. And he gave his life for us. The story of Easter is tightly linked with the story of Christmas, because it’s about Jesus giving his life for all of humanity. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him may not be separated from God but everlasting life.

I’d encourage you to spend a little bit more time this year on the presents you’re giving away. Think about the person you’re giving it to and what’s special about them. Think about what you can do that will be a contribution to their life.

But most of all think about the greatest gift of all, the gift of life that God has offered to you in Jesus. And don’t knock it back as though it’s not important. You wouldn’t do that on Christmas morning when you pull the presents out from under the tree. Receive that gift – the gift of Jesus – in the spirit in which it was given – as God’s gracious act of love for you.

You can hear this message live on Sonshine fm radio 98.5

Another great fair is over – for the sixth year, Maida Vale Baptist Church has run Christmas at the Fair in Range View Park, High Wycombe, and it was a beauty.

Many thousands of people (couldn’t count them) turned up for three hours of fun, participation, food, rides, information, and a reminder that Christmas is a part of our cultural heritage here in Western Australia.

We had an amazing group of boys, both Maori and Noongar, who presented a series of Maori dances as part of their ongoing learning about the importance of family, respect, setting goals and achieving them, cultural identity and reverence for their creator.

A new choir in Perth, the Perth Chin Baptist Church choir presented some brilliant music from their native of Myanmar, and the ever-popular Kalamunda Pipe Band brought some cultural heritage from the northern hemisphere.

Maida Vale Baptist Church likes to think of Christmas at the Fair as our gift to the community – it’s not a fund-raiser or a PR exercise, but an opportunity for us to give something back to the community and encourage people to participate in a range of activities and get to know their neighbours in the process.

I would like to thank the scores of volunteers who helped out in so many ways during the year and during the event to make this another successful event, and to those who came along and enjoyed the evening I thank you as well.

Take a look at the video and enjoy it again.

faircollage14

Life is made up of experiences, sometimes dramatic or traumatic, but most of the time simple everyday events that come and go without a second thought.

Eating, playing, worshipping, creating, and sharing become the raw materials that over a lifetime come together to produce a mosaic that we call life, and while we may have missed the significance of some of them at the time, we can look back and realise how valuable they were in the overall picture.

On Saturday night we participated in our monthly church activity, Messy Church, and I had that sense that this one of those moments that made a significant contribution to the fabric of life. It was the last Messy Church for the year and we had a Christmas theme. It was a joy to see people of all ages from babies through to grandparents working together on an activity (I’ll tell you about that in a moment), singing Christmas songs together, playing games, hearing the story of Christmas, praying, and eating together.

These things happen in our own families every day but to bring many families together in this way is what I think the apostle Paul was thinking of when he said, Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. In an age when people seem to be withdrawing into virtual relationships it is great to participate in an activity where real relationships are formed with people across generational barriers.

Now, I mentioned the activity that we participated in at Messy Church on Saturday. We built a Christmas Tree. Have a look at this video to see what happened:

tentIt was a sweltering hot day and Sarah was thankful for the shade of the great oak trees under which Abraham had pitched their tent. She had hooked up a corner of the tent to allow any breeze to blow through but in the middle of the day there was no breeze and the only respite from the searing heat was to lie quietly and wait until the evening before attempting any work.

Despite the heat and the perspiration dripping down her forehead into her eyes Sarah was close to sleep when a noise prompted her to pull herself up onto her elbow. Abraham had been sitting at the door of the tent taking advantage of the shade from the oak trees. He was a good man. He was nearly 100 years old and had been a faithful husband. It was harder to get around these days and although she was a few years younger than Abraham, Sarah was feeling her age as well. There was only one thing that had been a note of sadness in their long life together. Abraham and Sarah had no children.

Sarah could see Abraham slowly pulling himself up onto his feet and she peered out of the darkness of the tent into the dazzling sunshine to see what had prompted him to move away from the shade. She could hear a voice and wondered who would be visiting their tent in the heat of the day, so moved a little closer to the door of the tent to get a better view of what was happening outside. Abraham was moving away from the tent and she could see what looked like three figures standing in the shade of the oak trees.

She made sure that no-one would be able to see her, but was anxious to get into a position where she could see what was happening and hopefully overhear the conversation. They lived alone and visitors were rare. There was something about the three figures under the Oak trees that intrigued her.

Now Abraham was moving quickly towards the strangers and Sarah watched as he bowed low to them. Abraham obviously didn’t know who these visitors were, but she smiled to herself because the way in which he bowed before them was typical of his gracious approach to all people, particularly strangers. He was only with them a few minutes then he began making his way back to the tent. Sarah slipped back to where she had been lying so it wouldn’t be too obvious she had been watching what was going on.

Abraham leaned over and stepped into the tent. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread. I’m going to get a calf and kill it for these visitors. Oh, where is that curds and milk? Sarah quickly got up and began preparing the bread as Abraham headed out of the tent at a rate that Sarah found a little disconcerting considering his age and the heat of the day. “Take it easy,” she called out to Abraham as he disappeared into the harsh sunlight.

While she was waiting for the bread to bake, Sarah edged back to her place near the door of the tent where she could remain unseen, but could watch what was going on. Abraham had found a place under the oak trees for the visitors to sit and was ably fulfilling the role of host to these strangers. Fortunately they were just within earshot, so although Sarah couldn’t catch everything that was being said, she could hear just enough.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked Abraham.

Sarah was taken aback: “Who were these men? How did they know my name,” she thought to herself.

Abraham was answering them now: “She’s just there, in the tent.”  Sarah quickly pulled back away from the door of the tent just in case they looked up and saw her. She tried to stay within earshot because she didn’t want to miss anything now.

The one in the middle was an imposing figure. There was something distinctive about all three of the men. Something that made them stand out from other men she had seen. They didn’t look like locals, but she couldn’t place where they might have come from. The one in the middle then said: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Sarah nearly blew her cover as she gasped. She pushed her shawl over her mouth to cover the sound of her laughing. Who was this man? Who did he think he was? She was well past childbearing years and although Abraham often talked about how sad he was that he didn’t have children, she knew that it wasn’t going to happen.

She tried to compose herself and was glad that the bread had finished baking and she was able to take it out to the visitors. It may give her a chance to see them a little closer. But as she approached them, one of the men asked Abraham why Sarah had laughed when he said that she would have a son.

It was an embarrassing moment. Abraham looked flustered, unsure how to answer the question, so Sarah piped up.  “Oh, I didn’t laugh,” she lied. But the man looked directly at her said, “yes, you did laugh.”

At that moment Sarah knew that these were no ordinary men. She had a sense that this was God himself, the three in one, who could not only predict the future, but knew what was happening in the darkness of the tent, and more significantly, in the secret places of her mind.

As the men stood to leave, the one in the middle said: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

Abraham and Sarah looked at each other as the men disappeared into the distance. We have just been visited by the Lord Almighty, Abraham stammered. I have hosted the Lord and he has eaten my bread and meat. Sarah looked up at Abraham. “And as you provided for him, he has provided for us. Our guest has provided a great gift.”

You can read the story yourself in Genesis 18. This post is the first in a series on “The Art of Hosting”. If Hospitality is a characteristic of God, then there is a need for God’s people to learn to exercise hospitality as well. I’m presenting the series each Sunday morning at Maida Vale Baptist Church. You can also hear the messages here.

The choir of the Perth Chin Baptist Church

The choir of the Perth Chin Baptist Church

I my last post I talked about my experience in attending a service of the Perth Chin Baptist Church, a wonderful group of people from Myanmar who have formed a Baptist Church here in Western Australia.

Lunch after church at the PNGWA Fellowship.

Lunch after church at the PNGWA Fellowship.

Today I preached at the meeting of the PNGWA Christian Fellowship. This is a group of Christians of all denominations from Papua-New Guinea who have made Western Australia their home.

Switching from participating in worship in the Chin language to worshipping in Pidgin is interesting, but is a great reminder that the worship of Jesus Christ reaches across cultures and language groups and we live in a country where freedom of religion is still a part of the fabric of our society.

While I didn’t necessarily understand everything that was being said at these two services, I experienced a spirit of joy that was infectious. It’s a great reminder of the words of one of the Old Testament leaders:

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

chinch

After all the things I have heard and read about refugees in Australia it was a privilege to attend a church service this afternoon with the Perth Chin Baptist Church. From today the church that was started earlier this year, held its first service in High Wycombe, guests of the Maida Vale Baptist Church.

The Chin people are an ethnic people from Myanmar (Burma) and most of the Chin in Australia came here as refugees from Malaysia where they fled because of religious persecution in their own country.

Rev James Tin Kung, Pastor of the Perth Chin Baptist Church

Rev James Tin Kung, Pastor of the Perth Chin Baptist Church

It’s interesting that this congregation of people, who are newcomers to Australia, is bigger than our own church which is acting as host to the Perth Chin congregation. Perhaps that says something about the nature of the church in Australia. At some level it would seem that Australians have had it so good that we fail to appreciate what we have, and we have begun to take our privilege for granted.

We are one of the richest and most privileged nations in the world, but instead of living a life that reflects our appreciation for God’s blessings we squander what we have. We eat too much, drink too much, spend too much money; we waste the resources that are available to us, and we fail to acknowledge the God who has provided for us in the first place.

Spending time with a group of newcomers to Australia and worshipping with them, despite not being able to understand much of what was said, has helped me to appreciate afresh the wonderful land in which we live and the great God who has blessed us in so many ways.

It’s time for us to learn to say thankyou and to live in a way that reflects that sense of appreciation.

watchThere has long been discussion in theological and philosophical circles about God’s involvement in the world and in the lives of human beings. Was he like a great watchmaker  who created the world, wound it up, then let it run down, or does he have ongoing sovereignty over nature? How do we understand volcanoes, earthquakes and storms and the destruction that often goes with such natural phenomena?

Here’s the latest in my “Amazing Meetings” series where I “interview”  people who met Jesus. My interview today is with a boatie who plied his trade on the waters around Palestine at the time when Jesus was living there.

Hello, you had a fascinating meeting with Jesus. We’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for the opportunity to tell me story.  I’ve been fishing and sailing around here for years and I’ve sailed through many storms in my time but I’ve never had an experience like this.

How did Jesus come to be in your boat in the middle of the lake?

He had been pretty popular at the time. Wherever Jesus went great crowds of people would follow him. Whenever people gathered, Jesus would take the opportunity to speak to them and teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven. I used to love listening to him. He is a great teacher and everyone who put his words into action found that it radically changed their lifestyle. But I could imagine that sometimes the crowds became too much for Jesus, and he just needed to get away. He was near the edge of the lake teaching, and came over to me to ask me to take him to the other side of the lake.

So he wanted to get away from the crowds?

Well, he wasn’t running away from the crowds, because the people would walk around and be on the other side waiting for him when he got there.  But it was a time for him to get away and spend some time in prayer and meditation. He seemed to have the capacity to give of himself to others quite sacrificially, then he could withdraw and gain spiritual sustenance to keep going. On this occasion he went to sleep. I reckon he needed it right then.

There’s a rhythm there that we could all learn from, isn’t there?

That’s right. Well, he came and asked me to take him to the other side of the lake, so I took him on board and headed off.

Can you explain to me why it seems to be so stormy out there?

Yes the Sea of Galilee  is subject to heavy squalls on a regular basis. You can see there are high mountains around the edge and there’s a big difference between the cold dry air in the hills and the warm topical conditions at water level. As a result there are big temperature and pressure changes, and storms occur on a regular basis.

So tell me about this particular storm.

As I said, Jesus was asleep when this storm started and we were starting to take in water. I’ve been out in that kind of weather before, but it was getting pretty scary and it was looking like we may be swamped.

So you went and woke up Jesus I assume. What did he say?

Here we were, experienced sailors, getting into a panic. Jesus wakes up and calm as you like, he looks around then calls out Peace be still. You wouldn’t believe it, the wind stopped immediately, and of course, the waves stopped as well. It was amazing how quickly the storm stopped.

So you’re saying that that Jesus had the power to stop the storm?

Yes, it was no coincidence. In fact, what Jesus said to us after that was the most interesting thing. He said, “why are you afraid, haven’t you got any faith?” We were stunned because he seemed to be saying that we didn’t even need to worry about the storm. If we trusted him, we could leave things like that in his hands.

It sounds to me that God is more than a great watchmaker. He can control the winds and the waves. I think I need some time to think through that concept. Thanks for sharing your story.

What have genuine fake watches to do with the Apostle Paul?

That’s how I started my message this morning. Having just got back from Europe I’m focussing on three great cities that were visited by the Apostle Paul and which Robyn and I also visited on our journeys. See last week’s post on Athens.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 7.16.26 pmToday I talked about Ephesus, a great city that is currently situated just inland from Kusadasi on the coast of Turkey. One of the features of Turkey for us was the high levels of salesmanship that existed: Or to be more precise, being bombarded by market-sellers from every angle, including those who were trying to sell genuine fake watches.

A couple of thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul experienced the same sort of aggressive salesmanship from a group of tradesmen who made gadgets out of silver to support the worship of the great goddess Artemis, the supreme deity at Ephesus at the time.

The problem with these silver merchants was that while they were talking about Artemis as though she was very important to them, what really worried them was that if people started following this Jesus that Paul was promoting and stopped worshipping Artemis, they would also stop buying Artemis merchandise and their livelihood would be threatened.

I call it genuine fake religion when people talk as if they’re on speaking terms with God, but are really only interested in what they can get out of their religion in terms of financial reward or even a well-polished ego. It’s pretty easy to use religious language to give people the impression that you’re that little better than others … a little more spiritual … a better Christan. It makes the person who’s doing it feel good and makes the other person feel a little worse.

I’ve got a feeling that God’s not interested in genuine fake religion, but needs a whole lot more honesty, both in the way we interact with him and the way we interact with each other.

Did Paul Miss the Bus?

Posted: October 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

What happened when I spent too much time on top of the Areopagus in Athens? Read on to find out.

We’ve just got back from a month in Europe and I’ve started to speak on Sunday mornings about three great cities that we visited that were also visited by the Apostle Paul. This morning I talked about Athens, a great city where Paul found a multicultural and multi-faith society at its peak.

AreopagusThe Areopagus is a rocky outcrop that is situated near the Acropolis, the highest point in the city. In this picture you can see the Areopagus in the foreground, looking up to the Acropolis where the Parthenon is undergoing major renovations.

There is an account in the book of Acts about the time that Paul was in Athens and he began walking around the city, taking in the sights and sounds. He got into debate with some philosophers and they invited him back to the Areopagus to explain his philosophy.

As you can see from this picture he could look up to the Temple of Athena Nike, on the far right of the Acropolis where Athena was worshipped as the Goddess of Victory in War and Wisdom, and he noted to the gathered politicians, religious leaders and philosophers that Athens was a very religious city. But he also noted that he had seen an idol set up to an unknown God. He explained that his purpose was to tell people about that God, and proceeded to explain the Gospel of Jesus.

SermonHis sermon is recorded in full in Greek on the Areopagus and you can see it there today. But basically it went something like this : The God who made the world doesn’t live in ornate temples like that one up on the hill. The fact is, he inhabits the whole earth, and provides life and breath and everything else we need. He’s created in all people an innate urge to find God and while we may do all sorts of things in order to find God, he’s actually not all that far away, and if we reach out to him, we’ll probably find him. The evidence that God has done all this is in the resurrection of Jesus.

It was a simple, yet profound message, but the listeners found it a bit unsettling and while some people accepted the message and decided to follow Jesus, others expressed their disagreement with what he had to say. Paul was used to that. At least they didn’t start a riot like they had in Thessalonika a few weeks before.

There’s something quite overwhelming about standing on the Areopagus a few thousand years later and realising that this is where Paul stood. To look up at the Acropolis and, apart from the scaffolding, see what Paul saw. To look over the city, and to a large degree, see what Paul saw. But if you stay up there too long you may miss the bus.

That’s what happened to me. I got down from the Areopagus and Robyn and I found that our bus back to the cruise ship had left without us. Fortunately we hooked up with another tour party and they got us down into the city where we rejoined our tour group and found our way back to the ship.

I’m glad Paul didn’t miss the bus.