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.

Sowing the Seed

Posted: September 21, 2014 in Uncategorized
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One day Jesus was sitting by the lake, and as people noticed him they started to gather around. Eventually it got to a point he realised there was no room for him, so he called over to one of his disciples and they got into a boat and pulled away from the shore a little. As he sat there in the boat people sat down on the shore of the lake and he began speaking to them in parables.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 2.12.35 pmBeyond the people who were sitting at the side of the lake Jesus could see a farmer on the hillside in the distance. He had a bag of seed hanging by his side and as he walked along he would reach into his bag and grab a handful of seed and scatter it.

So he said to the crowd: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was walking along in his paddock, scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some of the people were nodding their head. They knew what it was like to scatter the seed and to see the wood pigeons flying down behind them and eating them. He went on: Some fell on rocky places, where it didn’t have much soil. It began to grow, but when the sun came up, the plants just withered away. Other seed fell among weeds and they grew up and choked the plants. But some seed fell on good soil, where it produced an amazing crop.

Some time later the disciples came to Jesus to ask him why he spoke in parables. It was almost as if they had missed the point themselves. They were asking him about the process of speaking in parables, rather than asking him about the meaning of the parable itself. So Jesus had to explain what he had been saying to the crowd.

He said to his disciples: You see, when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path, he explained. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and initially receives it with joy but they haven’t put down any roots and they last only a short time. When difficulties come they fall away.

The seed falling among the weeds refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it fails to grow. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. And the word of God dwells in them and produces a great result.

Perhaps you’ve heard God’s Word explained in songs, you’ve heard the Bible read, or you’ve been to church, but what was the result of what you heard?

Perhaps the idea of following Jesus just seems too hard. There’s so much else to do, so many pressures that reading the Bible or going to church doesn’t really fit your schedule. Perhaps you’ve been a follower of Jesus in the past, but somehow it doesn’t seem to work for you any more.

I think when Jesus was telling this story he knew that there would be people who were listening to him, who could identify where they fitted into the story. But he was showing that there is still opportunity for seed to fall on good soil and produce amazing results.

I’d encourage you to help that seed to germinate right now. Read the Bible for yourself. Find someone you can talk to. Find a church where you can begin to water that seed and feed it and experience God’s growth in your life.

 

Here’s another post in my “Amazing Meetings” series. It’s an interview with a woman who  had an amazing meeting with Jesus. Have a read:

Hello, thanks for the opportunity to meet with you. You had an amazing meeting with Jesus. I wonder if you could start at the beginning and tell me why you wanted to catch up with Jesus in the first place.

I had been sick for 12 years – women’s problems, you know. Been to dozens of doctors who charged like wounded bulls. I was broke from spending everything on doctors and alternative medicine and anything I could get my hands on. I was still sick despite all this and I’d really got to the end of my tether.

So what made you think Jesus could do any better than all these doctors?

I really didn’t know if he could. But I’d heard the stories about him, and I was desperate. He was pretty popular at the time, lots of people followed him around, so I thought, if I could sneak through the crowds, touch his clothes, some of the magic might brush off on me.  Nobody would notice me doing that. Nothing lost, nothing gained. Who cared about me anyway?

What do you mean by that?

I’m a woman. All my life I’d been told that women were only for one thing and with the bleeding I was having, no man would be interested in me anyway.  In fact, not even religion was working for me. They had this rule in the temple that anyone who was bleeding was considered unclean. I wasn’t allowed at the temple. I was a nobody and nobody cared.

So you went down to the market to see Jesus and there was a big crowd of people gathered round him.  Did you do what you planned, to sneak up behind him?

Yes, it was easy. There were so many people I could just push through and get real close to him and touch his coat.  I was desperate and probably a bit skeptical as well, but with all I heard about Jesus I was prepared to give it a go.

What happened when you touched Jesus coat?

I got the shock of my life. Here he was busy with all these people and suddenly he turns around and say: Who touched me?  His friends who were there with him kind of laughed. You’ve got all these people crowded around and you want to know who touched you? You’ve got to be joking, they were saying.

Did Jesus say anything else?

Yes, he did say something else. He said someone had touched him and he felt power going out from him.

What did you do?

Well, I was going to get out as quick as possible, but there was something in his eyes. I just knew that he really accepted me as I was. I couldn’t run, so I fell down at his knees and he told me that I could go in peace, my faith had healed me. Then I had this amazing feeling.  I had felt weak all my life, not just because of my sickness, but just that nobody cared for me. Like I said before, I was a nobody.

All of a sudden I felt different. Jesus cared for me even though I was a woman, even though I was sick, even though I was probably the least important person in the crowd. I had never felt anything like this before.

What do you think he meant when he said he felt power had gone out of him?

Well that was what was so amazing. The power had come to me. I felt straight away that I had been healed physically, but having felt like nobody cared for me all my life, there was something else that was even more important. The power that came from Jesus all of a sudden gave me a sense of being loved, of being needed, of being a somebody for the first time in my life.

You were empowered by Jesus to be the person you were meant to be?

Absolutely. For the first time in my life I felt that I had a purpose in life, a reason to live, and somebody cared. I would recommend Jesus to anyone.

Thanks so much for telling your story.

You can read the story in the Bible for yourself at Matthew 9:20-21; Mark 5: 24-37; Luke 8:43-48

I had a birthday this year. I’m not letting on, but it was a big one. One with a zero. Hitting those milestones in life seems to make you want to pause for a moment and consider where you’ve come from. It’s a time to look back on life.

Sometimes when we look back there are regrets and disappointments. But I reckon there’s real value in looking back and asking the question, what have been the building blocks in my life.

legoA new generation of children have been inspired by Lego building blocks with the release early this year of the Lego movie. But surprising as it may seem Lego blocks have been around since 1949. There’s not too many of us who haven’t played with lego blocks at some stage.

When you play with lego blocks you know that as they clip into each other the strength of what you’re building increases. Just putting them side by side isn’t much value. But clipping them together produces something that is creative and strong.

 

As you look back on your life what sort of building blocks have you contributed and how have they clipped together? Relationships are the key building blocks and it’s good to look back and see how you have contributed to the life of someone else, and perhaps helped to establish new relationships.

We’ve all made mistakes in the past, but instead of looking back with regret think about the building blocks that you have contributed to in the past. And give thanks for those people who you have known and the relationships shared.

But don’t stop there. No matter how old you are, there’s still time to put new building blocks together. Here are some people who I’ve heard about who began putting building blocks together late in life. The Earl of Halsburg was 90 when he began preparing a 20-volume revision of English Law. Galileo made his greatest discovery when he was 73. At 69 Hudson Taylor was still vigorously at work as a missionary opening up new territories in IndoChina.

In our youth the building blocks that are important to us are those that help us to grow as individuals. We establish families and careers, we learn new skills, and we travel and explore and add to our knowledge and wisdom.

But late in life it’s possible that people will say, oh I’m too old. There’s not much that I can do now. I’d like to encourage those who are older to think about how they can build into the lives of others and particularly children and young people.

As you share your experiences and wisdom you’re making a contribution to the building blocks of those with whom you have shared.

Getting older can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to ask how you can contribute to the lives of others. God wouldn’t have allowed you to stay on this earth if he didn’t have something worthwhile for you to accomplish.

Find it and start building.