Forgiveness – Easier said than done

Forgiveness - Easier said than doneForgiveness is hard. It is painful. It can be slow and gruelling. Yet there are no relationships in which forgiveness is not necessary.

The forgiveness the Bible speaks of is not turning a blind eye to the wrong committed against you, it is not pretending you are OK, it is not convincing yourself you deserved it or that the wrong doing wasn’t that big a deal. On the contrary, biblical forgiveness looks the offense in the eye, names it for what it is, acknowledges all its painful consequences, weeps over what has been done and lost, and in so doing says, “I love you still.”

If you are struggling to forgive someone you love, look to Jesus. He is not only the perfect example of the painful path of forgiveness, He is the one we need to be forgiven by.

In Matthew 26:28 Jesus, knowing He was soon to be nailed to a wooden cross, explains His willing sacrifice for the sake of others, “this is my blood [symbol of death], which confirms the covenant between God and His people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.

For Jesus, forgiveness means choosing a cruel undeserved death for the sake of the beloved wrong doer.

Jesus looks our sin in the eye, our disobedience, distrust, and disrespect for God, and says, “I’m not going to let this come between us.” He would rather absorb the horrific consequences of our sin Himself than be separated from us forever. On the cross we see how costly forgiveness is and how much we all need it.

Have you asked God to forgive you? He is willing and waiting.

Bible verse: Matthew 26:28 this is my [Jesus’] blood [symbol of death], which confirms the covenant between God and His people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many”.

Prayer: Dear God, Please forgive me. Please help me to see the great price you paid to bring me forgiveness. Please help me in the painful task of forgiving others.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2021

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Christian martyrs

World Watch List 2021: the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. The top 5 are North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan.Millions of Christians are persecuted across the world today. Pastors are imprisoned or killed for proclaiming the gospel. Young people flee for their lives when their families discover they have converted to Christianity. Believers are beaten, tortured, pursued. They are falsely accused, threatened, abused, starved, maimed and harassed. Their homes and churches are burnt down, their Bibles confiscated, and their businesses destroyed. They are expelled from school, fired from their jobs and forced to meet in secret.

History and tradition say that the apostles (except for John) had violent deaths. Only two are mentioned in the Bible – Judas betrayed Jesus and hanged himself, while James the son of Zebedee was beheaded by king Herod (Mt. 10:2; Acts 12:2). But it gives some details of the first Christian martyr (Stephen).

Jesus Christ and Stephen are two significant characters in the Bible. They have many similarities and some differences. Stephen lived in Jerusalem and was an active member of the early church who was godly and wise (Acts 6:3,5).

Some examples of the similarities of the two are as follows:
– Both preached to the Jews and performed miracles (Acts 6:8).
– Both influenced people; Jesus trained the apostles and Stephen’s testimony would have influenced Paul (Acts 22:20).
– Both were opposed by some of the Jews (Acts 6:9-10).
– Both were trialed in front of the Sanhedrin – the highest Jewish court of law (Mt. 26:59; Acts 6:12).
– Both were questioned by the Jewish high priest (Mt. 26:62-63; Acts 7:1).
– Both were accused of blasphemy – speaking against God (Mt. 26:65; Acts 6:11). Blaspheme is the opposite of praise.
– Both had false witnesses testify against them (Mt. 26:59-60; Acts 6:13).
– Both spoke on the destruction of the temple (Mt 26:61; Acts 6:14).
– Both spoke of the Son of man at the right hand of God (Mt. 26:64; Acts 7:56).
– Both faced their trial and death with boldness.
– Both were killed (martyred) outside the city (Heb. 13:12; Acts 7:58). Stephen probably died at Calvary. That’s where criminals were executed.
– Both forgave the sins of the persecutors and prayed for them (Lk. 23:34; Acts 7:60).
– And both called out, “Lord, receive my spirit.” (Lk. 23:46; Acts 7:59).

Some examples of the differences of the two are as follows:
– Jesus was crucified, whereas Stephen was stoned.
– Jesus prayed to God the Father, whereas Stephen prayed to Jesus Christ (Lk. 23:46; Acts 7:59-60).
– Stephen died because of the action of cruel men, whereas Jesus gave Himself up to die as a sacrifice for our sins.
– Christ’s death was followed by the start of the church due to the giving of the Holy Spirit; and Stephen’s death was followed by the spread of the church due to persecution (Acts 1:4-5; 8:1, 4; 11:19-21).
– Stephen’s body is still waiting to be resurrected, whereas Christ’s body was resurrected back to life on the third day after He died.
– And Stephen was a human being like us, whereas Jesus is the unique Son of God who is both human and divine. This is the difference that counts. Jesus was not an ordinary man.

The main point is that we can admire great Christians like Stephen or Paul, but like us they are just servants of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, Jesus is unique and on the cross He took the penalty for our sin.

Prayer

Our God and Father, we thank you for raising up men of great faith like Stephen. But most of all we thank you for Jesus Christ who was their Savior and is our Savior as well. We acknowledge that our sin separates us from yourself. We thank you for addressing that sin by sending Jesus to die in our place – to be our substitute as a vicarious sacrifice. Amen

G Hawke

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Is it time to start trusting God?

Is it time to start trusting God?He’s known you the longest!

Something bizarre was happening inside me. While I ate and slept and talked and went about life as usual, a tiny human was forming in my womb. A minuscule heart, tiny fingers, spec sized toenails, teeny lips were taking shape. I wasn’t directing what was happening. I didn’t make any conscious effort — “OK today we’re going to separate the left and right chambers of the heart … today we’re going to form eyelids.” The only way I knew what was happening inside me was by reading about it. I felt wonder at this most ordinary miracle taking place within my body. I felt humbled at how little control I had over this most significant life event.

I [God] knew you before I formed you in your mother’s wombJeremiah 1:5

Before I got to see my firstborn baby, before I knew he was a boy with dark hair, olive skin and a birthmark on his back, God knew him. The same is true for you. Even before your mother knew you, God knew you. He’s known you longer than anyone. He’s been there and seen it all. Your growth from a microscopic cell, your first steps, your fear of the dark, your excitement at Christmas, your sicknesses, your heartbreaks, your crushing disappointments. He’s known you and He’s loved you and He wants you to trust him.

I know it can be really hard to trust someone you can’t see. God knows that too. That’s part of the reason He came down to us in human form. When we see Jesus in the pages of the Bible we see God. We see He cares for the sick, feeds the hungry, feels compassion, forgives sinners, loves the outcast, hates corruption, keeps His promises … He is someone we can trust.

Why not pick up one of the biographies of Jesus in the Bible and get to know the God who has always known you?

Bible verse: Jeremiah 1:5 I [God] knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb”.

Prayer: Dear God, Open our eyes and hearts to know you as the all knowing, trustworthy God we see in Jesus.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2021

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Prayer during lockdown

Premier of NSW Gladys Berejiklian at daily 11am COVID-19 press conference We’re all going through a tough time with this lockdown. Parents will be home schooling for two more months. Travel is restricted. Our grandchildren on the central coast seem to be as far away as those in France. There are extra restrictions. People are isolated, which can increase anxiety, fear and depression. People are working from home. Many businesses must be struggling to survive with reduced cash flow. There is reduced family income. Some are unemployed. There is a reduction in some health services. But our needs are increased because of the stress. No visitors are allowed in hospitals and nursing homes. Other services are reduced. Churches can’t meet as usual. And households are spending extended time together without relief. It’s a bit like 1984 with government surveillance and propaganda. How do we get through such tough times? Is social media the answer? Can prayer help us trust God in times like this?

When Saul tied to kill David over an extended period of time, David prayed, and God protected him. Some of his prayers are in the book of Psalms. Nehemiah prayed – it’s mentioned in 8 verses in the book of Nehemiah. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned for preaching in Philippi, they were “praying and singing hymns to God” at midnight (Acts 16:25).

It’s clear in the Bible that God’s people pray. It’s mentioned in 367 verses in the NIV Bible (316 in ESV, 357 in CSB, 408 in NET, and 436 in NLT). And prayer is mentioned in 54 verses in Paul’s letters.

Why do we pray? Because it is commanded in the Bible. And Jesus and the apostles modelled prayer – they prayed regularly. There are five passages where Paul commanded Christians to pray.

Prayer commanded

  1. When Paul wrote to a young church that was being persecuted, he commanded them to fix their attitudes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Th. 5:17ESV). Or “Pray constantly” (CSB, NET). Or “Pray continually” (NIV). Or “Never stop praying” (NLT). It means, don’t give up praying. Always be willing and ready to pray. Pray regularly. Be persistent in prayer. Cultivate a sense of dependence on God.
  2. When he wrote about the behavior of Christians in the church, Paul commanded them, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12NIV). Or “be persistent in prayer” (CSB, NET). Or “Be constant in prayer” (ESV). Or “keep on praying” (NLT). Persevere in prayer. An effort is required to maintain the habit of prayer.
  3. When describing a Christian’s weapons for spiritual warfare, Paul commanded, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Eph. 6:18-20). Part of the armor of God in the spiritual battle is to pray with the help of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray when we are in a spiritual war. And pray for spiritual problems more than for physical ones. While Paul is in gaol for preaching the gospel, he asks for prayer to keep on preaching the gospel!
  4. When Paul addresses the everyday life of a Christian (their family, work, and witness), he includes their prayer life: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Col. 4:2-4). Be devoted to prayer like a tax collector is devoted to collecting taxes (Rom. 13:6). Be alert to the importance of prayer. Be grateful and thankful when we pray. Thank God for His providential care. While Paul is in gaol for preaching the gospel, he asks for prayer for God to open up opportunities to preach the gospel again!
  5. When Paul addresses how to deal with broken relationships, he includes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7ESV). Place the situation in God’s hands. Trust in His sovereignty. We can pray about anything. Once again, it’s with thanksgiving. Prayer is the way to alleviate worry. If we have given our problem to the Lord, we can have peace.

Discussion

Tough times are a test of our Christian faith. They are part of our spiritual battle. Prayer is one of the ways to get through difficult times. There are five principles about prayer in the passages we read from Paul:
– Always be ready to pray (in any time, and any situation).
– Don’t give up on prayer (that’s giving up on God).
– Hand your problems and worries to God in prayer (that’s sharing your concerns).
– Be grateful and thankful when we pray (remember all that God does for us).
– Pray for the spread of the gospel message (that’s the only lasting hope).

These are commands or imperatives. Prayer is not optional. Christians are commanded to pray. They are some of the commands given to Christians in the New Testament. The Israelites were given commands in the Old Testament, which was the law of Moses. They flourished when they obeyed, like when under Joshua they captured and settled in Canaan. But they suffered when they disobeyed, like when they were invaded and taken into exile by the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

Giving up on praying would be like not speaking to your spouse or others in your household. And if it was ongoing, it would be like being divorced or being estranged from your best friend. Or like having a permanent strict COVID lockdown.

So the Bible commands us to pray. God commands us to pray. Prayer taps into the power of God. It maintains our relationship with God. Prayer is an act of dependence on God for whatever we might be facing.

Summary

Prayer is mandatory for believers. In difficult times like lockdowns we should bring our needs to God in prayer. It is important to realize our dependence on God and express it through prayer. Only those who see the big picture, that God is at work even in our trying times, can suffer gladly (Rom. 5:3). Let’s start praying today!

G Hawke

Link to extended article on this topic: Why pray in trials and difficult times?

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Crown of thorns

Who’s been watching the Olympic games in Tokyo where athletes are striving to win a gold medal? In the ancient games the winner received a laurel wreath to place on their head. The wreath was a symbol of victory. The Greek god Apollo wore such a wreath. And Julius Caesar wore a wreath to show his power. So, the laurel wreath was an ancient symbol of victory and success.

"The man of sorrows" by Aelbert Bouts 1525When the soldiers taunted and mocked Jesus, they put a crown of thorns on His head and knelt before Him saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” (Mt. 27:29; Mk., 15:17; Jn. 19:2, 5NIV). The fake “royal crown” was painful. And it was all humiliating. What a contrast to a wreath of victory and success! And to the celebration of an Olympic medal! But we know that Christ’s humiliation and death was actually a victory and success. How ironic!

If you were a Jew at that time who knew the Old Testament, the thorns of the crown might have reminded you of three things:
– Thorns and weeds were one of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin (Gen. 3:18). These made the cultivation of crops “painful toil” and hard work that resulted in “sweat”. So, thorns and weeds are a symbol of God’s judgment of sin.
– Proverbs says that lazy farmers will have thorns in their fields (Prov. 24:30-31). So thorns and weeds are symbols of neglect and laziness.
– Because of Israel’s idolatry and rebellion against God, the prophets warned that they would be judged by God when they would be invaded by their enemies and their farms would be turned into wasteland with thorns and weeds (Isa. 5:6; 7:23-25; 32:13; Jer. 12:13; Hos. 2:12). So, once again, thorns and weeds are associated with God’s judgment of sin.

And we still have thorns today. Fortunately, I can still do volunteer gardening. I have a “COVID-19 essential worker authorization” letter. Last Monday I pruned a wild citrus tree that had large thorns. And the week before I pruned a bougainvillea vine with lots of thorns. These were tedious jobs as we had to cut them into small pieces and put them in a green bin instead of tying them into bundles for the Council to collect. Years ago I pruned a bougainvillea on a farm that was taller than the house. And my shirt and trousers got ripped so much I had to throw them out!

Because we have thorns today, we are still suffering the consequences of our sin. There is still sin in the form of idolatry and rebellion against God. People are devoted to many false gods. They neglect and are apathetic towards the true God. The main impact of our sin is that we are separated from God and deserve punishment in hell.

But the Bible says, “But we … see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).

Jesus suffered and died for everyone. He took our hell so that we might share His heaven. But because of Christ’s sacrifice we can be reconciled with God and look forward to being with Him forever. He took the penalty for our sin. There will be no thorns or weeds in heaven!

The humiliation (including the crown of thorns) was part of Christ’s suffering for sin. That’s why we offer thanks and praise for all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

Prayer

Our God, we acknowledge that the sin of humanity is as prevalent as the thorns and weeds in our gardens, fields and landscape. We thank you for addressing that sin at the cross. The humiliation and death of Christ was a victory and success because it paid the penalty for our sin.

So at the Lord’s Supper we take the bread and the wine with thankfulness for your great love and provision shown through Jesus. They are symbols of sustenance – food and drink. Father, we thank you for sustaining us in more ways than the physical.
In Jesus name.
Amen.

George Hawke

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At life’s crossroads? Let Jesus give you directions

At life's crossroads? Let Jesus give you directionsLife’s road is rarely straight. We often find ourselves in places we didn’t expect or want. How are you going with the uncertainty of life at the moment? Do you feel like you’re standing at a crossroads and not sure which direction to take? There are so many unknowns and what ifs. However, we don’t have to step into the uncertainty alone.

When Jesus was facing His violent crucifixion, He took the time to explain to His followers that although they couldn’t go with Him immediately they would one day be reunited with Him in His eternal kingdom. One candid follower verbalised his concern,

“Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’” (John 14:5-6).

If we trust in Jesus, not only does He show us the way, He is the way. He makes the way for us to walk safely to the ultimate destination — eternal peace and glory with God. Wherever we’re heading, whatever we’re seeking on this earth, is not worth comparing to where Jesus can take us. Life’s road will always have bumps and sharp turns we aren’t expecting and don’t want but when we trust in Jesus we can be confident in where we’re going.

Bible verse: John 14:5-6 “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’”.

Prayer: Dear Lord, Please help me to trust Jesus is the way. May I let Jesus direct me in this life and take me safely to the next life.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2021

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Servant leadership

Servant leadership means nurturing and shepherdingThere are two types of leadership: Leader first (self-serving leadership), and servant first (servant leadership).

Jesus was an example of servant first leadership. He said:
“You [His disciples] know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:42-45).

And we encourage servant first leadership at church. This means nurturing and shepherding rather than command and control.

The paradoxes of servant leadership
By Philip Clark Brewer

Strong enough to be weak
Successful enough to fail
Busy enough to make time
Wise enough to say “I don’t know”
Serious enough to laugh
Rich enough to be poor
Right enough to say “I’m wrong”
Compassionate enough to discipline
Mature enough to be childlike
Important enough to be last
Planned enough to be spontaneous
Controlled enough to be flexible
Free enough to endure captivity
Knowledgeable enough to ask questions
Loving enough to be angry
Great enough to be anonymous
Responsible enough to play
Assured enough to be rejected
Victorious enough to lose
Industrious enough to relax
Leading enough to serve

G Mathew

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Sustenance through sacrifice

Shelter prepared for the Festival of SheltersThree times a year Israelite families travelled to the temple in Jerusalem for a religious festival (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:23-24; Dt. 16:16).  The first of these was the Passover in spring, when they remembered how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. The second was the Harvest Festival in summer (Ex. 23:16), when they thanked God for providing an abundant wheat harvest in Canaan. And the third was the Festival (or feast) of Shelters (or tabernacles) in autumn when they remembered God’s care and provision during the 40-year exodus journey. Continue reading

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Jesus: a 4-letter word or the name above all names?

Jesus: a 4-letter word or the name above all names?What do you do in that flash of anger, shock or pain? When you’re driving and another car dangerously pulls out in front of you; when you kick your toe; when you hear bad news; it seems universally human to call out in exasperation. Jesus Christ is commonly used as an expletive in these times. However the Bible tells us, Jesus Christ, an empty swear word to so many, is actually the most honourable, worthy and precious name. Why?

Jesus chose to do what no other human could or would. For a start, although He is and always will be God, Jesus chose to become human. As a human, He experienced all the pain, weakness and suffering we do, but He didn’t succumb to temptation and selfishness like us. God as a human subjected Himself to the humiliation of a shameful and excruciating execution. God as a human took all the punishment for our wrongs so we could be reconciled to Him. And that is why Jesus Christ is the name above all names – the king of heaven and earth, worthy of our greatest respect and deepest gratitude.

“God elevated Him [Jesus Christ] to the place of highest honour and gave Him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord” Philippians 2:9-11

So in times of difficulty, fear, anger, exasperation, pain or shock please do call out the name Jesus, not as a swear word, but as the king of heaven and earth who is able to help you in any time of need.

Bible verse: Philippians 2:9-11 “God elevated Him [Jesus Christ] to the place of highest honour and gave Him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord”.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, Forgive me for not honouring you and and your name as you deserve. May my tongue call out your name in times of need. Help me to understand the humiliation you suffered for me and acknowledge that you are king of all.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2021

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Mount Banks, Blue Mountains

Saturday 14 August 2021

Climb Mount Banks and Rigby Hill for views of the Grose Valley. Transport (mini bus) available from North Ryde (8.15am) and Strathfield (8.30am). Return by 6pm.

Leader : George Hawke 0422 659 589

Grade : Medium (5-7 km)

Sydney Christian Bushwalkers

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