What stops you being with God forever?

Here’s a challenge from Outreach Media.

I used to smoke a lot of marijuana. But the first time I got stoned after becoming a Christian I felt embarrassed in God’s presence. I discovered that dope made it hard for me to control silly thoughts and treat God with reverence. It was awkward and I felt ashamed. So I stopped smoking marijuana and haven’t touched it since. That was thirty-five years ago.

When I stopped smoking dope I gave up something from this world so I could be sure of having life in the age to come. You might think it was no loss. And besides, Christians should obey the law anyway. Well, to that I say, ‘Yes, we should obey the law’ (and I would have acted on that I’m sure), but as for ‘no loss’? Well, that’s simplistic. People smoke dope because they have interesting experiences. I certainly felt a sense of loss in giving it up.

I think I was living out what Jesus meant when He said, “what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”

This world offers all kinds of experiences. Many of them are connected to wealth and power. So was Jesus speaking against money and power? Was He saying only the destitute and feeble can ever know God and win eternal life? No. It’s not wrong to own money or possessions nor have power over others. History records many emperors, kings, politicians and public servants who have been devoted to God.

Jesus’s point is that there’s nothing in this life worth having … if the having of it… means you can’t worship God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. I couldn’t do that smoking dope.

This experience of choosing God over something in the world has continued. In the early years of my working life there were situations where I could have cheated and deceived people for financial gain. Indeed, my stubborn refusal was a frustration to an early employer.

As the years have rolled on, the challenges have changed. These days they’re more likely to be internal. For example, with a particular decision I need to make sure I’m not putting personal pleasure ahead of the needs of others.

So how is Jesus challenging you? Are you being honest with yourself… and God? Have you prayed? Is there something you need to give up so that you can have God for all eternity? If there is, then take action.

Prayer: Dear God, give me a fierce honesty to make sure nothing in this world keeps me from being with you forever.

Bible verse: Mark 8:36 Jesus: “what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

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Jesus gives life to the full

There are so many wonderful things in life. The joy of love, family, satisfaction in hard work, the thrill of the race, or the game, admiring the astonishing beauty of nature, the prospect of a new adventure. It is truly a remarkable world.

Yet in all of these things, there’s always a blemish. And the blemish lies in us and in each thing we experience. For example our own cynicism and doubts prevent us properly enjoying goodness in love and work and family. And, as for the objects of our joy and desire – they always let us down in some measure. So, families fracture and fall out. Children forget their parents and live selfish lives. We chase a project with all our energy only to find it wasn’t worth the chasing.

In every part of life there’s always dissatisfaction. Any number of things can intervene to undermine success… from accidents, to mismanagement, to petty politics, injustice, corruption… even our own boredom, or doubts, or distractions.

The greatest enemy to fulfillment in this life is the knowledge that death awaits. It means that whatever we pursue is futile. Nothing can escape it… even the material universe. Everything must pass away.

If only there were a thread of hope dangling down for us from eternity. In the song, ‘Into my arms’, Nick Cave, the Australian songwriter, speaks of an, ‘interventionist God’ who might prevent his beloved from being harmed. Yet he can’t bring himself to believe that such a good God might exist.

But such a good God does exist and the Bible describes His character and ‘interventions’ in human history in great detail. As creator of the world He made us so that we might relate to Him closely. But since creation we’ve resisted this purpose. Yet no matter how hard we resist, He still loves us and wants us to be with Him. The Bible says that God has ‘planted eternity in the human heart’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Clearly, He meant us to spend it with Him.

When our purpose is eternity with God. How did we ever think we could find it in movies or architecture or holidays or skin cream? Whatever we do apart from God is doomed and destined for disgruntlement.

So give way. Give yourself to God’s ambassador, Jesus Christ, whose mighty intervention on your behalf at the cross means you can have life with God forever. Accept Jesus and the immortal words He offers all people.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  

Prayer: Dear God, I pray that I may have life to the full with You through Jesus.

Bible verse: John 10:10 Jesus: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

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Northern beaches coastal walk

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Saturday 10 August 2019

Explore the headlands from Newport to Barrenjoey. Coastal landscape – cliffs and beaches. Transport (mini bus) available from North Ryde (8.45am) and Chatswood (9.00am). Return by 4pm.

Leader : George Hawke 0422 659 589

Grade : Medium (8 km)

Sydney Christian Bushwalkers

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Regular praise and thanksgiving

Kids Camp starts in the Blue Mountains next Sunday. One of the stories that will be told there is the healing of Namaan in 2 Kings 5. Namaan was a commander in the Syrian army who was healed of an incurable skin disease like leprosy when he followed instructions given by the prophet Elisha. It’s an illustration of the gospel (good news about Jesus). The disease is like sin (our main problem). The healing is like having one’s sin forgiven and peace with God. Namaan received God’s blessing even though he was a Gentile and not an Israelite. He changed from being an enemy of Israel to worshipping their God. The good news about Jesus is that sinners can have their sins forgiven and live forever with God.

It’s interesting to see Namaan’s response to being healed. The Bible says,
Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God [Elisha]. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant” (2 Sam. 5:15NIV).

Namaan acknowledged the one true God. And offered Elisha a gift that he refuses.
Elisha didn’t want to accept payment for what God had done. Also, it illustrates that salvation is free. Then Namaan asked for some soil from Israel that he could take back to Syria to use when he sacrificed to the God of Israel. In ancient times each nation had their own gods and maybe it was thought that a deity could be worshipped only on the soil of the nation to which it was bound. Or maybe the soil was used to make an earthen altar as the Israelites were commanded (Ex. 20:24). Anyhow, it showed his allegiance to the God of Israel.

After he was healed, Naaman changed from worshipping idols to worshipping the true God. He offered thanks and praise to the God who delivered him from a major problem.
Namaan was grateful and thankful. Do we as believers regularly thank and praise God for delivering us from the penalty of our sin?

There are other examples in the New Testament of Gentiles (non-Jews) praising God. When Jesus healed ten lepers, one returned “praising God on a loud voice” (Lk. 17:15-16). He was a Samaritan. And Cornelius and his family praised God after they believed in Peter’s message about the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 10:34-46).

Like Namaan’s sacrifices to the God of Israel, believers are to offer thanks and praise for all that God has done for them through Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us [believers] continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips [words] that openly profess His name” (Heb. 13:15). And believers are to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20) and “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:18). Do we praise God regularly, or only occasionally? It’s a personal sacrifice to praise God in difficult times. Paul and Silas praised God when they were imprisoned (Acts 16:23-25). Their praise wasn’t limited by their circumstances. Do we praise God when we don’t feel like praising Him?

George Hawke

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Sin is not as much fun as you think

June-19_Sin-NotAsMuchFun_JPG 400pxWhy do we sin? Because it’s a chore – of course not! Actually, we do the wrong thing because it’s fun, satisfying or seems too difficult to resist. Why would we bother if it weren’t any of those things? Lowering the car window and letting rip at the stupid person blocking our way… how good did that feel? Revealing that choice morsel of information … everyone in the office deserves to know what happened! Mostly, our sin reveals a lot about the kind of person we really are.

Some years back a newspaper article named seven high profile males (mostly politicians) found to be adulterers. Collectively they had fathered 24 children. The article pondered the damage caused to those 24 lives and the sad ending to public careers.

Why did those men behave so destructively? It’s tempting to excuse their actions by finding fault with sexless or unsatisfying marriages. But let’s not forget the ‘fun’ part. They gave in to what the Bible calls ‘the fleeting pleasures of sin’ (Hebrews 11:25). And even if their marriages were rocky and difficult, was adultery the solution? Had they worked hard, with counsellors, to make their marriages work? Unlikely. But now there was a social stigma to be borne. And not just by them. Wives and children are always caught up as well. Life after sin can be an eternity of regret.

There’s another more important answer to the question, ‘Why do we sin?’ And it’s this. We haven’t taught ourselves to hate what is evil. Are we feeling downcast about sin because we’ve been caught out? There needs to be a better reason. We need to hate evil because it’s evil. And we need to care about pleasing God. If that’s our mindset then, when temptation presents, we’ll feel alarmed, even nauseous at the prospect of betraying God.

There’s a letter in the Bible written by the missionary, Paul of Tarsus to Christians in the city of Rome. It contains a great challenge.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2).

A little later on in his letter Paul writes:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong [evil]. Hold tightly to what is good (Romans 12:9).

None of us have the strength to do this perfectly. We need God’s help. Let’s pray to Him about this.

Prayer: Dear God, give me the strength to say, ‘No’ to temptation so that I can honour you and protect both myself and those around me.

Bible verse: Romans 12:9 “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong [evil]. Hold tightly to what is good“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

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5 Lands Walk

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Walk with Sydney Christian Bushwalkers on 15 June 2019

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Don’t let Christians put you off Jesus

Don't let Chrsitians put you off JesusSuppose there’s a man in an Australian country town with a history of shady business practices and fraudulent dealings. He also happens to be a regular church-goer.

Many people where he lives know the man to be shonky and would say they’ve been ‘ripped off’ as would people in other parts of Australia. What’s terrible is that some people where the man lives say, ‘If that man is a Christian, then I don’t want any part of Christianity’. And, at one level, their reaction is understandable.

The story raises questions about what it means to be a genuine Christian and what churches and other Christians should do when people say they are Christian but their actions clearly aren’t. You can imagine that the answers aren’t always easy.

Certainly the Bible says that those people whose lives are grossly hypocritical and who refuse to change ought to be excluded from church. But what if they keep calling themselves Christian in the community? Or they just move to another church and start again?

Or what if a church or a whole movement of people begin to do things in the name of Jesus that are just plainly at odds with the Bible? History is full of appalling things done in the name of Jesus. Some are well known: the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, people burning each other at stakes. Thankfully, it’s simply not possible to justify these kinds of things from the Bible.

So where does the problem lie? Not with God. The very reason Jesus came to earth was because we’ve got a major issue. It’s called sin. And sin is in every person. We all think, say and do things that we should rightly be ashamed of.

Jesus said this about His coming into the world: God’s light [Jesus] came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil (John 3:19).

What we mustn’t do is use the bad example of some ‘Christians’ as an excuse for not worshipping Jesus and coming into the light ourselves. That’s because the only people who can join the Christian movement are sinners willing to repent. So any person in church will always be a moral failure. Including you!

So yes, Christians should be people who try to live changed lives full of joy and good deeds. All of them will struggle in doing this. And yes, occasionally you’ll find some that seem to be really just pretending. But don’t let Christians put you off Jesus.

Bible verse: John 3:19 “God’s light [Jesus] came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.”

Prayer: Dear God, please help me to leave behind evil works and worship you in the light.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

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Figure eight pools, Royal National Park


Walk with Sydney Christian Bushwalkers on 18 May 2019

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Take a closer look at Easter

April-19_TakeACloserLookAtEaster_JPG 400pxIf we took a closer look at Easter, what would we find – a chocolate fantasy or important history?

In the 8th Century, the English monk, Bede, spoke of how the name of the pagan goddess ‘Eostre’ was used for the ‘Easter month’. Bede’s words have long been seen as proof that Christians simply replaced existing cultural rituals with their own. But the problem is that there isn’t much hard evidence for the English Goddess ‘Eostre’ or her Spring pagan festival. However, there’s lots of evidence that Christians throughout Europe, from the medieval period onward, used eggs and rabbits as symbols of new life.

As for the chocolate versions, well Joseph Fry of Bristol made the first chocolate Easter egg in 1873. Ever since then Easter has been very chocolaty and run, almost entirely by the major supermarkets.

If you keep looking closely at Easter though, you’ll see that Christians all over the world have something more exciting than a weekend chocolate coma to celebrate. If you look really closely then you’ll see that, from the earliest times, Christians wanted an annual celebration at the time of the Jewish feast called ‘Passover’ (usually in April) because that’s when Jesus was executed.

But why would Christians celebrate the execution of a man? Because, paradoxically, Jesus’s death means life! Jesus is God’s son, sent to earth to point us back to Him… sent to live as an example… sent to offer His life so that our sin might be cancelled.

Yet Christians don’t just focus on Jesus’s death. The climax of the Easter story comes two days after Good Friday and Jesus’s execution. On the third day Jesus was resurrected from death. His tomb, which had been sealed, was now empty. Since then, people everywhere have had reason to hope because, if Jesus can be resurrected, then so can we.

There’s an account in the Bible of a man called Paul who was opposed to Christians and Jesus. But Paul became both a believer and a Christian leader. Here’s a small part of a letter he wrote to Greek Christians in the city of Corinth.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

So, this Easter – as you spike your blood sugar on the finest cocoa confections, remember why Easter is so sweet. Remember the hope that Jesus has given you and thank Him.

Bible verse: 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for chocolate. But thank you much more for the gift of Jesus and the new life He brings.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

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We all need forgiveness

No matter how interested you are in cricket, it’s Australia’s national game. Indeed, when he was Prime Minister, John Howard, reckoned he had the second most important job in the nation after the Australian cricket captain. If that’s true, then a year ago, in March, we had a crisis of national leadership when our nation’s captain, vice captain and another player were caught tampering with the ball.

One year later, on March 29, 2019, the most severe bans ever handed down by Cricket Australia for on field behaviour will come to an end. After a year’s forced absence, former captain, Steve Smith, and former vice captain, David Warner will once more be eligible to play for Australia, New South Wales and their Big Bash teams.

When the ball tampering was discovered the almost universal response from media commentators and the general public was that the punishment needed to be significant. One online poll with over 45,000 responses had 91% saying that Smith should lose the captaincy for good.

All of this shows that most Australians not only don’t believe in winning by any means, but they also do believe in honesty and justice. And they want the consequences of justice applied equally – even if it means losing international competitions because our best players are absent through penalty.

However, if we want justice applied equally to others then we need to be willing to have it applied equally to ourselves as well. And that’s going to be tough. Because if we’re honest we’ll need to admit that we’ve all done things that deserve punishment.

And if we’re brutally honest… we’ll acknowledge that the one person we absolutely must talk to about our wrongdoing is God. After all, He’s our maker. Ultimately, we’re going to have to answer to Him. In the Bible, God makes it clear that, ‘everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard’.

God’s standards are much higher than ours. His standard is perfection. Which means He cannot tolerate evil and will not allow it into heaven with Him.

The good news though, is that if we front up to God now about our failings God is willing to offer an amnesty for the penalty we deserve. Instead of punishing us God promises that our penalty has been dealt with by Jesus at the cross. The Bible puts it this way

“Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God” (1Peter 3:18).

So, take the amnesty. Pray now.

Bible verse: Romans 3:23, “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus to take my penalty on Himself at the cross. Please help me to live with you as my Lord.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

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