Talking About: Jesus

What does the world say?

In recent years our society has dissected Christianity from everyday life. Our culture says that Christianity is just another religion, and all religion is irrelevant. Religion has no effect on daily life and we are masters of our own destiny. Our culture may accept and adopt certain moral values from Christianity, yet it leaves behind the necessity of a relationship with God.

This means that our culture has particular things to say about Jesus, who is at the centre of the Christian movement. People in our secular culture generally hold one of two positions regarding Jesus.

The first secular view is that Jesus existed as a man, but was just a moral teacher, not God. Within this view, many hold that Jesus’ teachings are outdated and have run their course. This view might suggest that we should pick and choose the teachings of Jesus as they suit us in our current era.

The second secular view is that Jesus is only one of many paths to God. This view says that all religions relate to the same god(s) in different ways, and no one way is wrong. With this understanding, spirituality should be encouraged and everyone should foster their own beliefs that ring true for them.

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Finally, our culture is heavily influenced by pragmatic reasoning and analytical thought. It defines faith as being belief without evidence. Therefore, our secular culture often believes that faith in Jesus in accord with the bible is illogical. Modern reasoning understands the bible to be untrustworthy.

What does the Bible say?

The bible is wholly trustworthy as it is the inspired Word of God. It is useful for teaching, correcting and training in the ways of the Lord. [2Tim 3:16].

From the time of the fall in Genesis to this very day, every culture has been an anti-Christian culture in one form or another. The claim that ‘Jesus is not God’ is not new, in fact, it’s thousands of years old. The bible is an historical account which teaches that Jesus was an historical person, who shared humanity with us [Hebrews 2:14].

Jesus himself claims to be God. [John 10:30]. Some at the time saw the validity of this claim (Peter), some were unsure (brother James), and some did not (Pharisees).

Jesus claimed that he was able to forgive a person’s sin that leads to death. He claimed that he could give eternal life for anyone who trusts and follows Him. These claims ultimately led to a public rejection of Jesus and his death on the cross.

Jesus doesn’t command blind faith, in fact, those who God commissioned to write down the history of Jesus encouraged their first century readers to investigate the claims for themselves. They listed many names of people who were still alive at the time of writing.

Finally, the bible is explicit when it comes to Jesus’ desire to have a relationship with his people. Jesus showed his followers that to be in a relationship with him two things need to happen. The first, is the acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The second, is to reject sin by setting out to follow his teachings.

What can we say?

The historical evidence of Jesus existing in the first century is inexcusable. There is little doubt amongst mainstream scholars that Jesus was a key historical figure.

The teachings of Jesus are just as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago, as they speak to the condition of the human heart which has not changed in all that time.

It’s often helpful to talk about our personal experiences as a Christian. If you’ve had a spectacular  conversion or witnessed a miraculous event, then other people will often be inclined to listen. You might mention how Jesus has changed your outlook on life, your values or behaviour.

You could also talk about how Jesus makes the most sense of your day to day life. Among other things Jesus explains what true love is, what right and wrong is, why there is suffering in this world, what happens when we die, how to love those who mistreat us. Remember, that even Jesus encountered both people who believed, and people who doubted and rejected him.  When we talk about our faith, we can expect the same responses.

We can tell people that they should investigate the claims of Jesus for themselves because it’s necessary to have an informed opinion about the man who has determined the last 2000 years of human history. We can show people that the most logical place to start that investigation is at the source of the claims, the Bible.

C.S. Lewis poses three possible outcomes of such an investigation. Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic or is indeed the Lord. Lewis then asks: Is it plausible that those who personally knew him would die for his cause? Is it plausible, that a liar or lunatic would heavily influence western culture for almost 2000 years? In the eyes of Lewis, the only logical answer is that Jesus is Lord.

For great resources on this topic you can direct people to an online resource page such as:

http://thinklifethinkjesus.org/

 

Talking About The Bible

At our church we are about to release a series we are calling ‘Neighbour 2 Neighbour’. It’s encouraging and equipping members to talk about Jesus to the people the encounter during their day.

Here’s one of the first we’ve put together. What do you think?

What does the world say about the Bible?

Our secular culture does not hold much regard for God’s Word. There are many who would claim that the Bible is outdated, inaccurate, irrelevant, self-contradicting, and even fictional, and that it cannot be supported by logic.

In Western cultures, there has been a rise in a more overt atheism, mobilised to attack the Christian message in many areas, and most namely, the Scriptures. This influence has permeated popular culture. Along with a general decrease in knowledge of the Bible (compared with ages past), modern Australians tend to be suspicious of what the Bible has to say – even to the point of thinking the values it promotes are harmful to the Australian way of life.

What does the Bible say about itself?

The Bible claims to be God’s Word [2 Timothy 3:16]. It is living and active, able to speak to our hearts and change us [Hebrews 4:12]. It is written so that you may believe in Jesus and have life in Him [John 20:31].

The Bible points us to Jesus

Jesus is the fullest revelation of God [Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:1-3]. In Jesus, we see the Word who became one of us, full of grace and truth [John 1:1-18]. Jesus explained that the Old Testament (made up of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms) pointed to and was fulfilled in Him [Luke 24:27,44]. In Jesus, we see all God’s promises finding their fulfilment [2 Corinthians 1:20].

The Bible claims to be historical

The Old Testament is an historical document containing narrative, cultural poetry, songs, wisdom for life, dialogue with God, and teachings about life with God, and prophecy; including promises about the coming Messiah and His age to come.

The New Testament Gospels claim to be historical biographies of Jesus’ life and ministry. For example, Luke’s opening statement demonstrates the carefulness and accuracy he used in researching who Jesus is and what He did [Luke 1:1-4]. The Gospels each record details about geography, political situations, and architectural descriptions that have been corroborated by centuries of archaeology and historical investigation. The rest of the New Testament documents likewise record real people, places, and events that mean we can read them with great historical confidence.

The Bible is understood by the Holy Spirit

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to all who believe, and it is only through Him that we may truly know and understand the truth [John 14:17]. The Holy Spirit reveals the truth through the Bible. Even though the Bible makes the most sense of our human experience, it requires the Holy Spirit to overcome the prejudice of human sinfulness that rejects God’s Word.

What can we say about the Bible?

The Bible is Historically Reliable.

There are a variety of archaeological, geographical, and sociological details found in the Bible that have been found to be both accurate and verifiable even today. Especially concerning the New Testament, there are parallel accounts from Roman and Jewish historians that all help to confirm the reliability of details found in the Scriptures.

Discoveries over the past century have contributed enormously in demonstrating its reliability and accuracy in its preservation. This has been seen particularly in the comparison with the Old Testament documents and the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered in a cave at Qumran in 1947).

The sheer quantity of fulfilled prophecy within the Bible’s pages speak for the reliability of God’s Word itself. God’s promises can be trusted, and His faithfulness is demonstrated page after page.

While we don’t have the original manuscripts that were directly inspired by God, we do have so many historically verifiable copies, that we can have total confidence that what we have today accurately reflects those original manuscripts. In fact, the authenticity of ancient biblical manuscripts surpasses all other ancient literature. The Bible transcends culture and language in such a way that it can be faithfully translated into any language with meaning and accuracy.

Australians desperately need the Bible!

If God really has revealed himself in such a way, then we ought to pay attention to it! Without this knowledge of God, we will never truly understand ourselves. We may be able to see the majesty and power of God through the created world, but we will never know God personally nor his redemption for us apart from His self-revelation in the Bible. Our deepest need is to know our Creator and Redeemer.

Life according to…

Do you compare, compete or both? Do you look upwards or downwards? Do you look upwards from yourself toward people better than yourself, wishing that you had more, could achieve more, were more? Or maybe you look downwards toward those less fortunate than yourself thinking that your better than others. Your thought might be ‘at least I’m not like them’.

At the end of the day we all do it. We all compare and compete. Without over emphasising gender roles, men typically compete, and women typically compare. Men might compete in who is stronger, faster, wealthier. And women might compare physical looks, clothes, families. Of course, gender roles are never absolute… men will compare and likewise women  will compete.

And while gauging where we’re at in life isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, when we base our identity on these competitions and comparisons that we can become unstuck. We can fall into the trap of trying to progress through life by comparing and competing. You need a promotion at work in order to maintain your social status. Or upgrading your boyfriend for a more advanced model will help you improve your own popularity. What about getting a bigger house, or another investment property in order that your social status will increase with your friends. It’s almost like a role playing game where you have to grind and farm enough points to get to the next level. And if you don’t have the best level and stats then you might as well not even play. #shoutout to all the WoW and GW2 gamers. At the end of the day if your doing better than those around you, than life is good. However, if you’re falling behind and everyone else is kicking the goals, then life is bad. We can become slaves to this way of thinking. In fact, chances are you already are, or at least have been in the past.

The real danger for those of us who are Christians, is to start measuring our faith against those around us. When we start to compare our blessings with those around us it becomes a pretty shaky roller coaster ride that isn’t going to end well. ‘God answers his prayers, he must be a better Christian that I am.’ Or. ‘His children are always perfectly behaved, he must be a more godly parent’. Or ‘His church has more newcomers than mine does’. etc.

The Apostle Paul talks about two ways the people generally identify with the world. He uses two weird words. Flesh & Spirit. People are either living according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

Romans 8:5

The first, flesh, is all about people who chase things of this world. They go to all lengths to keep up with the Jones’s. Wear the best clothes, drive the best cars, have the best houses with the best swimming pools. They go to church to keep up appearances, they work hard to have more and more money, and they do all of these things to earn a better status. They indulge in food and drink. They chase whatever makes them feel good, incessantly pursuing self-glorification. At the end of the day, these people, choose to please themselves despite the cost.

The second way to live is according to the Spirit. These people chose to forgo fleshy indulgences and live a life that is selfless and aims to be altruistic (impossible be that it may). To live according to the Spirit means that the Spirit of God dwells within the person and directs them in a right way of living. These people are giving and caring and set their minds on the things that God considers important.

When all is stripped away, those who live according to the flesh are comparing and competing for the next ladder rung on the climb to glory. But those who live according to the Spirit find themselves ‘in Christ’ (Romans 8:1). And when one is in Christ they partake in His glory. Comparing and competing for glory becomes a nonsensical activity because when compared to the glory that comes with being in God the Son, all our own achievements pale in comparison.

Romans 8 is an outstanding scripture to reflect on in the light of comparing and competing as the world does opposed to living in step with the Spirit. Stop, and think about what the Apostle Paul might mean by the phrase ‘The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.’ (Romans 8:7)

You’ve probably heard the popular song, In Christ Alone, but maybe take a moment to listen to is again, and think about what it means to be In Christ Alone. What will it look like in your life to forsake the temptation to compare and compete in the flesh, so that you can truly be In Christ Alone.

The reason I’m a Christian…

This is why I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

First, I look outside of myself, into the world, and see absolute wonder. I see Earth, that appears to be in a constant state of change. I see the complexity of the universe. Stars. Galaxies. Other earth-like planets. I look and see the intricate nature of emotion. I see corruption. Hate and anger. Violence. Inequality. I see brokenness. Pain and sorrow. But I also see compassion, love and forgiveness. I see charity and selflessness. I get the sense that there is something mysterious about the universe. Something that the human mind can’t explain. When I look outside of myself I feel like something isn’t ‘right’ with the world that I live in. The way I see it, there is something wrong. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

Then, I look inside of myself, into who I am, and see something that has a purpose. I don’t consider myself to be just a bunch of particles gathered together without direction. I feel like I can achieve things. Achievements that are significant, not just to me, but to the world. I feel like I can add value to other people’s lives. And I also feel like I have the power to detract value from other people’s lives. I can sometimes be a weapon, that is something that can cause harm. I can hurt other people. I can destroy the wonderful nature around me. I see inside of myself something that is not quite right, like the world around me there is something wrong. Sometimes I am happy. Excited. Enthusiastic. And Filled with hope. Other times I am sad. Lonely. Lethargic. And feel hopeless. I get the sense that I am supposed to be better than I am. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

I strive to be a better me. But in all my striving I can never achieve a standard of humanness that satisfies me. What am I comparing myself to? There must be something greater than me. There must be something greater than the world that I live in. If there is not, there is no purpose to life. How can I, and my world, be the greatest thing on offer? It is beautiful. And I really do enjoy my life. But no matter how much joy I experience, I am always left craving more. I have an insatiable appetite for more. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

In search for more, I could turn to science and knowledge. I would do well to do so as it offers my many answers to my questions. The vast universe. The complexity of Earth. The intricate construction of the human body. But it does not answer my yearnings for ‘WHY?’ Why am I here? Why do I feel like I have purpose?

I could also turn to philosophy. The love of wisdom. I could reflect inwardly to such a deep level that I am confident even unto death that my soul is real. I could justify love and forgiveness. Hate and violence. Greed and corruption. I could even convince myself of an afterlife. Of divine powers. But philosophy does not answer the question of truth… What are the facts? How can one philosopher draw such different conclusions to another? Reflecting inwardly does not always reveal universal truths.

In the search for more I could turn to religion. If I have the sense of something more, than there are plenty of ‘extras’ available through the various religions. All regions have one thing in common. They all tell me that there is something wrong with the world. BAM. That first thing that really hits home. That’s how I felt before I even started my search.

And that’s where the similarities end, see, most religions tell me I have to do more… Chant. Pray. Meditate. Tithe. And be charitable. They say that if I do more, I will ‘be more’. Some religions are focused on reaching external gods. Others are focused on reaching internal perfection. Yet, I already feel that the more I strive to do, the further I am from achieving my own standard. Let alone the standard of ‘the more’ that I seek.

Then I heard about Jesus. I had grown up listening to people talk about him. He makes sense of my world. We are supposed to marvel at the complexities of our universe. We are supposed to feel the full spectrum of emotion. People will sacrifice themselves for their friends in ultimate acts of love, and at other times allow others to die in spiteful and vindictive ways. Jesus explains greed and corruption. He understands my longing for more.

Jesus’ teachings are found in the Bible. Every word on every page makes sense of me and my world. There is supposed to be death in my world. Pain and sorrow are supposed to be present in our lives. To suggest that I can work my way towards perfection is unrealistic. It is opposed to science, and philosophy. Jesus makes the most sense of me. He makes sense of the way I feel. Jesus does not contradict science and philosophy, he perfects them. He answers the questions that they cannot.

Jesus offers a solution to the problems that I experience with myself and those that I see in the world. A solution that I find more appropriate than any other religion. All the other religions that the world has to offer say that I can achieve it on my own. But Jesus says, I cannot, that resonates with me. That is my experience. In all my striving, I am unable to fix these problems myself, so Jesus offers to fix them for me.

In response to his offer, I choose to follow his teachings. I am here to serve Jesus. I was created to bring glory to him. That is my purpose. The bible teaches countless ways that I can do this. But all of his commands boil down to this… I should love Him with all my heart, soul and mind. In addition I should love the people around me in a similar way, treating them as I would like to be treated. Everything the bible teaches hangs on this command. Yet, Jesus makes it clear that my perfection is not measured by how well I achieve this command. My work is in response to his work. In this simple fact, I am free to be the best human being I can, without fear or condemnation. I can be the best human I can, knowing that one day, in the future, I will be made perfect in the likeness of Jesus himself.

It is not what I can do, but what has been done on my behalf. Jesus makes most sense of my world and that is why I choose to follow him.

The more know about Jesus, the more sense he makes of myself, and the world that I live in. I would wager that it would be true for you as well. You should find a bible… find the book of Luke within it, and start reading about the most sensible thing this world has to offer. Good Luck.

The White Western Perspective on Masculinity

I was at a men’s forum this week, and was thoroughly challenged to think about the white, western perspective on masculinity and the extended period of adolescence into adult years. My thoughts are clearly rudimentary and I’d love to hear yours. Comment below.

In our current culture there are three imperative stages of life in manhood. Being born. Reaching puberty. And death. (You could argue that menopause is a fourth for women). The result, is a large group of adolescence aged ~30-70. An example given was Australian personality and sporting star: Sam Newman.

It was suggested that our culture is missing Rites of Passage into manhood. Well not entirely… the closest thing we have in Australia is ‘Schoolies Week’, but alcohol, drugs, sex and violence aren’t really challenging boys to be men. Thus, so far as maturity is concerned we are left in a constant state of neither being a child, nor an adult.

You might agree that we see this daily in our communities. Adults incapable of accepting responsibility. Parents burying themselves in financial debt because they want everything, and they want it now. Father’s who express sadness and futility by abusing against their families in temper-tantrum-like behaviour. Road users who use their vehicles as weapons and their hands as abusive communication devices because they feel that they are obviously more important than their neighbours. The list is endless, we could go on with any number of examples of where adults have failed to grow up.

In generations past, education was focused on learning about your parents’ life experience and replicating it, hopefully at some point extending it. Yet with the industrial revolution and the working class moving into factories, the father-son unit was split, and something had to be done with boys too young to work. Boys were sent to school to learn how to work in and manage factories. They were expected to graduate as men, but the system had failed. Academia does not equate to maturity. The point being, that adulthood was being delayed.

And now, according to our culture, it’s viewed that we can’t get an honourable job until we’ve completed 12 years of schooling, and 3 to 4 years of post-school training, either technical or academic. The point being, that adulthood is further being delayed.

It is a generalisation, but there are now several generations of Australian men who have avoided maturity. Now, for my Christian brothers and sisters, please don’t here me in the light of our good friend Mark Driscoll. I’m not calling for more machoism. I’m certainly not asking for more testosterone. I’m suggesting that what we need is to go back to the root what masculinity is. We need to embrace maturity and rediscover what it means for men in today’s culture.

At the forum this week it was discussed that youthful men typically take pride in their ‘maleness’. But as they become older, they tend to soften becoming more even tempered. They develop a caring nurturing side to their maleness. They find increased value in family and their experiences tend to be filtered with the lens of subjectivity rather than objectivity. Thus, as far as a cultural definition, (albeit misguided), males tend to start off more masculine and grow increasingly feminine with time. Unfortunately our culture doesn’t have a positive process for this to happen, and these changes take place in the midst of various forms of trauma. War. Abuse. Neglect. Depression. Physical and Mental Trauma.

(It might be seen that the opposite is true with women, they often are conditioned by society to be more ‘girly’ as children, playing with dolls and being pre-occupied with cooking, make-up and clothes, but as they grow older becoming parents and grandparents, they develop masculine traits such as stoicism and resilience).

As males culture places us on a spectrum of genderness, and our culture defines what is acceptable depending on our stage of life.

With all respect. I think this is ludicrous.

As a Christian I believe that God has created everyone unique. Neither individuals, nor the human collective, is at the centre of the universe. (Sorry to burst the bubbles). Every being in heaven and on Earth was created to worship God as the centre.

In God’s grand design he chose to make ‘male’ and ‘female’. We have discovered that He chose to take a combination of both a father’s and a mother’s genetic code and transfer that to a conceived child. Thus, each individual is going to express both masculine and feminine qualities. There are many influences on this in the pre-natal, early developing, and adolescent stages of life.

It’s time Australia stopped trying to cookie cut males into testosterone fuelled men. It’s time Australia starting embracing men for who they are and helping them to become who they were created to be. For the Christian community it’s time to share the love of Jesus which has never been dependent on sexual disposition. The current white, western perspective on masculinity stifles our culture and stops us moving into a new era of manhood.

On an aside, but an important one. I advocate the accuracy of the Bible. I affirm innerancy and divine inspiration. The scriptures are clear that corruption has infiltrated all generations of humanity. Sexuality, especially manhood, has been warped by sin. The result is: Confusion. Loneliness. Depression. Hate. Anger. Violence. Abuse. Neglect. Rape. Even same-sex attraction.

I believe God is deeply troubled by sin. In fact, he was so concerned for those he loved, that he demanded that his Son, Jesus, receive their death sentence. A demand that He willingly obeyed.

But, I believe that scripture is less concerned about the individual sin, and more concerned about the broken relationship that it causes with God. No matter how much damage you’ve caused with the weapon of masculinity, God is more concerned about your relationship with Him.

Men, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of masculinity, and no matter how you express yourself, the gospel is still true. And it’s still calling you to action. God has the power to restore hurting and broken people into a new and beautiful reflection of His glory.

Reach the City… Reach the World…

Tonight was a chance for everyone who serves at our church to get together and get the big idea of the upcoming terms series.

It was a collection of all different people from kids ministry workers, to youth leaders, music/worship teams, senior staff, bible study leaders, media teams and plenty more. About a hundred people came together and learned how we plan on sharing one big message over the next ten weeks to our entire church. I’m so encouraged that sharing about Jesus was at the centre of the night.

10cities-1140x380

The sermon series is ‘10 Cities God Loves‘. It’s shaping up to be a journey through Acts. Looking at how desperately in need of Jesus the cities of the first century are. It will show how desperately in need of Jesus that people are. How in need of Jesus I am. It will undoubtedly reveal the transforming power of the Gospel.

I am so excited to know that not only is this being taught on Sunday in church, but the kids, youth and young adults ministries are diving into the same message with similar material. Our mid-week bible studies, Sunday worship, seniors ministry are going to all experience a taste of this crucial message as well. Every member of our church, including some families with three generations, are going to hear the same message. That we are all in need of Jesus and by God’s grace He has chosen to use to share that message with our city… with our world.

Is the Bible anti-gay? So what now?

On Sunday (24 February 2013) we asked the question “Is the Bible anti-gay?” as part of our “Got Questions?” series.  We opened up the Bible to let it speak for itself. 

A young woman (who we won’t identify) from our church community asked if she could share her story, with the hope of encouraging others.  A big ‘Thank You’ to this young woman – thank you for sharing your story. 

Here it is.  We hope you find it encouraging. 

http://www.ridgeviewcc.org/?i=14040&mid=1000&id=396096

“I first came to Creek Road through a friend who was coming here at the time. I was a bit wary of going back to church. I had already had a bad experience at a previous church, which had been very judgemental of me.

You see, at that time, I was in a homosexual relationship with another woman, and had been for three years.

My previous church had told me that I was not welcome there unless I changed. However, Creek Road seemed different, and over the next few months I started going more and more. Often I would sit by myself on one side of the church, and a group of girls noticed. They would come and speak to me, and over time, we became friends. These girls are now my best friends.

Creek Road was different because their approach was one of being welcoming and loving towards me. There was not a sense that I needed to be ‘fixed’ before I could come to church. They accepted me, and encouraged me to seek out God and find his will for me.

As I joined a growth group, and became part of Young Adults here at Creek Road, I slowly began to open up about my past. I felt more comfortable talking about my life with people I knew would not reject me.

I went to several Growth Groups before settling into an Adult Growth Group last year. Just recently, I shared my story with my Growth Group in the hope that it would encourage them to continue to treat people with love.

I am a Christian. I am no longer in the relationship with the girl, and she has visited church at Creek Road on several occasions. It is my hope and prayer that she will become a Christian. 
 It is thanks to God’s redemptive power that my life has changed so radically.

Last Sunday’s bible talk was immensely encouraging for me to hear. Steve spoke about the sexual brokenness experienced by everyone, and he didn’t single out gay people as being the worst offenders. Instead, he made it clear that none of us are in a position to judge others.

I wanted to share my story today to encourage others who may be struggling with this issue to reach out to people they trust – maybe your growth group. 
 I want to encourage people that this is not something you need to struggle with alone.

Recently I returned to my previous church where I had been rejected. They were happy to see that there had been some big changes in my life. I’m glad that my relationship with that church has now been restored.

The love and support of God’s people here at Creek Road has played a huge part in these changes occurring in my life. God has given me the strength to talk about this difficult subject in the hope that it might change other people’s lives, too.

I know I can safely say that if I had been treated with judgment and rejection at Creek Road, I would never have come back to church again.”

Praise God for how He has worked in this young woman’s life. 

Please pray for her that she would grow in her understanding of God’s love for her. 

Please pray for others who struggle with sexual brokenness. 

Please pray for us as a church, that we would always be a community of love, grace and acceptance – introducing people to Jesus.