Jesus: No Ordinary Teacher (Part 3)

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I’m currently undergoing an education degree. Training to be a teacher. And throughout my first year, I learnt some of the qualities and disciplines required of a good teacher.

In looking back on 2016, I began a summary of the key qualities to a proficient teacher. Just jotted some bullet points onto paper. And being a Jesus follower, knowing his claim to be our teacher, I looked at the list and asked myself one question:

How would Jesus stack up to the list?

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CHECKING THE LIST

In Part 2 we covered three more bullet points. A good teacher sets clear classroom standards, becomes a role model of how to live within them, and then sacrifices time to help struggling students in the classroom.

Jesus aced the test. In fact, he far surpasses the standards of a good teacher. But now we turn our attention to three more qualities of a good teacher. So get your red pens out.

Because it’s time to give Jesus a grade.

Continue reading

An Open Letter to John Piper

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John.

The reason for this letter is ultimately to thank you. Your words have had a profound impact and a solidifying effect on my faith. And yet, I have never met you. So it would make sense for me to outline how you fit into my story.

When I consider the people in the closest sphere of influence in my life, you do not sit among the parents, grandparents, pastors and friends that have come alongside me. Such people have, and will continue to have, a huge impact on my walk with Jesus.

My early life really set up the kindling. And a fire for God was definitely going by around Grade 10. But then a couple of years later, you waltzed into my life brandished with a flamethrower. And by the grace and power of God, began to ignite a passion in me.

It all started in early 2015. I listened to my first sermon by you – For His Sake and for Your Joy, Go Low. Soon after I found a series you preached on Job. From there I sourced a series on the Beatitudes. All of a sudden, the earphones were out at every opportunity.

All of a sudden, this Bible of mine was coming alive. 

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You taught me many things, for which I want to publicly appreciate.

Firstly, you taught me that the Bible is a feast. Not a snack we choose to ration, but a feast we are required to attend. The absolute centrality you place on God’s word in your public ministry is incredible. In preaching, debating, interviews, social media, blogs, books. What I notice in you is not a half heartedness to the word, but all-out saturation in it.

The way you labour over it. The way you aim to juice every bit out of the word, in order to pierce the heart with Biblical truth. The passion you present it with. I had never realised the Bible could be so interesting. You make obvious your aim to draw attention to God and away from yourself. I have grown to love that.

Secondly, you showed me that real men are totally flawed by the grace of God. Sometimes it makes me smile. Those times when you are preaching and absolutely lost for words. Arms extended, huge smile on your face, eyes brimming with joy as you find yourself passionately struggling to express the depths of the grace of God. I love that. 

I love your presentation of Christ as a wonderful crutch we (the poor in spirit) can rest in and find saving grace. I love strategies like APTAT, by which there is heavy reliance on the grace and promises of God. And so it became much clearer to me. The grace of God is not a once-off experience. The grace of God is radically life-changing stuff. 

Lastly, and ultimately, you taught me that Jesus is worth everything. Even my life. Especially my life. I love how you shine a light on the surpassing worth and supreme treasure that is Christ. The don’t waste your life sermons. The way you slam the prosperity gospel with actual gospel. The purpose behind all of your writing.

It is the echo of the call to magnify the LORD (Psalm 34:3). The rally cry to suffer for Jesus (Philippians 1:29). The longing that we would deny ourselves to a greater joy (Mark 8:34). To make much of Christ whether by life or death (Philippians 1:20-21).

To live a life rooted in the all-satisfying reward of being more close to Jesus.

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John Piper.

In reflection, I think we both see something pretty clearly. What I love about you isn’t you. It is God working in and through you. And for that I will be forever grateful.

See you soon.

Jesus: No Ordinary Teacher (Part 2)

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I’m currently undergoing an education degree. Training to be a teacher. And throughout my first year, I learnt some of the qualities and disciplines required of a good teacher.

In looking back on 2016, I began a summary of the key qualities to a proficient teacher. Just jotted some bullet points onto paper. And being a Jesus follower, knowing his claim to be our teacher, I looked at the list and asked myself one question:

How would Jesus stack up to the list?

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CHECKING THE LIST

In Part 1 we covered three of the bullet points. A good teacher has proficient knowledge of the content, has a passion for the topic and students, and knows how to convey the content in relevant and understandable ways.

Jesus aced the test. In fact, he far surpasses the standards of a good teacher. But now we turn our attention to three more qualities of a good teacher. So get your red pens out.

Because it’s time to give Jesus a grade.

Continue reading

Jesus: No Ordinary Teacher (Part 1)

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Teaching.

We would all be dead without it. Consider this. Somewhere along the line, you were taught everything you know and do today.

We all go through a process of learning the bare essentials. The toilet training stage. Learning how to eat and drink. Walk and talk. Then as we walk through life, we begin to understand more complex lessons. Skills like how to read and write. How to tie your shoes. How to cook. How to apologise. How to interact with one another.

Some are still learning those lessons. But truth is, we all are. Anyone who claims to know everything is delusional. The fact that we are in the 21st century, part of society as we know it today, is thanks to our ongoing learning over hundreds of years.

You see, life is a great teacher.

Teaching is part of the fabric of life, and we are students to it

And Jesus claimed to be a great teacher (John 13:13).

Now, Jesus didn’t claim teacher status to get a job down the road. This wasn’t his little spoken resume. No, this Jesus claimed to be the Son of God (Matthew 16:15). The way to the truth and fullness of life (John 14:6). In light of this, we see something clearly.

When Jesus accepts claims to be a teacher, he claims to have incredible authority. Not just a teacher of maths or science. This is a teacher of life itself. Essential for the forward movement of the world. Essential for the continuation of society. Essential for life

And importantly, every teacher has students.

In claiming to be a teacher, Jesus invites us to come and learn. To be his students. Therefore, it is essential we assess his credentials. It is essential we understand what sort of a teacher he is. Hence this new 3-part blog series. So get your red pens out.

Because it’s time to give Jesus a grade.

Continue reading

King Jesus

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Christmas is upon us.

Unfortunately, this news is greeted with mixed emotions in the 21st century. Not least because a modern day Christmas is crazy stuff. It is full throttle. Pedal to the metal. Flying on all cylinders sorta stuff.

And naturally, our priorities are angled towards other things. Amongst the stuff, we tend to drop God down our list of priorities.

In fact, a prevailing view in society today is that Christ has lost relevance. This is a vague objection often blindly asserted in public places. It is this mammoth misconception founded on the belief that because times have changed, we don’t need God anymore.

Hate to be blunt, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

At Christmas we celebrate God putting us at the top of his priority list.

Christmas isn’t our busy lives stepping into God, but God stepping into our busy lives. Identifying with us. Sharing in our sufferings. Showing the deep love he has for us.

And if that doesn’t totally blow you out of the water, nothing will.

Christmas isn’t some watered down, lame fairytale we tell children before bed. We are celebrating the very presence of God here. God’s presence gives the world relevance. You’re unlikely to believe this if you don’t spend time seeking it.

And I’m going to show you why.

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At the birth of any baby, the first people invited to see the little dude or dudette are significant. VIP backstage pass sorta thing. It is usually reserved for close friends and family members.

We learn a lot about Jesus by the first people invited into His presence. God’s VIP list consisted of a poor couple, some lonely and inadequate outcasts, and three men sent by a corrupt king. A bit random to say the least. Not exactly hard hitting stuff.

Why were these people the first invited into the presence of God?

MARY AND JOSEPH

God called a poor couple from an average town, to share in the riches and deepest joys of his eternally worthy Kingdom.

The first people invited to the birth of Jesus was his parents. Go figure.

In the lead up to the first Christmas, the parents of Jesus would have been extremely excited and anxious. No other mother has a claim to fame quite like bearing the Son of God. And the build-up to this birth is still totally unrivalled.

Because this wasn’t your classic 9 month pregnancy. The arrival of some angels went a long way to confirming this wasn’t your average baby. Mary and Joseph would have been very aware of prophecies made about this baby centuries in advance.

The world had been expecting this champion for hundreds of years. 

So this was a huge calling. I can’t overstate the level of crazy this job description requires. But what is even crazier is that there was nothing particularly special about Mary and Joseph. They were just a poor couple from a dodgy town.

And yet, God promised Mary and Joseph that by accepting Jesus in humility and with joy, they would be used in an extremely powerful way for the Kingdom of God.

And they stepped out in faith.

THE SHEPHERDS

God called shepherds on the fringes of society, to a Good Shepherd who brings all people back to the centrepiece of civilisation

Back in the day, shepherds were pretty low on the social ladder.

In fact they probably didn’t even feature on the ladder. These guys often lived on their own, literally removed from society, as safety of the flock was at risk through the night.

So it is no surprise this is where history first records them. Tending to sheep and staying in the fields (Luke 2:8). A pretty boring arvo, until a host of angels show up announcing the birth of the Saviour of the world. Went from 0 to 100 real quick.  

And the shepherds were initially terrified. I mean, put yourself in their shoes. I’d be shaking like a leaf. But after processing the news, the shepherds dropped their work and hurried into town to see this King.

Here’s the cool part. The wise men brought gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:11). The shepherds didn’t bring anything. They just came as they were. Wearing stinky and torn clothes, unshaven and unqualified, no social standing whatsoever. 

And yet, God promised the shepherds that by accepting the call with nothing to offer, everything would be offered to them in return. That from the fringes of society, they would be brought back to the centrepiece of civilisation.

And they stepped out in response to his call.

THE WISE MEN

God called wise men from a corrupt earthly king, to an eternal King who rules with justice and fairness.

History records these wise men as being royal astrologers.

There guys were an image of the smartest minds of the day. And not just your average astrologers, the royal astrologers. A good reference on your resume to say the least.

These men are best known for their pursuit of a star. Namely, Jesus. And it’s pretty crazy stuff. These men followed a star, a ball of gas millions of kilometres away in the universe, which according to their intellect was stooping over Jesus (Matthew 2:2).

All of creation bowing down to this Jesus. Not your average baby. Heck, not many can claim to using the universe as a sort of traffic light. Directing everyone to himself.

Equally important to note is that the wise men were from eastern lands (Matt 2:1). This is significant stuff. Because to this point in history, God’s people were almost exclusively citizens of Israel. And yet these wise men weren’t even from Israel.

They probably didn’t even know the language. But you see, God reached out to these men in a language they understood. He used their knowledge on the universe, the very line of their work, and brought them to Jesus.

He met them where they were. God promised the wise men that by seeking Jesus, they would see King Jesus.

And they stepped out in pursuit of that promise.

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WRAPPING IT UP

Each of these VIP guests to Jesus proved one thing.

It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, smart or uneducated. Lonely or busy. Qualified or inadequate. From the king’s palace, a dodgy town, or not from any town at all.

God requires our response, not our resume.

The presence of Christ is revealed to those who step out in response to his call. This is the distinguishing feature of those called into the presence of Christ. Obedience rooted in faith. A response to the news of Christ, and the promise of serious hope and joy in him.

Who could pass that up?

We are all called into the very presence of God.

Practical application time.

To those who have accepted God’s call. Take a look at Mary and Joseph. Who despite being filled with absolute awe, still welcomed in the outcasts and the seekers. This season, look for ways to show the presence of Christ to those who need it.

To those too busy or smart for God. Take a look at the wise men. The royal astrologers, who despite having the mysteries of the universe to discover, still found time to seek the true King. This season, seek what Jesus really has to offer.

To those feeling removed from God and others. Take a look at the shepherds. The social outcasts, the lonely and weathered citizens of society, who were personally welcomed into God’s presence. This season, know that you are loved and welcomed by Jesus.

This is the awesome truth of Christmas. This is the awesome truth of Christianity. We are all called by the living God. Only one question remains:

How will you respond to Jesus?

Jesus for President (Part 2)

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I’m officially sick of politics.

But there’s seriously no competition in the race for best PM and government when Jesus is in the picture. And in the end, our vote doesn’t determine his rule and reign. This baby is happening.

The ball is in your court to decide whether you want to be part of His government. In Part 1 we discussed three reasons why Jesus is (by far) the best leader the world has and will ever see. So without further ado, here’s three more reasons in this – Part 2:

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  • He provides the solution to the biggest problem facing humanity

Forget the economy. Forget jobs. Forget global warming. Forget social status.

The single biggest issue facing the world today is death. Nobody escapes it. Everyone plays to its tune. And so we dance our way around in life, looking for ways to prolong what is destined for the grave.

We avoid unhealthy habits. We keep our body and bank account healthy. We seek good times and happiness. We work, accumulate, consume, die. All for what?

It’s all pretty hopeless. And so surely any good leader cares enough to at least address the biggest issue we will ever face. And believe it or not, Jesus does.

But even more than that. What’s amazing is that Jesus had life at the centre of his teachings. He consistently and intentionally promises a cure. A way to the truth and fullness of life.

Namely, himself.

Jesus Humility

So don’t you ever tell me Jesus is not relevant because he lived 2000 odd years ago. But if you do, please explain how death doesn’t affect the world anymore.

This Jesus is extremely relevant.

Because Jesus didn’t just address the issue of death by illustrating what a painful death looks like. Jesus didn’t just acknowledge mankind’s biggest problem and then leave it hanging. He solved our greatest problem by leaving himself hanging. 

His death wasn’t the end of the story. And that sets this leader apart from all others.

  • He fulfils all his promises.

Isn’t this something we lack in politics nowadays.

Politicians are increasingly being characterised by their inability to follow through on promises. Heck, there are even websites tracking the number of broken promises for each government. We expect the leaders of our nation to break definite promises.

Read that again. Let it sink in.

Jesus on the other hand has a perfect track record with promises. Completely contrary to the world’s leaders, when God makes a promise we expect it to happen. And it does.

That a nation would come from the line of Abraham? Tick (Genesis 17:2). That a nation stuck in slavery would be brought out of Egypt? Yep (Exodus 14-15). That a leader from the line of David would rule forever? You bet your bottom dollar (Isaiah 9:6; Luke 1:69).

And not just that. Ridiculous prophecies (God inspired predictions) were made 400-700 years B.C. to foreshadow this coming leader from the line of David.

And the chances of someone fulfilling all of them is astronomical. 

The compelling nature of prophecies fulfilled by the person of Jesus, cannot be explained by way of pure chance.

Some smart people got together and did some cool maths stuff.

They found that the chances of winning the lottery are 1 in 259,000,000. So pretty crazy. But they found the chances of someone fulfilling just 8 (of the suggested 48) prophecies are way more ridiculous: 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.

But that isn’t all folks. The research team also estimated the chance of one man fulfilling all 48 prophecies: 1 in 10 to the power of 157. That’s a 1 followed by 157 zeroes.

That’s a lot of zeroes.

Jesus fulfilled all promises and prophecies. Forget Leicester City, The Chicago Cubs and the Western Bulldogs. Jesus literally embodies the biggest upset and logic defying performance of all time. A pretty darn big fluke. 

Unless you believe in a God who fulfils all his promises. Then it just makes sense. 

  • His rule and reign will never end

This is where we bring it all together.

Kingdom literally translated is King’s Dominion – just shortened. So because Jesus smashed sin and death to pieces, his dominion extends beyond death.

And this is perhaps one of the greatest promises made by God.

That through Jesus, we have access to God (Hebrews 10:20). He has made a way to life (John 14:6). And anyone who believes and places trust in our awesome candidate is welcome into His kingdom (John 3:16).

You’d be crazy to turn that offer down.

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I love this quote.

I pray with this in mind most mornings. It is significant to me for a number of reasons. You see, from the hand of God everything was created. He crafted and chiseled out the universe and everything in it from nothing.

So this reminds me that God is totally in control of all things. And sometimes, when all is out of hand, that’s when I see his fingerprints the most.

But more than that. God’s hands signify our citizenship. 

Because Jesus lives, his kingdom endures

Jesus handed us the hammer. And with the nail, we smashed the whole world’s sin and junk into the hand of God. And three days later, Jesus proved he had power over it.

The crazy irony. That the nails we drove in with intentions to stay the hand of God, would become the lasting blows of justice.

Talk about grace.

Jesus, by nature and profession a carpenter, gave amateurs the hammer to deliver the blows of a new covenant (Matt 26:28). To make something new of his body, the church.

And so we can approach God with full confidence (Hebrews 4:16). Knowing that our deepest scars of sin have been dealt with.

The hands of God cannot be held down. And neither can his Kingdom.

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THE FINAL PITCH

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Look at all the bullet points again. Let’s recap the leader and government outlined.

A prime minister that rules with authority, justice and fairness. And yet, a leader that is down to earth and humble in every way. Fully understanding of the struggles and deepest sufferings of his people.

The biggest problem humanity faces he addresses and solves. All promises he makes are fulfilled. He ushers in a kingdom full of his people that humbly serve and care for one another. Everyone in his kingdom is included and important. And it starts from the top.

Now ask yourself: is this the sort of leadership and government I want out of office?

Jesus offers real hope, and real change for real life issues

That’s the sort of leader I want to follow. That’s the sort of people I want to be part of.

And if we believe Jesus is the top candidate, we naturally become his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). God uses us to tell the world how awesome his government is.

We are called to contain, proclaim and live by the values of this kingdom (Hebrews 10:23). To let the activity of the King be evident in our lives (Phillipians 2:13). To give the world just a snippet of what is (and is) to come.

All the forces of hell will try to overthrow it. The world will experience great turmoil and tremendous upheaval. Heck, we might even face an election with shocking candidates.

But through it all, we are not shaken (Psalm 16:8). We have intense confidence in our leader who put the forces of death to shame. God’s kingdom will never end. All people are welcome.

And that is reason to celebrate.

Glorious Ruins

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The world has some pretty amazing landmarks.

France has the Eiffel Tower. England the Big Ben. USA the Statue of Liberty. Egypt the Pyramids. Australia the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

And these are (to some degree) the face of each respective country. They are all grand sculptures. Incredible works of architecture, structurally secure, flawless pieces of work. A brilliant showcase of what mankind is capable of.

That’s what makes my hometown pretty unique. There are two things iconic of Port Willunga. A broken down jetty and a shipwreck. Not exactly the height of human achievement.

Quite the opposite.

There is a strange beauty in wreckage that has stood the test of time

The shipwreck involved the deaths of many members aboard the ship. What was made structurally secure came to a horrific ending. Likewise the jetty, once very practical and useful to the area, stands as testament of lost relevance.

And yet, these things have become something of an attraction to our area.

Hundreds of people snorkel out to the shipwreck each summer. A cafe has been named after the ship. Heaps of people get married in front of the jetty remains. Tons of people take photos of the sunset through the jetty, which regularly appears on adverts showcasing the raw beauty South Australia has to offer.

Where am I going with this.

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Perhaps the landmarks reflect us as people.

We go about our lives trying to be this ideal work of art. Presenting ourselves and striving towards this image of greatness. Qualified. Confident. Secure. Flawless.

And there’s no wondering why we do this. Society depicts through magazines and advertisements architecturally flawless people. A people structurally secure in wealth and health. Confident in qualifications and relationships. The pinnacle of mankind.

And when we compare ourselves against perceived perfection, flaws surface.

Personal struggles hit peak activity. Social awkwardness steps up a gear. Feelings of inadequacy hit hard. We fail in subjects at school or university. We are made redundant from work. We lose relationships and friendships with people we care deeply about.

All of a sudden we are comparing The Statue of Liberty against a Shipwreck.

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My Uncle posted this as his profile picture.

At first it seemed a little funny, as this is just a photo of some random old dude. We needed answers. Had Tassie really aged him this much? 

He explained. ‘There is beauty in people and our society too often covers over the faults and lines and damage in order to fit in.’

I love this. It really gets to the heart of what it takes to be a human. As much as we try to put our best foot forward, life happens. Situations in life are often very far from perfect.

Perhaps trying to hide all of our scars isn’t the answer.

Our scars tell a story. 

There’s a strange beauty in the wrinkles and sun-torn skin of a weathered individual.

My Dad once ran our Sunday School lessons. I’m slightly biased, but they were literally the most fun ever. There were two activities we all loved.

The first was the Atomic Fireball challenge. Atomic Fireballs were these extremely hot lollies. Straight out of the middle of the earth those things. The challenge was to try and keep just one in your mouth. It was intense stuff. Especially for an 8-10 year old.

This one time a certain curly haired, boisterous kid by name of Joram put about 5 in his mouth at once. I’ve had a weird sense of respect for him since that day.

Our other favourite activity was sharing our scar stories. How it worked was pretty simple. We would sit in something resembling a circle, and show our scars to the group whilst recounting the accident that created them.

Some of the stories were absolute classics. It was always a funny time. Skateboard accidents. Bike crashes. Running into closed screen doors. What once brought us to tears, we could now laugh about in front of our friends.

You see, the scar stood as testament of the healing process.

‘He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. Beaten so we could be whole. Whipped so we could be healed.’ -Isaiah 53:5

Jesus. Not some photoshopped, money motivated, perverted picture of perfection.

Perfect in every way. 

And knowing our deepest flaws, Jesus was willingly put through a ridiculously excruciating death. Whipped relentlessly, skin ripped from his back, blood loss in extreme proportions. There were scar stories all over his body.

But not just scars that told a story. Scars that rewrite a story. 

Jesus. Who by profession created new things with nail and wood, willingly submitted himself to his own instruments to make us new (2 Corinthians 5:17). And by his resurrection, Jesus proved even the deepest scars of sin cannot overcome God’s kingdom.

Kingdom literally translated is King’s Dominion – just shortened. So because Jesus smashed sin and death to pieces, his dominion extends beyond death. Because Jesus lives, his kingdom endures.

And we are all given full access to His kingdom (Ephesians 2:18-19). Because in Jesus alone we find the way to truth and fullness of life (John 10:10; 14:6).

Now and beyond the grave.

Jesus rose from death with scarred hands and feet. The scars from the cross did not magically vanish, rather they served as witness to his power over death.

By his wounds we are healed.

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‘For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus…’ – Ephesians 2:10

To be a Christ follower is crazy unique.

We don’t claim to be a Statue of Liberty. We don’t claim to be flawless people. We don’t claim to be a showcase of what mankind is capable of. In fact, we boast in the exact opposite (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We don’t claim to be without fault because we simply aren’t.

In fact, maybe you feel like your life has been an absolute shipwreck. Everything is falling into ruins. Your life has become a story of lost relevance, everything now just a shadow of your past.

But in Jesus, we do claim something amazing has been made of our ruins.

We are made new (Ephesians 2:8-10). Not made new in the absence of our wreckage, as if God turns a blind eye to all our issues. Made new in the presence of our wreckage, that stands as testament of our healing. Wear those scars with dignity.

All will marvel at our wreckage that stands the test of time.

Glorious ruins.

3rd world citizens

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We all care about the poor.

The desperately hungry. Without a home and living on the streets. The people bashed and robbed. Socially ostracised. Those drinking muddy, unpurified water. Nothing at all in their possession except the clothes on their backs. Sick to death.

We all pity such people. We feel sorry for how they live. So we donate money, clothes, water towards their villages. Set up organisations. Raise awareness. All in an attempt to help people in need.

But none of us envy their lifestyles. A safe assumption I hope.

The life of someone in poverty isn’t exactly the peak of the human experience. You would have to be out of your mind to desire this life.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Jesus

And then Jesus goes and says that. What the heck.

These were his first words in The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). If you know anything about speeches and essays, introductions are used to set the scene and grab attention. Jesus must have been very aware of these factors. His first sentence alone is shocking. 

Picture it with me. The disciples are waiting as Jesus prepares to talk. Religious dudes gather expectantly for inside knowledge on how to perform miracles, or how to get into God’s good books. Intrigued locals join the crowd to hear from this amazing teacher. Everyone is hanging on his first words.

And then for some crazy reason, Jesus starts by promising poor people the kingdom of heaven. Talk would’ve run riot in the town. If newspapers were a thing, they would’ve gone bezerk. Social media would’ve been in absolute overdrive.

The prerequisite to citizenship in heaven is to be poor in spirit. God’s kingdom is promised to poor people.

Crazy stuff.  

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Malcolm Turnbull came under fire recently.

The Australian PM was spotted giving $5 to a poor man on the streets of Melbourne. On the surface, it seemed like a nice gesture. However, news outlets and social media went nuts when they discovered Mr.Turnbull was clutching a stack of notes in his left hand. People were quick to label him greedy and selfish.

The hypocrisy in much of the criticisms of Mr.Turnbull are very real. I’d suggest 99% of those voicing hate against Mr.Turnbull for this act should take a hard look at themselves.

But the fact remains. There is disappointment that with so much money in his possession, Malcolm could only manage $5. That the leader of our people, seeing the poorest in his society, gave that which wouldn’t cost him much.

Whether or not you are critical of Mr.Turnbull is irrelevant. My point is this. Jesus sees the poorest in his society and promises the absolute maximum in return. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Dead set ridiculous. Jesus promises everything to people who have nothing. To put this into perspective, it would be like Mr.Turnbull giving $100 million to the homeless man. We are on that sort of scale of crazy.

But to get the reward, we are called to be poor in spirit. Is Jesus telling us to be desperately hungry? Vulnerable and on the streets? Are we being told be sick and thirsty and homeless and posses nothing – all for the sake of heaven?

That’s ludicrous. That’s insane.

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE POOR IN SPIRIT?

‘Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.’ – 2 Corinthians 8:9

In understanding what poor in spirit means, it makes sense to look at how Jesus treated poor people. Unsurprisingly, one of the most defining features of Jesus was the way he sought the lost (Luke 19:10).

Jesus welcomed in the outcasts. Gave lasting food to the poor and helpless. Jesus invited people despised by the world over for dinner. Those with leprosy and blindness he came into contact with. He healed them. He talked with them (Matthew 11:5).

He came into their world when nobody else would.

Jesus, the very definition of sinless and perfect, consistently and intentionally came into contact with disgraceful sinners (Matthew 9:10). But Jesus didn’t just come into contact with poor people. He identified with them.

Jesus came from a small village, born to a poor couple in a lowly animal stable. He wasn’t too high and mighty for work – heck, he laboured for years as a carpenter. The very Son of God lived and breathed amongst poor people. He understood everyday struggles. He didn’t remove himself from pain – quite the opposite.

Surely this tells us something about how God intended to reach the world.

“Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home” – Jesus

Jesus said this to a paralysed man.

So you can see how crazy this statement is. Jesus literally told someone who physically can’t walk to do exactly that. Walk.

Try telling someone in a wheelchair to just get up and walk next time you’re in public. See how that works out for you. You might just experience the miracle of a backhand to the face.

Yet immediately after Jesus said this, a man who had never used his legs before stood up and walked (Mark 2:1-12). Let’s just appreciate how cool that is for a second. Just ridiculous.

But that’s not the only ridiculous thing about this situation.

Back in the day, sickness was considered a punishment for disobedience. It was a common belief that God inflicted sickness upon people as result of sin. Such people living in sickness were often despised and not allowed to live in community with anyone, not even their own family (Numbers 5:2).

Sin had to be expelled from the community so the people could stay clean.

Yet for some reason this Jesus dude felt like it was okay to welcome in a sick, poor and sinful person. So sin had now polluted the community. Great. Thanks a lot Jesus.

But in a mad plot twist, Jesus defies all laws of physics and medical expertise and just heals the man of his sickness. The people were in utter disbelief. It would’ve been like watching someone discover the cure to cancer. This was significant.

Why did Jesus heal this poor, sick and sinful man?

Through this situation, Jesus was sticking up his hand as the solution to the crippling disease of sin. This Jesus was sticking his hand up as God himself. No other explanation would suffice. Who else could be so perfect as to heal someone of imperfection?

No longer would people have to be expelled from the community. Sin that once left humanity paralysed had now met its cure.

Jesus.

Isn’t Christianity just a crutch for those who can’t make it themselves?

A common criticism of Christianity. Funny thing is, we actually agree with it.

John Piper (in a sermon) highlights an interesting thing about this criticism and labelling of our ‘crutch’ as being problematic. He suggested that nobody looks at an injured person with a crutch, and identifies the crutch as being problematic.

The crutch is the solution, isn’t it? 

Here’s where the problem lies. If Christianity is a crutch, then it is only good for cripples. And many people don’t consider themselves cripples. And so it is therefore offensive to an individual’s self- sufficiency to be labelled as needing help.

This is why Jesus is so counter cultural.

Jesus came to provide himself as the crutch for all. The solution to our deepest sickness.

Humanity was paralysed in sin. But through Jesus death on the cross, our greatest sickness is dealt with. As a result we can boldly approach God. Full confidence in the saving power of our crutch, which allows us to walk in the ways of our Father.

And this completely contrasts our way of thinking.

If we want a job, we work hard and present ourselves well. If we want to be better at sport, we train harder. If we want to get better grades, we study harder. If we want to get anywhere in life, it takes our own effort.

Then Jesus comes along and flips it. To be poor in spirit is to realise the state of our sickness without Jesus. To be poor in spirit is understanding that before God, we have nothing to give. All the work Jesus has already done.

It is finished. 

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PULL UP A SEAT

My Dad wrote a letter when I was born. In this letter he explains the reasons behind choosing my name – and qualities he hoped I would cling to.

Dad used the biblical Jonathan as an example of holding high the qualities of loyalty and friendship in my life. Jonathan was a very loyal man, who had a strong friendship with David. However, Dad suggests (in his letter) it is what comes of their friendship that is equally significant.

Eventually Jonathan died. To honour the deep friendship David once shared with his friend, he found a lone descendant from Jonathan’s line, a cripple called Mephibosheth. To this lowly, dishonoured man he gave the right to eat at the king’s table from that day on (2 Samuel 9).

Because of David and Jonathan’s strong relationship, a man lowly and crippled was given access to eat at the King’s table.

‘God has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence…’ – Colossians 1:22

Jesus has a perfect relationship with God.

And by extension, Jesus death and resurrection brings us into the presence of the King. Into the very presence of God. God invites us to eat at his table because of the deep relationship shared with Jesus Christ.

Lowly, hungry, flawed and crippled in sin – yet God chooses us to eat with him. Through Jesus work on the cross, we can claim our seat at the table.

“Tell a broken, crippled and dying world that they may come and eat at the King’s table.”

Pull up a seat.

 

Jesus: Really Satisfies

 

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Snickers have an awesome marketing team.

In one of their ads, an old man is attempting to pull off a big jump on his motorbike. Yes you heard me right. But the old dude is super confident about his chances. He thinks he has the jump covered. However, in a twist of events, old dude starts to lose control of his bike. He takes off from the jump but, you guessed it, he fails miserably. He face-plants into the ground.

Eventually a mate walks over and hands the old man a Snickers bar, because he “becomes a cranky old man when he’s hungry.” The old man angrily takes the bar, and after taking a bite, instantly morphs into a young man. He has become a new man. No longer hungry – he is back to his normal self and ready to hit the jump again. The commercial ends with their simple catch-line:

“You’re not you when you’re hungry. Snickers really satisfies.”

I think a round of applause is in order. That’s the sort of advertising we turn the television on for. That’s the sort of commercial we all want in-between overs of the cricket. Inspirational stuff.

No I’m not a Snickers salesman in disguise. This is going somewhere. Stick with me here.

“I am the bread of life” – Jesus

Like the Snickers advert, Jesus claims to fill our deepest hunger. Jesus claims to be really satisfying. And Jesus used bread as his analogy of being satisfied.

I know. Disappointing stuff.

Of all the things to compare yourself with, Jesus calls himself bread. Boring old bread. Not the pizza of life. Not the cheeseburger of life. Not the snickers of life. The bread of life.

Shoutout to all you gluten free people out there. Sometimes I wonder what goes through your minds when Jesus calls himself the bread of life. You the real MVP.

The question remains: why did Jesus equate himself to bread?

Let’s get a roll on.

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FOOD FOR LIFE

“I am the living bread…anyone who eats of this bread will live forever, and this bread, which I offer so the world may live, is my flesh” – Jesus

Our basic human right.

When we’re talking the most basic rights, sufficient food and adequate water supply is deadly important (literally). Forget other social issues that the media like to give more weight to. Food and water is the most basic, necessary, vital human need.

Now we’ve got to understand some context. Bread was to the Jews what rice is to Asia. Their staple diet. The food most routinely eaten. It took up a dominant portion of their regular food consumption, providing the required energy needs to that certain group of people.

So by equating himself to bread, Jesus is saying he is essential for life. A basic human right that all people should have access to. Vital in growth and development.

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (pictured above) aims to understand what motivates people.

His theory was that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled, a person seeks to fulfil the next one, and so on. The needs start at the very basic level (Physiological) and work up to the top (Self-Actualisation). Some pyramids add another level on top, Transcendence, which is essentially seeking to help others reach their potential.

Many people have often labelled life as The Pursuit of Happiness.

For the most part, I think it’s pretty spot on. We generally try to fill our lives with things we enjoy. I doubt many people leave home each day intentionally looking for ways to increase their sadness. We all have a deep need for belonging. Good friendships, relationships, family. We try to fill our lives with things we enjoy doing. Activities that are fun. Things that challenge us.

Essentially, we are up in the top three tiers of the pyramid. Satisfying the needs that only privileged people can reach. But these are all secondary issues

Jesus saw a people starving themselves spiritually. He saw a people that thought pretty highly of themselves, yet bypassing their most basic needs. Avoiding their basic need for him whilst trying to climb to the top of the pyramid.

I’ll say this once: we are never going to reach the top of the pyramid without a solid foundation (Matthew 7:24-27). All we have worked for, that pyramid we climb, will come crashing down at our final breath.

Death puts an end to all pursuits of happiness. Mankind has its fate sealed. Everything we enjoy now is just temporary. The wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23), and death separated us from God.

Morbid stuff.

But Jesus had intense compassion on the human situation (John 3:16). He saw a people doomed for death and chasing secondary issues. He loved the world so much that he provided the solution to our mess.

Himself. 

“Give us today our daily bread” – Jesus

This was pretty cheeky of Jesus.

The disciples had just asked Jesus how they should pray. He responded with what we affectionately know as The Lord’s Prayer, which includes the words “give us today our daily bread.”

Some might have (justifiably) thought Jesus was talking about actual, physical bread. But Jesus wasn’t talking about actual bread here. He was referring to himself.

Jesus was essentially rehashing the same awesome message: I am your staple diet – come to me regularly. I am your basic human right, let me grow and develop you into the person you were made to be. I am the provider of all the energy and motivation you could need. I am the solid foundation that your life needs to be built upon.

I am.

Jesus provided himself as the bread for all – that we could be completely satisfied through him. Whoever comes to him will never hunger again (John 6:35).

That through him we would have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

It is no coincidence that God uses bread as a symbol of his provision throughout history.

The feeding of the 5000. 

People have flocked from everywhere to see Jesus. To hear his teachings, talk or be healed by him. Everyone just can’t get enough of this Jesus. Time passes. The huge crowd eventually grow hungry. The disciples, seeing the obvious dilemma regarding the food-to-people ratio, suggest Jesus should send the people home so they can buy their own food.

Jesus, not known for following the rules of physics, feeds the thousands with just five loaves and two fish. Just another day at the office for the Son of God.

The disciples and the crowd are obviously amazed. Gobsmacked. Somehow Jesus managed to feed a huge crowd from an extremely little amount of food.

What was the creed behind Jesus doing this?

On this particular day, Jesus was providing for the people’s physical need for bread. But through this situation, Jesus calls all people to a type of bread that doesn’t perish (John 6:27). That doesn’t make them hungry again. He is the bread that gives life, that truly satisfies.

Jesus doesn’t just call himself the bread of life and then fail to provide bread. What a massive disappointment that would be.

Jesus demonstrates here that there are no limits to his provision. There are no limits to his power. Everyone can eat of his bread and be satisfied.

Heck, there are even leftovers.

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THE BIG PICTURE

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” – Jesus

Cast your minds back to the Snickers commercial.

We have a big jump ahead of us. Life. We try to satisfy our lives with all types of things. Relationships. Good times. Success. Everything is going great. We start revving our engines towards the ramp. Everything is cool. Everything is under control.

Until we actually hit the jump.

The jump proves too big for anyone to make. Humanity always falls short of the mark.

Forget climate change. Forget the economy. Forget equality. The biggest problem the world faces today is death. Nobody avoids death, everyone falls victim to it. None of us can build a ramp and jump over death. Everyone that tries ends up face-planting into the ground. Confused. Angry. Hurt. Dirty. Hopeless.

Enter Jesus.

He finds humanity in its mess. Caring so much for the world he comes and extends a hand to us. Offering life. Full of compassion he meets us in the dust. Expressing his deep longing that we stop filling ourselves with that which only he can satisfy.

And when we take up his offer, we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We become like a new person. We take part in the greatest testimony anyone could ever have: that we are not saved from death, but through it.

That ramp which once limited us is now not even an obstacle. The gap has been bridged.

Jesus: eternally satisfying. 

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The Race Ahead

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I love cycling.

And I don’t use the word love lightly either. At times I wonder how I’d have gone on if not for cycling. It was my release – huge to me in my high school years, and I still love to get out when I can.

There are tons of things I love about cycling.

Summiting a mountain solo. Alone, but not lonely. Guided by my bike light; a hum in the darkness. Morning fog thickening as I rise higher. Sounds of my raspy breathing. The occasional dog bark or cow’s moo. The chain cranking as it propels the wheels around. Life’s problems fading on each pedal stroke. The sun rising over Adelaide – a whole city wakes from sleep. Wind in face as I’m propelled down the mountain. Sweat in hair, eyes wide open. Feeling of aching, tired legs. I’m stuffed, but I’ve never felt more alive. Back home for coffee before school.

I love it.

And some thought I was a bit mental. The amount of time I put into it each day was somewhat unbelievable to them. But to me, it wasn’t crazy at all.

There was something about cycling that made dedication to it easy.

Getting up at 5:30 every morning – rain, hail or shine. Making training programs. Spending hours on the bike. Rarely eating bad food or having soft drink. Shaving my legs (don’t hold it against me). Following other dedicated cyclists on social media. I would admire the professionals, talk about them, watch their races.

I was committed, but I was loving it. The sacrifices I was making were nothing in comparison to the perceived rewards of joy, temporary release of problems, and the increase in fitness.

So where am I going with this.

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Paul uses the analogy of running a race to explain how the Christian life should look. It goes like this:

‘…let us lay aside every weight, and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race set before us.’ – Hebrews 12:1

And my past dedication to cycling should look like my dedication to Christ.

Just like I would lay aside bad eating and drinking, and the minimal weight that was my leg hair – this passage says we are to lay aside every weight that slows us in our pursuit of God. Anything that gets in the way. What a statement.

I was regularly setting aside time early in the morning, 5:30 – to dedicate myself to cycling before the day. In the same way, there is a need for me to dedicate myself to God and his will before every day. To seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

All this cycling took endurance, perseverance. I wasn’t going to get much better at the sport after a week of cycling. It took a long time. But as I’ve stated, I found huge joy in the dedication to it.

Likewise, growing as a Christian and forming a strong relationship with God is a life-long pursuit. We need endurance. I need endurance – I sure don’t claim to have this covered. But we find immense joy in the reward ahead of us – eternity with Jesus and perfect community with his people.

How much greater is that reward than temporary gains in fitness!

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‘Looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Who for the joy set before him, endured the cross…’ – Hebrews 12:2

As part of my cycling addiction – I would follow professional bike riders and watch some of their races. I particularly admired the likes of Cadel Evans, Lance Armstrong and Chris Froome.

Whilst Lance Armstrong might not the best example nowadays, the fact remains. I admired each of these men’s grittiness and strength of character. The way they shone above the rest through sheer determination.

Particularly in Cadel, who had this way of making suffering his friend.

Cadel was characterised by his ability to endure. Pain and suffering written all over his face, yet this uncanny ability to power through it – even in the late stages of a grand tour (see picture above). These men embraced pain, adversity – but found a weird sense of joy and success through it.

In a similar way, Paul says (in Hebrews 12:2, highlighted above) we should look to Jesus as our example in this race of life.

We are encouraged not just because Jesus endured suffering, but that suffering was central to Jesus’ victory.

Cadel pales in comparison to what Jesus went through, and I wouldn’t ever wish to put Jesus on the same level as Cadel. But for the sake of this cycling analogy stuff – understand the context of the comparison I’m making.

Jesus is the picture of suffering if there ever was one.

In a prophecy made 680 odd years before Jesus was born, Jesus was described as becoming The Lord’s suffering servant. A man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief, oppressed and treated harshly (Isaiah 53). The prophecy was spot on.

Jesus, the Son of God was whipped, skin tore off his body. Blood poured freely. Thorns were shoved into his skull. He was tortured, spat on, crucified, killed. Unrecognisable. God turned his face away.

So, all this pain and suffering – how did Jesus endure it all?

Because the joy set before him was so great. His love for us is so much greater than the (literally) excruciating pain he endured. He was making a way for us, his people, to be in full relationship with him.

And we are called to live with the same goal in mind. We cannot fully mature in faith without trials. Therefore, we should be careful not to betray God’s invitation to maturity. But in the same breath, we can find strength in knowing all suffering, all pain on earth, is just temporary in our pursuit of his kingdom.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Jesus

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Sometimes the wind will be at our backs as we gun it downhill. Life is just a cruise along the esplanade at sunset. Everything is going great.

But then we will turn a corner. The wind is suddenly all in our face. Rain is spitting into our eyes. Ahead of us is a big-uphill. The chain comes off, a wheel is punctured. It’s remarkable how often these things seem to happen all at once – in cycling and in life.

What was once an easy cruise has become a battle against the elements. A battle against our will to push through. Others whizz past on the other side of the road as they head downhill, wind at their backs. The other way looks so much easier as we trudge uphill. We begin to envy other’s lives and the lack of suffering they have. Turning around to join them becomes an appealing prospect.

But we do not turn around. We keep moving in the right direction, slow as it is may be. For we know the strong winds and the hill climbs build up perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:4). Keeping our eyes set on the goal ahead of us, looking to he who completely shattered the elements of death itself.

The Everest we face today just an ant mound in comparison to the joy ahead of us.

Eyes set.