Unlimited Access To God

The Melbourne Cricket Club membership is one of the most important and prestigious memberships in our country. I’m not saying that because I enjoy my sport, I’m saying that because it will take you 20 years to receive the opportunity to join, if you apply today. That’s right, 20 years. Currently, the waiting list is over 225,000 people long. It tells a story of its importance to our city and to our country.

With this MCC membership comes particular privileges. You see, access into the more prestigious part of the MCG, including the Long Room and the Members Dining Room are now open to you. Along with these privileges comes responsibilities. These include appropriate behaviour and dress. But unless you have a membership, and wear the appropriate gear, you don’t have access to the seating and rooms available to you when you are a member. A non-member has no such access.

Thankfully, when it comes to access to God there are no such barriers. We have personal, relational, and unlimited access to God because of who Jesus is and what he has achieved.

Unlimited Access To God

One of the key themes of the Christian scriptures is that of access to God. Access to God in the Bible is depicted in different ways through the various parts of the Christian story but it all heads toward an understanding that we can have personal, relational, and unlimited access to God.

In the beginning, back when God created the world and everything in it, access to God is personal, relational, and unlimited. But this is torn to shreds when his creation takes it upon themselves to do their own thing. As Adam and Eve are disobedient to God we find the entrance of sin into the world, drastically changing the shape of humanity’s relationship with God.

And from here the story of God and his people unfolds like a dance. There is the seeking of restoration with God but also the reality and tension of son, distorting humanity and their worship of God as God.

In the book of Leviticus God and his people are together again. Yet, for the proper worship of and access to God particular regulations put in place. These regulations come in the form of instructions or laws, led by a tribe of people designated as priests for all of God’s people. These priests would perform their duties in the Tabernacle, a large tent designed and built for the worship of God. Later in Old Testament this would become a Temple, a permanent residence where God would reside in the most inner place, the Holy of Holies.

And so access to God was limited to the priests, often limited to one day per year for the particular sacrifices and festivals expected. The ordinary Hebrew is cut off from access to God, their worship is delegated through the priests. Like an MCC membership, access to God is restricted to certain people.

Thankfully, however, we understand through the New Testament, that the restriction in worship to God has been once again opened up. Jesus comes and fulfils the role of the priest. He is the one who restores our relationship with God. He is the one who is sacrificed for the sin of the people. He is the one upon which this sin is placed. He is the one who provides access to God – personal, relational, unlimited access to God.

The writer of Hebrews outlines the way Jesus completes and fulfils this role. But more specifically, he writes in chapter 4:14-16:

“Therefore, since we have a great High Priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

The uniqueness of the Christian faith, the uniqueness of Jesus, is that we don’t have to do anything to have full access to God.

We don’t have to say any particular prayers, we don’t have to earn any particular merit, we don’t have to perform any particular rituals, we don’t have to give any particular gifts to earn God’s grace and mercy – to gain access to God himself.

No, God has provided for us personal, relational, and unlimited access to himself through this great High Priest Jesus.

We aren’t on any sort of waiting list. We aren’t required to have any particular dress code. We aren’t limited in our access to God because of what we have done. No, we can go with confidence and approach God, receiving his grace and mercy and help in our time of need.

Whatever our need, we find ourselves able to have access to God. And not just able to have access, but we can have confidence in coming to Jesus, the Son of God.

Published: Gospel of Mercy: Remembering Our Identity In Christ

A huge influence on the way we think of ourselves, particularly as youth ministry practitioners, is related to our identity. This is relevant to anyone who isn’t a youth pastor or involved in youth ministry work too, obviously. But recently I’ve reflected on this in relation to the youth pastor position, and had a piece published about it at Rooted Ministry a few days ago.

Part of what I write is that…

“Because of this new identity there are changes to get used to. Things which we used to hold as important and central to our identity become secondary. Our identity as a father or mother, as an accountant or barista, as a top student or college dropout, well, these become secondary to being part of the people of God. These identifying factors, while not redundant, become lesser as our identity in Christ becomes greater.

This even goes for our position in the youth ministry! Whether on a pastoral staff or a volunteer youth leader, our identity is first and foremost with Christ.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Published: Redeeming Love For Run-Down Parents

I have tried my hand at writing a post for parents. Thankfully it was published on the Rooted Ministry Parents blog this week.

In the post itself I focus on how the Book of Ruth helps remind us parents that we are not the saviours of our children. It is not us parents who redeem them, it is the Lord. We can rest in the knowledge that God is working in our lives, in our parenting, and in our children. We can rest in his faithfulness, his sovereignty, and his redemption.

“Thankfully, the story of Ruth reminds us that in among all the tasks, night terrors, and tiredness, it is God who faithfully rescues our minds and hearts. Behind the daily grind of parenting there sits a God who seeks our hearts and the hearts of our children. He has his providential hand upon us, calling us into his care and comfort, and rescuing us from our own ineptitudes, sinfulness, and character flaws.”

You can read the whole thing here.

If you would like to read other articles I’ve had published elsewhere you can find them here.

Published: Asking The Why – What Is My Calling?

I’ve written regularly about calling, and how to think through it.

Recently, I was interviewed by the YMI podcast “Asking The Why”. It was a fun conversation, and hopefully helpful too. Here’s how it’s described:

“What career path should I go down? Which relationship should I enter in to? Where should I live?

For many of us followers of Jesus, these questions can depend on what we feel God is calling us to do with our lives. In church language today, the term calling usually refers to a Christian discovering a specific job, ministry role, or use of gifts and talents that is out there for them. But for many of us who feel like we haven’t found that special “calling”, we can sometimes feel like we are outside the will of God or failing as a follower of Christ. So how then can each of us find out what the call of God is for our lives?”

You can also view the video here:

Is Mission Optional For Discipleship?

OK, let’s be clear from the outset.

To be a disciple is to be a student of a teacher.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to learn from Him.

This learning and growing process is known as discipleship.

I imagine for the majority of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, discipleship involves some or all of the following – meeting with other believers, reading the Bible regularly, praying, going to church, meeting with a mentor, doing a short-course on an aspect of the Christian faith, listening to podcasting preachers, reading Christian books, talking about spiritual things with Christian friends, being involved in a small group, volunteering in a ministry at church and maybe even using Christian buzz words like ‘journey’, ‘organic’, ‘missional’ and ‘emerging’.

Most of these are excellent. They’re great and important. They help us grow in our faith. They allow us to gain a better understanding of the nature of God and the power and presence of Jesus. They help to build real and authentic (OK… another buzz word) community and inspire us into a deeper faith.

Yet, when I look at the discipleship ‘journey’ that Jesus took with 12 young guys, I wonder if we’re missing something in the discipleship package we’re sold today. Yes they prayed together, ate together, were part of a mentoring relationship and listened to cracker sermons (from Jesus Himself!). But all of this happened within the context of a much larger picture. There was a purpose that led to something greater than their own faith development: the faith of others. AKA Mission.

Is Mission Optional For Discipleship_

From the outset Jesus equipped, prepared, challenged and released His followers into mission.

It was mission-focused discipleship.

A discipleship that was geared more towards the needs of others than their own. It was a kind of discipleship that required them to be active and to work out their faith in the daily grind. It was this kind of discipleship that grew some uneducated country fishermen into ‘missionaries’ committed to spreading the Good News to people who hadn’t heard it. Mission was not an added, optional, “Would you like fries with that?”’ extra. Rather, it was completely integrated into their discipleship. Just like your veggie patch needs light, food and water to survive, our discipleship is nurtured, fed and grown by engagement with others in mission.

Discipleship is the vital activity of believers around the world. In fact, it’s the model of mission Jesus has given us from the start. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 emphasises the making of disciples as the primary activity for believers. Jesus Himself showed us the way as He led His disciples, while in Acts and throughout the rest of the New Testament believers continued to grow their faith in all the different places and cultures they lived in.

I wonder what part mission plays in your understanding and experience of discipleship? It may mean joining a new sporting team or club or being more intentional with your time, resources and language at uni, work or mother’s group or engaging with other cultures to see where God is already working and how you might be able to join Him.

If the job that Jesus left us with is really about being disciples who make disciples, then it applies whether we are here in Australia or in a far corner of the world. If we follow Jesus’ model of discipleship, then no matter the number of books we read, sermons we listen to or mentoring sessions we slot into our week, something will always be missing if it isn’t wrapped up in mission. And while this can seem impossibly daunting, even simple things like starting a soccer match or joining a Tai Chi class can be used by God not only to make more disciples but to help deepen our own experience as disciples as well.


Originally published in Resonate (ed. 20), a publication of Global Interaction

Are You Walking WITH God?

The book, With: Reimagining The Way You Relate To God by Skye Jethani, was probably the best book I read last year. It was just brilliant. It was challenging and helpful in thinking about what it is to relate and commune with God. It’s a book I’ve made our interns at church read. And more recently, it’s a book I’ve quoted in one of my sermons when talking about what it is to grow as a follower of Jesus.

Are You Walking WITH God_

One of the helpful ways Jethani frames this idea of walking WITH Jesus is by highlighting how we perceive our relationship with God. In doing this he talks of four postures:

First – Life from God

These are people seeking blessing and gifts from God, but aren’t particularly interested in God himself. God is seen as a combination of a “divine butler and a cosmic therapist”.

Second – Life over God

Here people have lost the wonder and mystery of God and his world. Instead they seek to earn God’s favour through formulas and proven controllables. Those who believe God operates this way will seek to put the right techniques in place for faith, church, and life so a relationship with God can occur.

Third – Life for God

This is the posture of being concerned with serving God and expending all energy in doing something for God. Whether it be service or mission this posture highlights those who believe a relationship with God is founded on the things done. Identity is wrapped up in doing and service for God.

Fourth – Life under God

People who have a posture of life under God sees God in cause and effect terms. Through obedience to his commands God will bless life, family, and the nation. In this posture the believer is to determine what God approves and make sure they remain within those boundaries in order for God to uphold his part of the deal.

I find that these postures are fairly accurate in terms of how people think about their faith and relationship with God. But as Jethani rightly outlines, our relationship with God is exactly that, WITH God. It is a relationship, not a religious exercise with rules and rituals. And so, when speaking about being with God Jethani says,

“The life with God posture is predicated on the view that relationship is at the core of the cosmos: God the Father with God the Son with God the Holy Spirit. And so we should not be surprised to discover that when God desired to restore his broken relationship with people, he sent his Son to dwell with us. His plan to restore his creation was not to send a list of rules and rituals to follow, nor was it the implementation of useful principles. He did not send a genie to grant us our desires, nor did he give us a task to accomplish. Instead God himself came to be with us–to walk with us once again as he had done in Eden in the beginning. Jesus entered into our dark existence to share our broken world and to illuminate a different way forward. His coming was a sudden and glorious catastrophe of good.”

How about you, do you walk WITH God? Or, do you find your relationship with God is depicted through another posture? 

 

Can Ruth Help With Race?

The book of Ruth is one of the great literary stories in the Old Testament. While it might be a short story, it is a brilliantly constructed piece of literature that involves love, tragedy, and hope. It is packed with subtlety, meaning, and is masterfully written. And as I’ve been preaching through this wonderful book I’ve noticed how this story may well help us when we talk about race, ethnicity, and cultures.

It is in the introduction where this cross-cultural theme is raised. Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons move away from God’s Promised Land to Moab. In crossing the Jordan River they arrive in a foreign land, with a foreign people, who worship foreign gods.

Here tragedy strikes.

Can Ruth Help With Race_

Elimelech dies; seemingly before his time. And Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women.

And so, the author constantly references ‘Ruth the Moabitess’ as the story progresses. This action to marry women of Moab is not seen as a good thing. Given the historical context of the story these marriages, and the decision to leave the Promised Land, is a rejection of the promise-keeping, covenant-bound relationship with God. It is an act of disobedience.

The issue here in the book of Ruth is one of fidelity.

It is an issue of faithfulness.

The promise-keeping, covenant-bound marriage between God and his people is being broken through (1) a lack of trust in God’s provision and (2) what is more than likely a drifting into worshipping of other gods, rather than worshipping YHWH, the Lord God.

Any infidelity through other gods from foreign nations is considered a breaking of this promise-keeping, covenant-bound marriage between God and his people.

There is a constant refrain in the Old Testament of God having a people he calls his own. This is biblical Israel. This is those who are to trust and obey him with their hearts and actions.

Yet, the Old Testament also speaks of the people of God accepting and including the outsider, the foreigner, into the family of God. Israel is to refrain from oppressing the foreigner and provide justice for them, incorporating them into their festivals, celebrations, and sacrifices and offerings. They are incorporated into the people of God and to be treated as such (Leviticus 17:8-9; 18:26; 20:2; 22:18; 24:16, 22; Deuteronomy 10; Numbers 15:14).

God’s people are to be concerned and care for them just as they are to care and be concerned for their own people.

And so there is this balance. God wants his people to remain his people, while also being open to the outsider, the foreigner.

The author of Ruth highlights the disobedience of this particular family but across the story shows the significance of this particular foreigner. Ruth the Moabitess is to be the person in whom God fulfils his promises and plans; leading to salvation and redemption for all nations.

As we sit here today–post-Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection we understand the gospel continues to have a radical challenge for us in terms of cross-cultural relations.

As Ephesians 2:11-22 reminds us,

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” 

It seems to go without saying that of all people Christians are not to be people who are racist or ethnically monochrome.

First, we understand that all people are created by God and made in his image.

Not much more needs to be said, other than this is a foundational truth for us as believers. Those we sit next to at work, those we play sport with on the weekends, those we interact with in our street, are all people created by God and are his image-bearers. Genesis 1-2 outlines the imageo dei for us, a crucial understanding of who we are as persons.

Second, we understand that the gospel is for all races, nations, tribes, and ethnicities.

Paul writes in Galatians 3:27-29,

For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

The promises of God, and the good news of what God has done in Christ, is open to all people. This is leading to a time when people of all nations and tribes and ethnic groups will worship God together. Revelation 7:9-10:

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

 Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!

Third, we understand that God’s people, the Church, is made up of people from all nations and tribes and tongues.

There isn’t a flattening of cultures and ethnicities into one monochrome Christian culture. Rather, the Christian church becomes a deeper and more diverse faith because of the worship of God through cultures and ethnicities worshipping God in ways they understand.

God, in his wisdom, has provided a church that is multi-ethnic; and we as the people of God are to reflect that multi-ethnicity in our local communities of faith.

And fourth, we understand that we are to go and tell; to share this message of racial inclusivity to all nations and cultures.

The mission of his church is to show the gospel and the Christian faith isn’t a nationalistic faith, a ‘white-man’s faith’, or a Western faith.

It is good news for all people of all cultures at all times.

When we read the opening of Ruth we may have lots of questions around this issue of Ruth being a foreigner. Why does it seem so significant? But really, the surprise comes in that she is included into God’s family. In a similar way to Abraham, she is a person who accepts God by faith, and in doing so is accepted by God.

I wonder, I just wonder, whether Ruth can help us in our understanding of others…?

Luther’s Evening Prayer

I came across Martin Luther’s evening prayer this week, written in his Small Catechism (circa 1529). I found it a prayer that encourages rest and solid sleep, recognising God’s hand, oversight, and care for his creatures.

“I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray You to forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.”

Sleep well.

Day 14 – You Are Relational

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

The God we worship is a relational God.

He could’ve done anything he liked and what he chose to do was create humanity in order to have a relationship with him. We see in the first book of the Bible that he not only creates the world and everything in it, but there is a particular emphasis on him creating humanity as the pinnacle of his creation. We as his creatures reflect the image of God. We carry within us, and possibly outside of us, aspects of God himself. In recognising this we find we are image bearers of God. We bear the image of God as we walk and talk, as we connect and commune with others.

God, being a relational God and creating us to be in relationship with him, therefore, puts into us something of that relational characteristic that he has.

We reflect God’s relational character in our lives.

Therefore, we find we have a yearning for relationships.

We seek after relationships with others, we seek their company, friendship, acceptance and love.

You're More Than A Number - You Are Relational

The explosion of social media in recent years highlights the fact that we want to tell others about ourselves, and probably highlights our voyeuristic tendency to want to see what others are up to as well. But, it seems that we want to be in relationship with others, and seek that relationship in a variety of places. Whether it is face-to-face or online there is a yearning and desire for relationship in our lives. Some find these fulfilling relationships in positive places, others fall into the arms of harm and pain, suffering as they seek to find the relationship they desire.

This creation narrative in the opening chapter of the bible (Genesis 1:26-28) reminds us we are not accidents and that we are made for one-another. Not all relationships need to be physical or sexual, but they do need to be person to person, seeking to love one-another because that is what we are created to so. This kind of relationship is not simply between one person to another either. It is relationship with groups of people, with a community.

Thankfully, God in his infinite wisdom provides a community for believers that is to meet aspects of this relational need.

God has designed a community in the form of his people, the Church.

When we think of church we may not have great things to say about it. We may think of it as only a meeting place for singing songs, praying prayers, and hearing someone speak to us. Church is meant to be much more than a place to gather for 90 minutes on a Sunday. The church is to be a place where we find God-fashioned community.

In Acts 2:42-47 we see the early church, those who had contact with Jesus in his lifetime and witnessed his presence in physical form, came together with other believers in community. As part of that coming together they had meals together, prayed together, heard teaching together, and simply hung out with one-another. This was the germinating church, the church in its infancy as believers came together, bonded together, and were in community.

This is God’s people living together as God’s people.

In today’s Western society we can look around and see that our churches and communities of faith are not expressing themselves in the same way. Due to cultural and societal factors this doesn’t occur as it did in first-century Palestine. But as God has designed it we are made to commune with one-another on a regular basis, as an expression of our love for God and love for one-another.

In the book of Hebrews 10:24-25 we are encouraged to not stop meeting together but continue to do so in love and worship.

“…let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other…”

This is not only an expression of church but an expression of worship through community.

Just as we are made for relationship with God and with each other we are also made to express our relationships through community. Together with a group of people we play an important role in helping people know they are loved by God and others.

FOR REFLECTION

  • What relationships are most important to you?
  • How does knowing you were made for relationship and community affect your view of others?
  • In what ways can you contribute to a local church so that others know the love of God?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved
  8. You Are Free
  9. You Are Chosen
  10. You Are A Child of God
  11. You Are A Slave
  12. You Are Made For Good Works
  13. You Are A Follower

Day 13 – You Are A Follower

“Come, follow me…” (Matthew 4:19)

A disciple is someone who follows another.

When Jesus was hanging around earth in human form he collected 12 disciples. Each one he called to follow him, and as they travelled with him they got to know him more and more. This was typical of the day. Rabbi’s, Jewish teachers of the Law and Prophets, would have a group of followers, a group of disciples, who they would teach. In the case of Jesus, he choose people who weren’t typically considered disciple material. Lacking in education, and not well versed in the scriptures, Jesus’s disciples would not be people normally associated with a Rabbi. Yet, Jesus doesn’t do things that people would expect, does he?

Today, we are expected to lead from the front. You may even hear the term ‘self-leadership’. This means that we are to take responsibility for our own learning, growth, and decisions, and lead ourselves. We’re not people who are to follow others but are to follow our own dreams, passions, and feelings.

You're More Than A Number - You Are A Follower

From a young age we’re told we can do whatever we want. We can do anything in life, whether that be career, study, or sport. We’re constantly told that the most central and important person in the world is us. And with that comes the expectation we are to forge our own path in life.

For some this comes in the form of not following the advice and desire of parents. The rebellious nature of adolescence, pressures of school and family too, can bring about feelings of resentment. Instead, some decide to follow their own path out of spite, in direct opposition to what their parents would believe is the best for them or approve of.

Others recognise they have a particular passion and gifting in an area and seek to pursue that until they have reached a level of success others around them will never attain. The pressure of popularity, being better than others, and comparison, can drive people to work hard at following their passions and desires.

And then, of course, there is the chase of wealth. The pursuit of money and riches is easily one of the defining pressures of our day. Wealth and perceived success is a certain driver for many decisions and career choices.

When we look at Jesus we see he chose people who were ordinary. He didn’t choose those who were the best at their craft or artistry. He didn’t choose them because of their wealth or potential success. No, Jesus chose some average and ordinary men to come and follow him.

In Melbourne we support our football teams with passion. We’ve all seen those supporters who go the extra mile. They buy the membership and all the gear–the jumper, the scarf, the hat, the badges. They have their seat at the ground. And they follow the players and team constantly.

In some ways these kinds of supporters put many believers to shame. Why don’t we follow Jesus with the same passion and support as these football supporters? Often we find ourselves dragged down by what life throws at us. But considering we know what Jesus has done for us through the cross shouldn’t we be the ones who are passionately and actively following him?

Following Jesus isn’t always easy. That was never the deal when we committed our lives to following Jesus. Following Jesus may bring with it a fair bit of struggle. People may not like us, we may not be popular, we may have to sacrifice wealthy opportunities, but within all that surely we should be passionate about following the one true and almighty God!

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his book, The Cost of Discipleship,

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

This means that he calls us to follow him with our all. He calls us to follow him with everything. He calls us to follow him with our lives. Not just part of our lives, or on a particular day of the week. All.

It’s a gripping and scary thought.

But for those of us who believe it resonates and resonates strongly – That we are followers of a great and holy God who through his Son has enabled us to have hope now and for the future.

When we say “yes” to God we are saying we are willing to become a follower.

FOR REFLECTION

  • Do you consider yourself a follower of Jesus?
  • Are there areas in your life that you aren’t following Jesus in?
  • That quote by Bonhoeffer, how do you react to that? Are you letting Jesus lead in your life?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved
  8. You Are Free
  9. You Are Chosen
  10. You Are A Child of God
  11. You Are A Slave
  12. You Are Made For Good Works