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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
God called shepherds on the fringes of society, to the Good Shepherd who calls 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.
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:
Lies. Deception. Failure to follow through on definite promises. The same old slogans. Selling hope but delivering the opposite. Outdated leaders that don’t understand the people. ‘The better of two evils’ is often how we describe the candidates.
And us Aussies don’t like any of our leaders. We’ve had something ridiculous like 6 prime minsters in the last 7 years (a new record mind you). We just can’t make our minds up. Nobody truly leads with authority. Nobody really makes us want to follow them. The real issues aren’t being properly addressed.
Can I hear an amen?
We just want a fair shake of the sauce bottle. But there’s certainly an aspect where we have to just put up with it. Attempting to overthrow all of the world’s governments is not a good idea. I repeat: not a good idea.
We should consider our government and authority with respect, praying they rule justly. Yet, their rule is just temporary. No government is lasting, secure or faultless.
“The kingdom of heaven is near” – Jesus (Mark 1:15)
Except this one.
Here we have Jesus putting in his ballot paper. Publicly declaring to everyone his full confidence in this kingdom. The line has been drawn.
And even more than that, Jesus promises nothing in this world can rival this kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10-11). Not some cheap knock-off or temporary rule of a government with an average leader.
This is the real deal.
Now, we place a lot of different thoughts onto the word kingdom. Medieval stuff like castles, knights, and drawbridges with shark infested waters. But kingdom in its simplest form is just a shortened form of King’s Dominion.
The activity and reign of the King.
So when Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is near, it can actually be taken literally. Jesus was physically with the people. Therefore, the kingdom was literally near. So if we want to find out what this kingdom is all about, we should look to the activity of the king. We should look to the works and words of Jesus.
Let’s find out how worthy a candidate this Jesus is.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
Each day looks very different for me. Take a few weeks ago as an example.
I (just) finished 3 assignments and sat an exam for university. That took up most of my week. But I also worked in a fruit stall at my local markets. I helped lead at youth group. I caught up with my church. I worked as a dishy in a restaurant. I went for a few bike rides. I went hiking with one mate, had coffee with another friend, and saw another mate in hospital.
But it’s so easy to forget God in the chaos. With so much going on, I regularly need to be reminded and encouraged of my purpose here on earth. Each day looks vastly different, but I need the same reminder each day to keep me on track.
And I use a rubber band on my wrist as this reminder.
Rubber bands hold and contain things. Often I find rubber bands lying at the foot of letterboxes. They are most often used to hold a bunch of letters, pamphlets or magazines together until they reach the destination (letterbox).
Breaking news, I know.
However, the rubber band has almost no value. Heck, a whole bag of these rubber bands only costs a couple of dollars. Once used, they’re discarded onto the ground. Most people walk past or on them without noticing. They’re pretty insignificant.
What makes the band significant is the message it helped deliver.
We as Christians are the rubber band. Like the rubber band, we hold and contain an awesome message to tell the world. We are called to share the awesome message of complete and utter forgiveness, unfailing love and ridiculous joy through Jesus. Eternity and perfect community with him and his people.
But like the rubber band, we aren’t very valuable in ourselves. Sure, you and I are OK at some things. But we aren’t hugely significant in the global context of things. In the history of the world, our lives aren’t exactly bookmarked.
However, we take on tremendous value because of the message we carry.
‘God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them…’ – 1 Corinthians 1:28
So when others point out our flaws and failings, we can confidently agree with them. In fact we can boast in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The creator of the universe chose us, insignificant and flawed, to contain and proclaim to the world his message of hope. His strength where we are weak – now that’s something to boast about.
“I did not come with eloquence or wisdom… I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling” – Paul [1 Corinthians 2:1-3]
Paul understood being a rubber band well. He told everyone he wasn’t a crash-hot speaker. He let everyone know that he didn’t have amazing wisdom. In fact, he told the crowds that he was weak and scared.
Paul realised he wasn’t significant to the message he was giving.
All he really understood was that he had to deliver the message he possessed. Nothing would stop him. He understood the significance of what he contained, and despite knowing all his weaknesses and failings, put pride aside for its delivery. God worked through the flawed, weak, not particularly intelligent man that was Paul – and did amazing things through his life.
What a testimony.
Maybe we should take a leaf out of his booklet. Our identity with Christ and his message of hope is what gives our lives meaning beyond the grave. Nothing else. May we never lose sight of the significance to this message we contain.
I leave one challenge to all the rubber bands reading this:
Someone may have driven over our moral compass. If it isn’t broken – it is lost.
What is true integrity? How relevant is it in today’s society? What does it look like?
All important questions. Integrity is something I believe is so important, especially being a Christian, as Jesus had a lot to say and do about it. But more about him later.
“The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles”
“The state of being whole and un-divided”
In the world today, as a general rule, I believe integrity is somewhat lost. This isn’t different to many other societies before us, however, is still an issue in my opinion. Australia has had something like four prime ministers in the last five years (don’t quote me on that). Failure to fulfil definite promises, although not a new concept, is something we expect in the leaders of our countries. Let that sink in. We are experiencing a drop in the length of marriages worldwide (not saying divorce isn’t necessary in some cases). Celebrities are commonly in the news for cheating on their spouses.
We find meaning in the number of likes on a post. Most of our opinions and views are based around popular opinion. We are told how we should look and act by the mass media. Our self-concept and identity is based on highly changeable things. Closer to home, I ask myself: Do I conform with society? Where does my motivation lie? I wouldn’t stack up too well in those areas.
Fickle: changing frequently, especially as regards one’s loyalties or affections.
We are a fickle society. We value good times, success and financial gain more than most forms of integrity. Myself included in that. We have become our own authorities. Our own ‘true north’.
But is this a bad thing? What is wrong with being in control of our own life? This is where we sift and sort some of the readers here. I believe it comes down to your belief, or lack of belief, in Jesus. Why is that? If what Jesus said and did is all true, we have something serious to consider. And I believe he backed up his claims pretty dang well. My next blog I may go through some of the most compelling evidence for Jesus being who he said he was. A great topic, but more on that another time.
Jesus came and completed the build-up to what is a world-wide revolution, but not the ‘throwing bottles, setting buildings on fire’ sort of revolution. As the picture above suggests, he came in love for his people. And we are to treat all people in the same way as Jesus does. To be the hands and feet of Jesus on earth. What a tall order.
Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways – Proverbs 28:6
In Hebrew, “integrity” in the Old Testament means “the condition of being without blemish, completeness, perfection, sincerity, soundness, uprightness, wholeness.” In the New Testament it means “honesty and adherence to a pattern of good works.”
Jesus is the perfect example of integrity. Bar none. He came preaching counter-cultural messages to: love your enemies, be honest, to give more than you take, to pray for those who persecute you. And he didn’t just preach these things – he lived them out. He came to serve instead of be served. A true picture of humility and integrity. Never did he sway from his convictions, yet displayed commitment through compassion to all people.
Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool – Isaiah 1:18
Important to remember that we are flawed humans. True, 100% integrity is impossible on our own (unless you are Jesus, then read above, if you skipped to the end). But Jesus says that through his actions on the cross, we are considered without blemish, perfect in his sight. If we choose to accept his offer, that is. We are called to live in light of the cross, living in repentance and relationship with the author and perfecter of our faith – Jesus.
I posted this on Instagram a while ago. I believe it serves good use as a picture of integrity – and how we are to live it.
There’s a reason integrity has the word ‘grit’ in it – it’s hard fought
I liken true integrity to this obstacle course. For those of you who don’t know it, it is a team-based obstacle course involving many different challenges. It includes going through tunnels, scaling walls, crawling through mud, etc. In the same way, as Christians we have a military inspired, intense test of our faith and character before us. It demands courage, perseverance, stamina and teamwork. It can’t be done alone. All are welcome to join the team and buckle in – it is set to be one heck of a ride.
To the people with no formed opinion on a God – I pray you investigate the claims of Jesus more. Really look into it. Because if it is truth, it is worth even our lives. We all have the choice to accept or reject Jesus. But that comes down to you. Always welcome to join the team.
Living with integrity to the people around us is a blessing. We have the chance to show just a snippet of God’s kingdom here on this earth. What a privilege, dare I say, responsibility we have. As Christians, we need to realise the commitment involved with our convictions, and allow confidence and compassion to flow from them. In the workplace, school or public arena – integrity as advocates of Christ is imperative.
“The Christian walk is something deeply personal, but so very public”
What a challenge. I find it confronting, such a big task to even consider, let alone live out. However, It is important for me to take a step back and consider where my moral compass points.