God does not need Lent, but we do

“God does not need Lent, but we do” these are the words in the opening paragraph of the Lenten resources of the General Synod of the Anglican church.  It describes Lent as a period of waiting and preparation for Easter.  The document says, “the rhythm of fast and feast taps into some elemental need of ours, where denial creates longings to be satisfied so that we come to deeper appreciation of God’s great gifts”.  These words capture why lent is important in our spiritual walk with God.

In Daniel 9:3, Daniel says that he turns to the Lord God in prayer and petition, in fasting and in sackcloth and ashes.  Ashes have become a symbol of turning to God in humility, acknowledging our need for God’s grace.  Lent should remind us of God’s grace; Lent is not a season of earning God’s favour, we can’t be good enough, but it is about returning with humility to our reliance on God’s grace and mercy.

Perhaps you don’t come from a tradition or belief system that observed the season of Lent.  In my childhood, we would not only observe Lent but give up something for Lent.  As a child, I remember heading to the fish and chip shop during Lent to line up for our fish with crowds of other Christians.  It would be fair to say that as a child the observance of Lent was more cultural than spiritual.  Yet I have come to realise that this cultural legacy can easily turn into spiritual disciplines that draw me deeper into my relationship with God.

So, if you want a fresh perspective on the season of Lent or you want to understand this season for the first time here are three things to remember for Lent:

  1. Giving up or Taking up – the focus of many people during the season of Lent is giving up something for 40 days. Perhaps you need to give up something that you enjoy as a  trigger to reminder you to pray or read the bible.  Giving up something for Lent should not be about giving up something that is bad for you or bad behaviour that you should have already given up.  Giving up swearing for Lent is not the point of Lenten disciplines.  The Lenten disciplines are meant to be spiritual exercises that draw you closer to God.  Reading, writing and reflecting are all good practices that we can do at any time of the year, but perhaps during Lent you could take up these spiritual exercises or disciplines with renewed focus. Acts of generosity are also traditional during Lent where people might give up buying something so they have extra money to give to missions or ministry.  Whether you give up something or you take up something focus on how it will draw you closer to God, not the activity itself.
  2. Private disciplines – In Matthew 6:16 Jesus encourages us not to show off about our spiritual disciplines. These spiritual disciplines should not draw attention to yourself and your sense of piety.  These spiritual exercises should not be held over other people to make you look better than them.  Lent should not be something that makes you crumpy and difficult to be around.  It is like the person who gives up coffee for Lent and everyone around them wishes they would just have a coffee.  The spiritual disciplines that you practice during Lent are between you and God.  You might choose an accountability partner who supports you during the season of Lent, this is useful and helpful.  But Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6 that when we fast and pray in secret our Father in heaven will reward us.  This reward is surely closeness to God rather than any earthly treasure.
  3. Sharing the Good News – the subtle thing to remember is that our spiritual disciplines may be observed by others which then present an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus with others. For example if you are pausing at a set time every day for prayer this might be obvious to others and they ask you what you are doing.  Whilst we don’t wish to draw attention to ourselves if someone askes what we are doing then we can draw attention to God.  We can use the opportunity to talk to people about the hope we have in Jesus.  We don’t have to deny that we are involved in Lent if someone asks us.  So, if someone asks me what I am doing for Lent then I’ll tell them that I’m writing in a Lenten journal that our church has produces and can give them a copy if they want one.

In some circles of Christians Lent seems to have gone out of fashion, I understand their point of view.  Some people say we celebrate the resurrection and God’s grace every day, which is true. However I think that the standard of living in our society today is higher than many people experience during their periods of feasting.  We could all use some balance in fasting and feasting and perhaps Lent is a season to remind ourselves of this rhythm.

In finishing read these words from the Anglican Prayer book:

So, by self-examination and repentance,

By prayer and fasting,

By self-denial and acts of generosity

And by reading and meditating on the word of God

Let us keep a holy Lent.

Please leave a comment on how you observe the season of Lent.

 

markoffaith.net, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, Mark McDonald

 

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Biblical Landscapes – The Desert

If you have ever seen pictures or movies set in the desert they are usually dry, hot and barren landscapes. My mental image of the desert come from the classic movie Lawrence of Arabia; lots of camels walking up and down hills of sand. In Australia we have lots of stories related to the harsh desert and wilderness areas of inland Australia. In the early explorers period of European settlement it seems that explorers died in the outback due to the heat and lack of water in the desert. Perhaps like me you have an image of the desert as a harsh and dry place.

The desert areas in Israel vary in their geography. Many areas that we might think of as desert are called wilderness areas because almost everywhere in the middle east is dry. In the bible, the desert or wilderness might just refer to areas outside the city. For example some translations say that Jesus withdrew to the wilderness, others say he withdrew to the desert.

Rather than debate the geographical definition of a desert. I want to look at the biblical significance of the desert or the wilderness. There are three key insights that I want to share with you from my recent visit to the wilderness or desert in Israel.

  1. The desert as an image of simplicity – when a person or group is in the desert within the biblical narrative it is an image of simplicity to life. In the desert people would live in tents so there isn’t the complexity of buildings as there is in the city. In biblical times the desert was a simple working life rather than the complexity of the working farming communities. In the desert the food choices are much more limited, for example during the biblical Exodus the people of Israel complain to Moses about the choice of meat they had available to them in Eygpt compared to the basic food in the desert.

The desert can be a place of danger even death if people don’t know how to find food and water. There were people groups in the bible that preferred the desert nomadic lifestyle. Today in Israel there are a lot more options for living in desert areas but it still represents a much more basic lifestyle than that of the city.

  1. The desert as a quiet place to hear from God – the complexity of noise in the city can sometimes drown out the voice of God. In the bible God often calls people out into the desert in order to speak to them. Abraham lived in the desert and heard from God about his future as the father to a great nation. Elijah headed out into the desert to hide from his enemies but it was here in the desert that God spoke to Elijah and strengthened him (read 1 Kings 18-19). Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness or the desert to spend time with his Father in prayer. The lack of distractions in the desert makes it easier to listen to God.
  1. The desert is the place of preparation for a future mission – the book of Exodus and Numbers the people of God were being formed into a nation as they wandered through the desert. In the book of 1 Samuel David was being formed for Kingship as he ran from Saul through the desert. In the gospels Jesus was preparing to begin his earthly ministry during his 40 days in the desert. And Jesus withdrew to the wilderness before he headed to Jerusalem to accomplish his mission on the Cross.

In many biblical stories the desert is like the modern day retreat centre. Just like the desert in biblical stories the retreat centre is usually a quiet place where people head for some time away to reflect on their life. Most contemporary retreat centres are comfortable without being luxurious; the person going on the retreat doesn’t need the distractions of a 5 star luxury resort. Just like those who were called into the desert, many people spend time in a simple retreat centre to listen to God as they transition into a new period of ministry or mission.

My desert experience was visiting a retreat centre prior to my ordination as a Priest. We were asked to spend three days in silence to listen to God as we prepared for the ordination day. We were given a small room with a basic desk so that we could write in our journal. To add to the wilderness experience the retreat centre was off the mobile phone coverage area so we couldn’t check Facebook or email.

The retreat centre is a special place not because of the place but because of the transition that takes place. Just like the desert in biblical times, the transition that God takes people through is what is important. We might not need to go into the desert ourselves but we do need a simple place that we can go to hear God. Where is your desert place?

The desert was an important image in the bible because it was an image of seeking out God. At times in the bible the desert is just a physical landscape that people travel through, not every reference to the desert is a reflection of the thoughts listed above. Yet if we open our minds to the idea that the desert is the biblical equivalent of our retreat centre then perhaps we will gain new insight into the biblical text.

Please leave a comment about your thoughts on the desert in Biblical narrative.

Israel landscapes - Beersheba Israel landscapes - Dead Sea Israel landscapes - En Gedi Israel landscapes - Jordan Valley

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How does God speak to you?

In my line of ministry, and because of the events I attend, I meet Christians from a diverse range of backgrounds.  This means that I encounter a variety of prayer and worship styles because of all the different churches and denominations that I work with.  Yet the interesting thing to note is that God speaks to people in every church, in every prayer style and in every worship style.  The key to hearing from God is to know how God speaks to you.

In my line of work I have met people who hear from God through praying the rosary, reading the bible, listening to podcasts, contemporary worship music, social justice, working with people, teaching and many more.  It would be unfair to say that God doesn’t speak at least someone through a particular prayer or worship style.  However it is fair to day that most people hear from God in the style that is dominant in their denomination:

  • Pentecostals in contemporary worship
  • Catholics in the Liturgy
  • Anglicans in preaching
  • Salvation Army in service of others

Most of us have a favourite prayer and worship style and so we think God speaks to almost everyone in that style.  For example, some of my most profound moments with God have been in the four or five songs of contemporary praise and worship service, yet my wife wants it to finish half way through the opening song to get on with the preaching.

Two people at the same even can have very different reactions.  For example, when I visited a monastic prayer service with a group I was working with, someone said it was the most profound experience of God in their life, yet I could not understand a single word of the service as it was in Latin.

We are all different and so God uses different prayer and worship styles to speak to people.  Here are three things to keep in mind when listening for God:

  1. Not everyone listens in the same way:  Perhaps a friend of yours listens to God using one style but you might be more comfortable with another style.  Look at how you normally take in information (audio, visual, experiential, individual, communal etc) and see if you can find a prayer and worship style suited to that.  Don’t just stick with what is natural in your denomination, experiment with other styles until you find one that helps you listen to God.
  2. Don’t rule it out until you’ve tried it:  some people rule out styles of worship because it isn’t from their denomination.  Perhaps you need to experience something to see if you find God in it for yourself rather than listening to someone else’s negative opinion.  Once you have tried it then you know if it is for you or not, just like I now know that monastic prayers services in Latin are not for me.
  3. Your preferences change as you get older: be aware that as you grow older and as you grow more mature as a Christian your preferences will change.  When you were younger you might have liked more communal prayer styles but as you get older you need more personal time with God.  Perhaps as you get more mature in your faith you need to listen for God through serving others and putting your faith into action.

In your searching you will encounter some styles of prayer and worship that can be forced rituals or superstitious if you don’t enter then the right way.  Check with a trusted leader, pastor or priest who might be able to help you, but be aware that people hear from God in almost every prayer and worship style.

Before we finish here are two words of warning:

  1. God’s Word:  if you don’t ever hear God speaking to you when you read the bible then perhaps you need more detailed advice than this blog post can give.  God’s Word in the bible should be like air to our lungs; it should inspire us, comfort us, challenge us and makes us feel loved by God.  If you never hear from God when reading God’s word then see your spiritual advisor, pastor or priest.
  2. Service:  the bible says that faith without works is dead (James 2:26), so if all you do is sit by yourself listening for God without ever serving others then get out into the world.  As a Christian it is not just about your own personal relationship with God, you must be out in the world serving and ministering to others.

I hope that helps you learn to hear from God.  If you have any advice then please leave a comment in the section below.

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald, markoffaith.net

How many people does it take to start a youth group?

How many people does it take to change a light bulb? This is often a joke told where the answer gives an insight into a particular stereotype. Whenever I hear this joke, I wondered how many Catholics does it take to start a youth group? Whilst I am sure that there are many humorous answers that we could give if we were telling a joke, the number one issue that people ask me about is how many people do you need to start a youth group?

Let me tell you my answer with a real life story, you may even guess the group.  About five years ago three Catholic young men were interested in starting something in their parish for young people. They wanted to lay a solid foundation for youth ministry in their parish and “get it right” from the start. So they decided to come together every Thursday night for prayer, to ask God for guidance, vision and direction.

Their next step was not to launch into a mega ministry or try to entertain the “youth”, the three young men thought “who can we invite into this group for prayer?” As they added the next person then the next person, the group began to grow. This was training the group in the evangelical spirit which characterises the group today. Not “Evangelical” by denomination but the group has a heart for evangelisation or to put it simply they want to share this with their friends.

Five years later those three young men have gathered 50 or 60 other young people to meet for prayer on a Thursday night. The group looks different from what it did five years ago but the element of prayer is still present. If you ask me what makes this group successful, the prayer element and evangelistic spirit would be it.

Sometimes as an intern, volunteer or youth minister, you may want to copy the program of a successful youth ministry that you admire. Instead copy the heart and culture of the ministry. Many people think that Hillsong is successful because of their music, yet it is the culture of small group discipleship that drives the ministry. Some people might thing the group mentioned above is because they have a supportive Priest, but it is more than that.

So next time you ask yourself how many young people does it take to start a youth group, know that it only takes three.

———————

This post first appeared in February 2010 and people still ask me about how many people it takes to start a Youth Group.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald, markoffaith.net

Eye witness proof of Jesus

People often ask about the proof about the existence of Jesus, did you know that we have eye witness testimony of the existence of Jesus?  Yet why do so many people base their views on Jesus from writers from a different millennium?  Do they have factual evidence to reject the testimony of eye witnesses?  What are the claims of eye witness testimony in Scripture?

On Sunday night here in Melbourne, Channel Nine aired a television drama called “Howz that!”  It is a re-creation of the events surrounding the 1970’s split between the Australia Cricket Board and the cricket players, leading to the creation of World Series Cricket.  The interesting thing about the drama was the actors were portraying real people and their version of events.  In the week after the show aired most of the media were asking the real people about their version of events.  Whilst the show was exciting to viewers, nothing beats the testimony of a person who was actually there.

This got me thinking about the value of eye witness testimony to prove what happened at certain events.  At the same time I was reviewing commentary of 1 John and realised the weight of eye witness testimony in the Epistle.  So what is the eye witness testimony in the bible:

  • The Epistle of 1 John claims to be from an eye witness of the life and ministry of Jesus.  In the Epistle it claims that Jesus was the Son of God and really died on the Cross as an atoning sacrifice for sin.
  • The Second Letter of Peter, 2 Peter, also claims to be an eye witness to the life and ministry of Jesus.  Peter also claims to have seen and read the writings of Paul, and found them difficult to understand.  See 2 Peter 3:15-16.
  • The Gospel of Luke claims eye witness testimony of life and ministry of Jesus.  The author, Luke, also claims eye witness testimony of the life and ministry of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles.

Some modern writers claim that the Old Testimony prophesies about Jesus are so vague that they could mean anything.  Whilst I disagree with this perspective it still doesn’t change the fact that there are at least three written eye witness accounts of Jesus.  We also know that  these writings have been tested over the centuries and found to be as legitimate as any document from that period.  If you want more on this see the work of John Dickson from the Centre of Public Christianity.

So it really comes down to the question “why do people reject the eye witness testimony of Jesus and get their understanding of Jesus from a 20th Century atheist?”  We have to wonder if it is because the message of Jesus is too confronting for them.  Perhaps the message of Jesus demands too much change in the way these people live their life.  Just because a person don’t like a message doesn’t make it untrue.

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Who was praying for you?

If you have the Mark of Faith on your life then no doubt somebody was praying for you long before you knew Jesus.  There are just too many stories of people who were supported with prayer long before they achieved greatness to believe that nobody was and is praying for you.  Who was praying that God would touch you long before you even knew God?  Who was praying for your ministry long before you started in your ministry?  The prayers of the previous generation have influenced this generation more than we could ever understand, but believe me when I tell you that somebody was praying for you.

We even see this principle in John’s gospel with the story of Nathaniel, read John 1:43-51.  Long before Nathaniel knows Jesus, Jesus knew and loved Nathaniel.  It is in the conversation with his friends who have met Jesus that Nathaniel first hears about the Messiah from Nazareth.  It is with the encouragement of his friends that Nathaniel overcomes his prejudice to go to see Jesus.  It is this encounter that teaches us all that God knows us and loves us long before we come know God.

Recently I have heard a few stories from people who discovered that someone was praying for their mission years before they started their mission, here are just two:

  1. Archbishop Ben Kwashi – Ben Kwashi grew up in a church going family in Nigeria but rebelled against the faith for most of his teenage life.  In the rebellious young adult years a man talked to him about Jesus and Ben was radically saved.  In order to turn around his life he went back to his mother to share his conversion.  His mother was pleased that he had turned his life around but couldn’t see Ben as a minister.  So Ben went to his grand mother to tell her of his conversion.  His grand mother listened and responded that she had been praying since his birth that he would enter into ministry.  In the years before Ben was even a Christian there were people praying that he would become the great man of God that he is today.
  2. Matt Chandler – Matt was preaching to young adults in universities across America when the Highland Village church asked him to be their Senior Pastor.  Matt thought the church needed a lot of changes so tried his best to turn down the job.  After many meetings Matt took over the church of 150 people as their Senior Pastor.   After he took on the job one of the key elders shared with Matt that he had been praying for 15 years that God would send a Senior Pastor who could grow the Highland Village Church to influence others.  Today that Church reaches over 8,000 people in three campuses every sunday and over 50,000 people download Matt’s sermons every week.

Sure these are famous people and you might think that nobody is praying for you.  Yet I doubt that any of us come to faith without someone praying for us before we even know who God is.  Whilst I know that someone must have been praying for me I wonder who it was.  Was it my grand mother went to church every week and who used to give me 20 cents every time we visited?  Was it my mother who took me to Church every Sunday, was it my father who taught me the value of reading the bible?  Was it a De La Salle brother who encouraged me to think about religious life in Year 7?  Who else would have been praying for me?

So who was praying for you?

  • Parents: most parents pray over their kids when they are babies, even if they aren’t that Christian.  Almost every parents wants a great life for their child and God listens to those prayers.
  • Teachers: did you have a special teacher who looked after you?  did you have a teacher who encouraged you to learn and discover more?  God values teachers and uses them to build us up to enter the mission of Christ.
  • Friends:  that friend of yours who was a Christian was probably praying for you long before you became a Christian.
  • The Previous Generation – whilst we might not appreciate the older generation in our church today, they have been faithfully praying for this generation to continue the work of Christ through the Church.

So who are you praying for?  Do you pray for the next generation as much as the previous generation prayed for you?  If we slip in our understanding of this concept then we can start to think that it was our effort that saved us.  We can start to think it is our effort that makes our ministry grow not the prayers of others.  We can start to believe that God and I are alone in the task of building the Church and we forget that people help us through prayer as much as time or finance.

So thank those who prayed for you and please pray for the next generation to be stronger, even bolder and more passionate than we are.

markoffaith, mark of faith, Mark of Faith, MarkofFaith

Do some contestants on the Voice have the Mark of Faith?

Last night I was watching the television program The Voice.  It is a show that I have been watching since the season started and I have grown to admire many of the contestants as they sing a variety of songs.  One thing that has struck me is how many of the contestants seem to have the mark of faith, something about them makes me think they are Christian.  Other contestants may not be Christian but the Gospel is present in their story even if they don’t know it yet. Consider a few contestants:

  • Two contestants are openly Christian
  • Two contestants were “lost” but have been found
  • One contestant brings hope to street kids in their “day job”
  • One contestant is inspiring because of her blindness
  • One contestant is so Soulful that a judge felt “baptised by the Spirit” after one hit performance.

Just in case you haven’t seen the show, I am talking about Australian singers singing on an Australian show.  This isn’t an American show where almost everyone thanks God.  Perhaps it strikes me as odd because I expect Australian television to be so secular that when faith, hope and joy pop up it stands out.  Perhaps it is just me but some of the elements on the Voice are not just human emotions but real hope and joy that only come from Faith, the mark of faith on someone’s life.

But I am sure that there will be some people out there that think it is not Christian enough, the contestants aren’t out there enough with their Faith.  Not one contestant has openly thanked God and some others haven’t identified themselves as Christians.  Yet when contestants on the TV show Survivor were openly Christian, it wasn’t a very good picture of our Faith.  So I want to suggest three ways that the mark of faith is present in The Voice:

  1. Worship – whilst a few singers have sung songs with a Christian message, many singers have sung in a way that takes you to another place.  This ability to go beyond the words of a song to move people is a gift that comes from God.  When we truly worship we are moved to another place, even if we aren’t singing a “worship” song.  For example when Darren Percival sung “this time love will be for ever” Keith Urban said “all the atheists will be confused now” because the song moved everybody.
  2. Character – some of the contestants have admirable character, you would love to be around them.  Whilst some of the contestants wouldn’t be Christians and others may be loosely Christian, the TV show has shown how important character is.  In most cases I just want the contestants to succeed because I like them so much.
  3. Building up – whilst you don’t have to be Christian to build people up, I believe that seeing the best in others is the way God sees people.  The secular narrative on the other hand is to tear people down to get ahead, to support others as long as they support you and make others look bad to make yourself look better.  Now I haven’t seen everything that goes on whilst the cameras aren’t rolling, but the bits the cameras have picked up are much better than other TV shows on at the moment.

So whilst I am not saying the Voice is a Christian show or that everyone is Christian, I am impressed that the Gospel values of Faith, Hope and Joy are seeping through the elements of the show.  If you want to see how effective a quiet witness is, rather than a bang them over the head with the Gospel approach, then check out some of the video clips online of the Voice.

A Lesson about tithes and offerings from Exodus

When ever it comes time for the collection at Church, taking up the tithes and offerings, people often use the passage “God loves a cheerful giver” 2 Corinthians 9:7.  Whilst this may be a standard passage used at the offerings time at Church, there are a few good lessons about God’s purpose for offerings in the book of Exodus:

  1. God prepares hearts – In Exodus 11:2 God tells Moses that the hearts of Egyptians are being prepared to give the fleeing Israelites gold and silver.  So each Israelite is to ask their neighbour for gold, silver and clothing before they leave Egypt.  At this point the purpose of this “treasure” is unclear.
  2. God provides abundantly – true to God’s word when the fleeing Israelites ask for gold, silver and clothing the Egyptians hand over these items.  In Exodus 12:36 it reveals that the Israelites were able to “plunder” Egypt as they left.  Again at this point the purpose of this “treasure” is unclear.
  3. God invites people to give an offering – after the Israelites have been “on the road” for some time, still carrying the gold, silver and clothing, God asks Moses to give the people an opportunity to make an offering.  They should make their offering if their hearts are “prompted” Exodus 25:2.  At this point Moses collects and offering of gold, silver, bronze,yarns and linen, skins and leathers, oils and spices.  Whilst the purpose of this “treasure” is unclear to the people, Moses knows that God is about to use the items.
  4. God uses the offering for His glory – In the rest of Exodus we read how God uses these gifts to build the tent of meeting, the ark of the Covenant and the Mercy seat.  None of the materials needed to create these would have been found naturally in the desert.  It seems that God had an intention for these materials that had a higher purpose than making the Israelites rich.

Exodus provides us with three important lessons about giving offerings to our local Church:

  1. God provides – how often do we think that we earn the money that we give to the Church.  Exodus reminds us that God has a plan to provide us resources long before we have earnt them.
  2. God prompts us – sometimes we know we should be giving more in our tithes and offering but we don’t.  There were probably Israelites who held back their items from the offering, they wouldn’t have received a blessing that God promised.   Whilst God may prompt us to give an offering it is not forced, an offering without free will is not an offering at all.
  3. God knows the plan – often we don’t give in our tithes and offerings until we know the plans for how they are to be spent.  Churches find it easier to get offerings if they identify the plans before taking up the offering.  In Exodus 25 we are reminded that God asks for the offering before revealing His plan.

So God does like a cheerful giver, but perhaps there is more to offering than just being cheerful.  Perhaps there are bigger plans for our tithes and offerings than we can image.

Pentecost

Did you colour this in Sunday School?

Does anyone remember sunday school or primary school classes about Pentecost where you coloured in tongues of fire resting above the heads of the Disciples?  Pentecost was such an easy passage to draw yet it was a confusing passage to understand as a kid because we read about tongues of fire, a rushing wind and a Holy Spirit as a dove.  Whilst I don’t expect kids to get the full understanding of the Holy Spirit, it would be a shame if adults had this limited understanding of the Holy Spirit and Pentecost.

Pentecost is not a memory of an event 2000 years ago but a reminder that God is still active in the world today through the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost is not just an even for “Pentecostals” but for everyone who calls themself a Christian.

Recently at Bible College we debated whether John 20:22 was St John’s version of the Pentecost event that occurs in Acts 1 written by St Luke.  Whilst the debate leaned towards it being a separate event, the main message of our discussion was that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the disciples because He was about to leave them.  A better question would be “why did they need the Holy Spirit?”  The answer to this question is that when Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples needed God’s support to carry on the mission of spreading the Good News or Gospel.

The Holy Spirit, or Comforter, is not given to us so that we can be comfortable, but so that we are comforted as we engage in Mission.  If we want to know where the Holy Spirit is working today, take a look at those engaged in Mission.  The Holy Spirit empowers us for mission.  The Holy Spirit equips us for building the Church and equipping the Saints (see Ephesians 4:12).

I have heard it said that the Church doesn’t have a mission, the Mission has a church.  On a day like Pentecost we are reminded that we are empowered to take this Good News out to the world, not keep it to ourselves within the walls of our Church building.  My prayer for you is that the Holy Spirit blesses you with the gifts you need to be bold and courageous in the mission within your community.

Easter Sunday

We celebrate people who overcome

Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ has Risen, Christ is Risen.  Today, Easter Sunday, we celebrate that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.  After three days in the tomb, the stone is rolled away because Jesus has risen from the grave.  The empty tomb is the symbol of Easter Sunday because Jesus has overcome death.

When we look at our society today, it is hard to explain this victory to people.  People celebrate the most amazing victory ever with cheap chocolate that gives you a quick sugar rush, then a crushing low only a short time later.  This is hardly the appropriate symbol to celebrate a once and for all victory over death.

Here is a more appropriate image:

In our society we celebrate people who overcome great adversity to succeed in a task.  How much more then should we celebrate someone who overcame death?

Let me give you a few examples:

  • My Son’s Year 5 teacher went in the Melbourne IronMan event that involved a 3km swim, 100km bike ride and a 42km run.  It would be a great achievement to complete one of these legs but she finished all three.  The school community celebrated her achievement; she was a hero to all the boys in her class.  It was because the task involved difficulty that people celebrated her achievement.
  • I worked with a teacher who was planning a trip to Mount Everest.  In the training he discovered he had cancer.  He was determined to beat cancer so he could make to Everest base camp.  After months of therapy he had overcome cancer and made it to base camp.  Overcoming cancer made him a hero to many people but then going to base camp was even more impressive.  It was because he overcame difficulty to achieve his task that people celebrated.
  • We celebrate all kinds of people who climb Mt Everest.  Anyone who makes it to the top is a hero.  But if you make it to the top unassisted that is even more heroic.  When a blind person climbed Everest that was even more heroic.  It seems we celebrate people who overcome great adversity to achieve a task.
  • We celebrate people who achieve in business all the time.  Yet if someone started out with nothing then we celebrate their achievement even more.  But if someone starts out with nothing during a depression, goes through a recession and comes out successful then books are written about them.  Even in the secular world of business we celebrate people who overcome great adversity to achieve a task.

So what about Jesus? Why is that we celebrate people who overcome great adversity yet we expect God to give us everything easy or God is not faithful?  Why is that we expect God to give us everything we think we want in order to show us God is great?  Wouldn’t it be more logical to let us overcome adversity so that we feel we accomplished something?

Here is the amazing thing about God:

  1. Jesus overcomes death – if you think it is hard to fight cancer in order to climb Mt Everest how much more difficult is it to overcome death itself.  Jesus didn’t just wake up from a coma caused by the Crucifixion, he had a new body, able to walk, talk and eat.  Jesus walked a few miles on the road to Emmaus only days after dying on the Cross, this is not a simple healing but a new beginning.  Jesus overcame the greatest challenge of all and we should celebrate.
  2. God is faithful – God knows what we are like and sent his Son to die for us as a sign of God’s faithfulness.  We don’t have to overcome any great challenge to join in this victory, we have it easy because God is faithful.  We can stand before God blameless because Jesus overcame death on our behalf.  Isn’t this something that we should celebrate?

My hope is that you celebrate that Jesus overcame the greatest obstacle so that we can believe that anything is possible.  My hope is that this Good News is something that you celebrate because it is greater than any IronMan, any climb of Mt Everest or any Business tycoon.  What a great day this is.

What does Easter mean to you?  Please leave a comment.