Community Survey results are in!
The results of our community survey on The Problem with Christianity are in and they make interesting reading. Child abuse in the church is the Number 1 problem that people in Townsville see with Christianity - around 1 in 3 people surveyed thought this was a problem. Interestingly, the Number 2 issue, hypocrisy, is closely related to that.
The other really interesting thing for me was, the idea that Christianity is anti-gay is much more of an issue for people under 18 than for everyone else. There was also another other issue (which didn't make the Top 7 list) which was seen as a problem particularly by young people: the Christian teaching on 'no sex outside of marriage'!
The top seven issues are listed below, and we'll be talking about these at church from October 13. Why don't you come along and think about these things with us?
- Child abuse in churches (30%)
- Christians are hypocritical (24%)
- How can God exist when there's so much suffering? (19%)
- Christians are judgemental (19%)
- Isn't the Bible anti-gay? (18%)
- Surely there can't be just one true religion? (18%)
- What about evolution? (17%)
Is this one of the Problems with Christianity?
This response (below) by Kevin Rudd to a questioner on the issue of same sex marriage caused quite a stir. In it he criticises Christians who oppose same sex marriage on the basis of the Bible. Has he hit on one of the problems with Christianity?
Is this one of the Problems with Christianity?
Institutional child sex abuse has been a big talking point in Australia in recent years, as this short video shows. But in it, Australia's most senior Roman Catholic bishop - Cardinal Pell - admits to something that's also a big issue for Christianity. And that is hypocrisy.
Are these two issues the biggest problems with Christianity? Have your say here in our online survey.
Problem with Christianity - Survey now available
Our community survey, "The Problem with Christianity" is now up and running! Click on the link to the right of this post to take it, or on the banner image above. It only takes a couple of minutes. Let us know what your views are.
The Problem with Christianity
Yesterday marked the (very unofficial) launch of our new teaching series for Term 4 this year: "The Problem with Christianity". Through a short survey, we're asking people in our community what they think are the biggest problems with Christianity. Then at church we're going to look at the top seven or eight issues that come up.
Assuming God blesses our plans, the survey to be available through our website soon and we will get the word out in various ways. We're also planning to get people at Northside to survey their friends & neighbours. And hopefully we'll find out what Townsville thinks are the biggest problems with Christianity!
And yesterday was a great start to that - 44 surveys in one day(!) - at an event we were part of at our local high school.
More details soon.
Domestic violence, divorce, and the Bible
I came across this podcast on the question of domestic violence and divorce from Carl Trueman (Westminster Seminary) and Todd Pruitt (Presbyterian Church of America minister). I haven't heard anyone put this issue quite so well.
In full it's about 25 minutes, but 7 minutes will get you the nub of it.
Worth a listen.
Victoria's Child Sex Abuse Enquiry, Confession, and Daniel 9
We were looking at Daniel 9 at Northside today, one of the great prayers in the Bible. And one of the things that makes it great is just how open Daniel is about his wrongdoing and the wrongdoing of his people - much of the prayer is taken up with Daniel's confession of sin.
Which brings me to Victoria's child sex abuse enquiry. Don't you wish some of the church representatives coming before the enquiry would be a bit more like Daniel - that is, a bit more open about the wrongdoing that's occurred in their organisations?
Which is why it was so heartening to receive an email from change.org today about this petition started by retired Sydney Roman Catholic bishop Geoffrey Robinson. Bishop Robinson is calling on the pope to call a full council of the church to deal with this issue, and finally begin a transparent process to address it.
Maybe Bishop Robinson has been reading Daniel 9...
Different venue for church on 9th June
We're holding our yearly church camp this weekend, combined with our mother church Willows. Because of that church this Sunday for Northside will be at the campsite, not at our normal meeting place. The time is also different: 9am not 9.30am.
The campsite is located just 10 minutes north of our normal meeting place, at 46 Toolakea Beach Road, Bluewater. (If you type that address in it will come up on Google Maps.) It's the Guides Campsite.
Worldviews and the public arena
Kate Higgins wrote a piece in the local paper (the Townsville Bulletin) yesterday about the listing of the abortion drug RU486 on the federal government's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. In it she puts forward an idea that's popular at the moment: that we should keep personal & religious views out of public life.
I disagreed and so wrote this letter to the editor:
I want to thank Kate Higgins (Townsville Bulletin 30/4) for putting her views so clearly on the PBS listing of abortion drug RU486. Clarity is a precious thing on an issue which sometimes generates more heat than light!
I must take issue though with Kate's view that personal and religious ideas should be kept out of the public arena.
Everyone has a worldview - a set of assumptions about the world in which we live. Some worldviews are grounded in religion, some are not. But we carry them with us wherever we go; it's impossible for us to leave them at the door.
And our worldview shapes our particular views on particular issues.
My own view on abortion (for example) springs from an assumption about the value of human life. My view on abortion (to put it simply) is that such is the value of human life, why take the risk that we might be destroying it through abortion, at whatever the gestational age? The point is though, that my view on abortion springs from an assumption about the value of human life which (in turn) is grounded in my faith in Jesus, who valued human life so much that he became a human being to sacrifice himself to save other human beings.
Most people would agree that the value of human life is an eminently reasonable assumption, religious or not, just as I would agree that the assumption that a woman should have rights over her own body is an eminently reasonable one. But that being the case, why should my view on abortion be excluded from the public arena, just because it springs (ultimately) from my faith?
The Voice returns!
OK, I admit it: I got hooked on the reality TV show "The Voice" last year. Not sure what it was - there were, in fact, some things about it that annoyed me. But I loved it and I watched it to the bitter end. This year it's back. So I thought I'd give it another try.
And so far it seems to be working pretty well. Ricky Martin has (surprisingly) slotted really well into Keith Urban's shoes. The talent seems amazing (where do all these people come from?). Joel's jokes are still bad...
The one thing that sticks out to me on the negative side though is epitomized by a comment Ricky Martin made after one of the performances the other night. He said, "Music is life." And it is to these guys - to the celebrity coaches and (I suspect) to many of the contestants. To them, it seems, a life without music would be life not worth living.
Jesus however had something else to say about what life is. He said that this is life: to know the one true God and his son (Jesus) whom God sent into this world for us (John 17:3).
Music is a wonderful thing. Some have thought that in it, we come close to touching the divine. (And I don't necessarily disagree with that.) But it's not the divine - it's not God - it's not the thing that truly makes life worth living.
How often as people we elevate something of this world (however wonderful) into the place of the one who made it. Music isn't life; Jesus is life. He's the only one who can fulfil those deepest longings of our soul that we so often seek to have fulfilled elsewhere. To seek to have those longings fulfilled in other things (like music) is to place too great a weight on them, a weight they cannot bear.
So let music be music and enjoy it for what it is. And let God be God and let him do what he does best in our lives.
Easter at Northside
Good Friday 9am // In the park, cnr Mt Low Parkway & Lynwood Ave, Bushland Beach // Combined with Northern Beaches Connections (the local Baptist church)
Easter Sunday 9.30am // Northern Beaches High School, Meranti St, Deeragun
A variety of counselors...
Today at Northside someone who isn't the minister delivered our sermon. One of our elders, Ian Putt, preached on 2 Timothy 2:2. (You can hear it here.) And what a blessing that was! Not only to me (as the minister) but to everyone else too.
Because a variety of perspectives is a healthy thing in a church (Proverbs 15:22). And we were blessed to hear Ian's perspective on this important verse. (Apologies that we're missing the first few sentences of this sermon.)
Northside is proud to be hosting Mike Raiter for two preaching seminars, on Friday 22nd & Saturday 23rd March. Details are below and you can register here. Mike will also be preaching at Northside on Sunday morning 24th March.
Northside's 2013 church calendar is out. You can download it from the 'Calendar' page under the 'Resources' menu above.
We've done something different this year, dividing the year up into four parts, each with a different focus: one to welcome people, another to build each other up, a third to serve our community, and a fourth to engage our community with the good news of Jesus. Not that we aren't seeking to do all these things all the time! But it's good to have a focus sometimes.
We pray that God will use what we've planned for his glory.
Christmas night saw my wife & I at the movies - Les Mis is one of her all-time favourites. And despite the over two-and-a-half hours of this movie, it was great to go to the movies and be inspired: to have the better side of my nature appealed to by characters who are interested in right & wrong, grace, self-sacrifice and love.
Interesting though that the picture above has the caption "Freedom is mine". Because Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) actually finds his freedom in a form of slavery - in submitting himself to a life of service - and being willing even to give up his physical freedom in self-sacrifice if that's what God requires of him.
Even if you don't like musicals, if you do like to be inspired then do yourself a favour these holidays and go see it.
The historicity of Jesus
From time to time you hear comments bandied around about how Jesus didn't really exist, especially at times like Christmas. Frankly this is nonsense. There is more evidence for Jesus than for Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, people whose historical existence is never questioned.
John Dickson, a Christian but also someone with a PhD in ancient history has a great article at ABC Religion Online here which talks about this.
Christmas Day at Northside
Christmas morning at Northside will be at our normal meeting place, Northern Beaches High School, Deeragun.
Come along for some coffee & Christmas cake at 8:15, and then church will start at 8:30.
Everyone is welcome and we hope to see you there!
On Sunday 16th December we're planning to join with three other churches in our area to present Christmas Carols in the Northern Beaches! The Lions and Scouts will be selling food, Rotary are doing drinks, the Rural Fire Service are doing first aid, and the churches are doing the music. Glow products and face painting for the kids will be available too. So if you're in the area why not come along! Details are on the flyer above.
Royal Commission & child sex abuse
Praise God for the Royal Commission into child sex abuse announced by our federal government last week! Child abuse is a stain on our society and it's a travesty that some who've been entrusted with children in the name of Jesus have trampled on that trust, and by so doing, on the name of Jesus as well.
After all, like some who are accused of these acts, Jesus was a single man. Yet he managed to treat all types and classes of people (including children) with dignity and respect. And we should be able to expect the same of those who claim to follow him.
In the context of talking about sexual immorality the Apostle Paul says to the Ephesians: "Have nothing to do with unfruitful works of darkness but instead expose them." (Eph.5:11) Praise God that this Royal Commission will do that. But what a shame that the church didn't expose them first.
I (along with many other people) got up early this week to watch the eclipse here in North Queensland. One of the things I learned about eclipses this time round is that Earth is the only planet in our solar system where this sort of eclipse happens - where the moon perfectly blocks out the sun. Some planets have eclipses where the moon more than blocks out the sun. But Earth is the only planet where the moon and the sun are just the right size from the view point of the planet so that one just blocks out the other. Which means we get to see the "corona" (the shiny bit around the sun we don't normally see). Very cool indeed!
It was interesting though to hear commentators in our media describe this and say that it's just one of those amazing coincidences. Amazing coincidence my foot! The only place where this occurs just happens also to be the only place populated by people who can appreciate it?
God tells us in the Bible that he's the one who made such amazing 'coincidences'. He made them to point to him (Psalm 19:1). And a wonderful 'pointer' it was too!
Northside Sermons Now Online!
Northside's weekly sermons are now online. We've done this so that people who miss a sermon during a particular series can keep up with what we've been learning together. Just go to our 'Members', 'Sermon Archive' page using the drop-down menus above.
8 Issues Everyone Can't Ignore
I think I should have called our Term 4 teaching series "8 Issues Everyone Can't Ignore" instead of "8 Issues Christians Can't Ignore". Because these issues are relevant for everyone, not just those of us who actively follow Jesus. But no matter! Here's the dates for the topics in any case:
14 Oct Principles 21 Oct Marriage: the big picture 28 Oct Marriage & divorce 11 Nov The environment 18 Nov Social justice 25 Nov Beginning of life (abortion) 2 Dec Euthanasia 9 Dec Government
One era ends and another begins
Today (2 September) marks the end of one era for Northside and the beginning of another. Today was our last day meeting at Bohlevale State School, and next Sunday we will begin meeting at Northern Beaches High (see map below).
It was was a sad occasion today in a way - this venue has seen lots of good things happen over the past 18 months or so: people putting their trust in Jesus, people growing in their faith, people putting their faith into action in serving others & this community. And we're not planning for any of that to stop! But it was sad to say goodbye to this venue.
But we're also looking forward to next week as we start meeting at Northern Beaches High. This new venue should suit our current needs better, especially in summer with the air conditioning! We also hope to begin kids ministry on Sundays there next term. And there will be new relationships to be formed within that school too.
They say the only constant thing in life is change. To that I would add that our God is constant too. And we look forward to what he has for us in Northside's next chapter.
Masked Ball Photos!
Photos from last night's Masked Ball are now here.
It was a great night! Thanks to all who contributed and made it possible. We managed to raise a good level of new support for our local school chaplains. And we had a fair bit of fun too!
Northside's Inaugural Masked Ball!
On Saturday night 4th August, Northside will be holding a Masked Ball to raise awareness and funds for school chaplaincy in the Northern Beaches area of Townsville, our area. We're blessed to have two chaplains amongst our number at Northside and they do a great job of serving their schools in the name of Christ, and we want to support that.
It's going to be a great night of fun as we get dressed up a bit, learn a few dances, and hear some encouraging things about chaplaincy. Dance instruction will be by Dancetime Studios, and finger food by Jaffa Bah.
If you'd like to support school chaplaincy with us, then why don't you come along to our Masked Ball? Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for school age, and $65 for families and must be pre-purchased. You can get them by contacting me (Andrew) on 0427 114 238.
P.S. This is an alcohol-free event!
Why would you do it?
In case you didn't catch it, yesterday Nik Wallenda became the first man since the Great Blondin in the late 1800's to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Whether you're into extreme sports or not, you've got to admire his skills.
But my question is, "Why?" Why would you fight the bureaucrats for two years (as he did) for the right to risk your life like that? Whatever motivates Nik, I find it very difficult to comprehend!
There's another risk that someone took though that I struggle to comprehend - more than a risk because he knew it would end in death: Jesus Christ, in coming to earth for people like you and me. The question I ask about Jesus too is, "Why?" Why would he give his life for fallen people, some of whom would (literally) spit in his face? I just can't comprehend it.
But I can embrace it. And I hope you can too.
The Innocence of Muslims
Like many other Christians, I was shocked at the killing of the American ambassador to Libya last Tuesday by Muslims angry over the film, "The Innocence of Muslims". But I was even more shocked to learn that this film was made by a group calling itself "Media for Christ". How a group which claims to follow Jesus could make such a film is beyond me. As Christians it grieves us when people mock Jesus; how then could it be acceptable to mock a religious figure others hold so dear?
I am concerned though that even reasoned criticism of religious figures like Mohammed and Jesus seems to be frowned upon in some quarters of our society. Jesus was criticised by many people in his day and was happy to engage with that criticism. Surely a tolerant society is one in which we listen to one another's views, not suppress them.
Interestingly Jesus too was mocked, at the pivotal point of his life after he'd been arrested and was awaiting trial. He was blindfolded, beaten and mocked by his Roman captors (Luke 22:63-65). Yet on the cross it was for these very same people that he prayed, saying "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing." (Luke 23:34) May it be that as a society we are able to emulate his example.
I came across this story a couple of days ago about some doctors who are restoring sight to people who have long been blind. It's a wonderful example of what science and medicine can do, and of how the every-day work of some can greatly benefit others.
But it reminded me too of what it's like to become a disciple of Jesus. Because when someone becomes a disciple of Jesus a wonderful miracle takes place - their spiritual sight is restored! Y'see the Bible says that we're all born with a terrible disease, a kind of spiritual death. It's called sin. And it causes spiritual blindness (1 Corinthians 2:12-16).
But when we turn from our sin and follow Jesus then the wonderful thing is that God restores our spiritual sight and we can again see things "in colour".
It's a wonderful way to live life! And having made that decision personally, it's hard to comprehend how I was ever happy to live life in black & white.
Easter service times
This Easter we've decided to mark Good Friday together with Northern Beaches Connections (the Baptist church in our area) at their community church service in Bushland Beach. Start time is 9am, in the park at the corner of Lynwood Ave and Mt Low Parkway. Make sure to BYO chair! There will be an Easter egg hunt for the kids afterwards.
On Easter Sunday we'll be meeting at our normal time (9.30am) at our normal place (Bohlevale State School). All welcome - we'd love to have you celebrate Easter with us!
Perspective (Psalm 8)
It's so easy to get caught up in the pressure of the immediate - sometimes we concentrate so hard on the tasks before us that we forget to look at the bigger picture. It's a bit like looking at this picture of a seagull and staring so intently at the smaller pictures that you don't see the big one!
King David in Psalms 3 to 7 has been doing that. He's been looking intently at the problems of the real world around him - enemies, lies, bad things happening to good people, etc.
But in Psalm 8 (as we saw at Northside on Sunday) he does stop to look at the bigger picture - to contemplate God and his glory as shown (for example) in the brilliant blue of a clear Autumn sky; to ponder (too) the moon and the stars that God has put in place, and then think about the wonder of a God with such power and yet who still cares for him.
In other words, he gets some perspective, and that's a very healthy thing. Why don't you take some time this week to ponder the bigger picture. Trust me, it's good for the soul!
Genesis 28: Stairway to Heaven
I never thought I'd get to play Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' in church. But today I did!
It was because we were looking at Genesis 28 at Northside today. It's the original stairway to heaven, where Jacob is given a dream of a ladder going up to heaven with God at the top. He exclaims (in v.17): "How awesome is this place! This is none other than... the gate of heaven."
And he's right, although he only sees the shadow, not the reality.
Because the reality is Jesus Christ. In John Chapter 1 v.51 Jesus talks about Jacob's ladder, and he says effectively that he is that ladder. Jesus is the gate, Jesus is the way - the only way - to heaven (John 14:6). And putting your trust in him is how you get on that ladder.
Now you never knew that Led Zeppelin was really singing about Jesus, did you!
Family behaving badly (Genesis 27)
You don't get much worse family behaviour than what we saw in Genesis 27 today - lies, deceipt, cheating a blind old man on his death bed... And it's all within a family.
And it's not just any family; it's the family of Isaac and Jacob, two of the great 'patriarchs' of Israel, people from whom the whole nation of Israel would come. Even the Lord Jesus himself is descended from these guys. And yet by the end of the chapter this family feud goes so far that cold-blooded murder is planned. This isn't just mate against mate, it's brother against brother.
And yet God over-rules it all to achieve his long-term purposes through these people. In the chapters to come God doesn't let Jacob go - he grabs hold of him, turns his life around, and blesses him despite what he's done in his family.
It's called grace - God's kindness shown to sinful people like us. And if God can show grace to Jacob, then surely there's hope for us all.
The God of compassion
We were looking at Genesis 15 at Northside this morning, as Abraham is reassured by God that his promises of land and descendants would come to fruition. Abraham and Sarah are about 80 and 71 years old (respectively) at this point; it's no wonder they had started to doubt.
But the way God reassures them is beautiful. First he takes Abraham outside to see the night sky, a sight he would see almost every day for the rest of his life, and reassures him that his descendants would be as many as those stars. Then he takes him through an elaborate legal (covenant-making) ceremony, in effect saying that he's so serious about these promises, he's willing to 'sign his name' (as it were) to them.
Theologically, it's called God's 'condescension' - his lowering of himself to our level to communicate and reassure us in ways that take account our human-ness, our physical-ness, and our tendency to doubt.
Thankfully he's still the same God today: he still reassures (though in different ways), still 'condescends' to communicate in ways that are tailored to who we are. And I love that that's the sort of God we serve.
New Year Anxieties
At Northside today we looked at Psalm 6, in particular anxiety in Psalm 6. King David is anxious in this psalm, and his anxiety is affecting him; it's affecting him badly. So badly that it has physical side-effects - his "bones are troubled" (verse 2) and he's "languishing". Literally, he's worried sick.
Now what David's experiencing here is indicative of the way God's made us. Because we've not been made just as souls (the "real us") trapped in bodies (supposedly not the "real us"). But rather the Bible presents a picture of us where both soul and body are the "real us". And that means that when we're stressed on the inside, it's only natural that there will be physical side-effects on the outside - in our bodies.
Sometimes we can wrongly think that stress is not such a big deal and that we should just "get over it". But serious stress can cause real problems, and we need to take it seriously. And perhaps in those situations a cure for our bodies might just start with a cure for our souls.
What are you buying your kids for Christmas?
On our noticeboard at home we have a Christmas list. It lists everything our sons ask for for Christmas throughout the year. At the moment it lists Bobba Fett's helmet, some spy training books, a basketball hoop, a double-bladed light sabre... you get the idea.
Now this year I'm planning that instead of buying any of that stuff for my boys, I'm going to buy them a real-life, deadly poisonous, Coastal Taipan! Wouldn't that be cool, popping out at the boys on Christmas Day from under the Christmas tree? What boy wouldn't want that?!
Well, maybe I'm not going to get them that. Actually, of course I'm not going to get them that! What father, when his son asks for a Bobba Fett helmet would instead give him a Coastal Taipan?
And that's exactly Jesus' point about prayer and God our Father in Luke 11 verse 13. "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give [even the greatest gift] the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
You see, God's not stingy and unwilling to answer our prayers. Instead he's a wise and generous Father, much more wise and generous than us. And so we should trust him, and come to him often with our requests in prayer. And then let him sort out what's best for us to have.
The war within
When I first became a Christian, one of the things that surprised me was how hard it was! I was expecting the Christian life to be about love and joy and peace... and it is.
But at the point of becoming a Christian a war was also started within me. Until then I'd been following my sinful nature. But when I decided to live a different way - pursuing the character traits Jesus wanted me to pursue - my sinful nature fought back.
The Apostle Paul talks about this in Galatians 5:17 "For the desires of the sinful nature are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the sinful nature, for these are opposed to each other..." That is, they're enemies. But the good news is, when we decide to follow Jesus the sinful nature within us is dealt a mortal blow - it's defeated and "crucified" (Galatians 5:24). It still fights, but it's an enemy whose defeat has been sealed. And knowing that helps us deal with the fight - it's one the "basic tools" of the Christian life that we need to have in our toolbox.
Recent weeks have seen us seeming to move further towards uncertain times as a nation - financial jitters around the world, European debt, US economic problems, stock markets falling... will it be Global Financial Crisis Mark II?
At Northside today we looked at Psalm 4, and there too financial jitters seem to be part of the background - many people in King David's time in Israel are saying "Who will show us some good" (v.6). They seem to be looking for security in material possessions - more "grain and wine" (v.7).
David's response is interesting though. In the midst of uncertain times he realises that not all treasure in this world is financial, and that the joy that comes from a relationship with God is worth more than all the earthly treasure he could ever have. Admittedly it can be hard to take hold of these values in uncertain times. But David is right about this, and we need to hear it.
London riots and Genesis 4
We've all been shocked by the recent riots in England. The question on everyone's lips now is, "How could this happen?" Whatever the more immediate triggers, the Bible's answer is that people did this because of sin. And that sin goes way back to the 'original' sin in Genesis 3.
But it's in Genesis 4 (as we saw on Sunday at Northside) where sin truly shows its ugly face. By half way through the chapter we have the first murder; by the end of the chapter we have the second murder (and the murderer himself boasting about it); and by Genesis 6 we have this assessment of human nature: that "every intention of the thoughts of [their] heart[s] was only evil, continually." Pretty damning stuff.
Things like the London riots shock us because they force us to face the ugly reality of sin. It's not something we like looking at. The truly unsettling thing though is that the root of that sin is found in all of us.
Anders Behring Breivik and Christianity
There's lots in the news at the moment about the recent massacre in Norway. Apart from the obvious horror of this event, it's concerning that Anders Breivik is being described as some kind of 'fundamentalist Christian'. The word 'Christian' is a hard one because it means different things to different people. Whatever Breivik is though, he's not the sort of 'Christian' Jesus had in mind. There are a couple of good posts here and here. Having said that, even murderers can become the sorts of Christians Jesus had in mind. As staggering as it sounds, God's mercy is that big.
I recently inherited an old family Bible. It has some of my family tree recorded in it (names, birth dates, marriages - that sort of thing) going back to about 1865.
When my mum gave it to me, she also told me some stories about those whose names are in that Bible. It was great to learn more about my ancestors - who they were and some of the struggles they went through. It also helped me understand my mum - the things that have shaped her and some of the reasons she's made the choices she has. And in turn, it helped me understand myself too - who I am and some of the reasons I'm the way I am. Family history is great like that, because in understanding where we've come from, we better understand ourselves.
Genesis 1-11 (the sermon series we've just started at Northside) works like that. Because it's human family history; that is, it's the earliest history of the human family. You don't have to be a Christian to relate to these chapters, you just have to be human.
Why don't you join us as we explore this early history of the human family. We might just get to understand ourselves a little bit better, and by so doing, come to live better.
A terrible investment strategy!
Imagine you've got some money to invest. (I know we're getting into the realm of fantasy for some, but humour me!) And you see an ad for an investment scheme that returns absolutely zero on what you invest. And what's more, it's actually guaranteed to take away even the money you put into it, with no hope of recovery. Is that the sort of investment you're likely to go for?
Jesus (in Luke 12:13-21) tells us that living your life in the pursuit of money is just like that. Because just when you need it most - beyond the grave when you enter eternity - the pursuit of money will return you absolutely zero, and everything you have will then belong to someone else. Because you can't take it with you. Better (says Jesus) to be rich towards God: rich in a relationship with him and in a character that's been forged through living life his way. Because those things you can take with you.
Gentle Jesus meek and mild?
At Northside this morning we were looking at Jesus on hypocrisy (Luke 11:37-54). And Jesus really lets the Pharisees and religious lawyers of his day have it in this passage - he doesn't hold back, calling them 'fools' and likening them to 'unmarked graves'. In fact, he's far more like Arnie in Terminator II here, firing off his verbal grenades at the Pharisees and lawyers, than he is like the blond-haired, light-blue-robed, effeminate guy of my Sunday School days.
And that's important for us to come to grips with. Because we sometimes have this picture of Jesus as basically a woos. And who wants to commit their life to following a woos? And how is a weak Jesus going to be able to help in the midst of all the real, hard issues we face in life?
Jesus was far more inspiring and courageous than my Sunday School picture of him. So courageous, he followed through to the point of going to the cross for people like you and me. Now that's a Jesus I can follow.
We were thinking about focus at Northside today, looking at the story of Mary and Martha's encounter with Jesus in Luke Chapter 10. In the midst of our busy lives it can be hard to focus on what's really important.
Martha had that problem. Not that being busy is bad, but Martha was too busy. So busy she was unable to spend time doing the one thing really necessary - sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to his teaching.
Are you too busy, not finding time to look after spiritual things, to "look after your soul" (as some of our forefathers used to put it)? At Northside it's our aim to help you focus, focus on what's really important: sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to him.
We celebrated our mums at church here on the north side of Townsville today, honouring them as God wants us to (Exodus 20:12). It was great for us to hear from two mums in very different stages of motherhood, about their joys and their challenges and how we can helpfully pray for them.
Motherhood is one of those special things God gives to all humanity under the label of "common grace". And that's a bit misleading because motherhood isn't common at all (in the negative sense of the word) - it's one of God's special gifts! But it is common compared to the "special grace" God gives, that of his son coming to earth to die for our sins.
We at Northside Presbyterian hope you get to celebrate God's great gift of motherhood today. But we also pray that you will know for yourself the even more amazing gift of his son for you.
Suffering and Christians
We had one last "mystery minute" on natural disasters & suffering at Northside today, this time on Christians and suffering. We looked at these words from the book of James: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4) James shocks us by saying that suffering is actually a benefit to Christians, something we should embrace with joy.
And the reason he can say that is because God's goal for Christians is not primarily happiness (though that's often a by-product). Instead God's goal for Christians is Christ-likeness: becoming more like Jesus. Just as Jesus practised his godliness as he suffered (Hebrews 5:8) so we too learn to be more like him as we try to be godly through our suffering.
That's not to say that suffering (in itself) is a good thing, or easy to deal with. But it does help us get some perspective when bad things happen.
Job, Jesus, and Easter
We looked at another of the Bible's "highlights" on suffering & natural disasters today, this time the Old Testament book of Job. Job was a man who suffered a natural disaster - his children were killed by a freak wind (Job 1:19). After about 35 chapters of laying out his "complaint" before God and asking God why this has happened, God answers him in Chapters 38-41.
And God's answer is not what Job expects - he doesn't tell Job why this happened, but instead tells Job about himself (about God). In effect, God's asking Job to trust him. When Job sees who God is (more deeply than he had before) he realises that God truly is worthy of his trust (42:1-6) and that he should trust God, even without knowing why this bad thing has happened.
Now while God doesn't speak to us in the way he spoke to Job, we do know something Job didn't. Because we're this side of the first Easter. We can see God's supreme "revealing" to us of who he is, in the life and death of Jesus. At Easter we remember that in Jesus, God suffered for people like us, showing us (like he showed Job) that he is more than worthy of our trust. He won't always answer our "why" questions. But he can be trusted.
Why don't you join us at Northside Presbyterian Church, Townsville as we celebrate Easter.
Natural disasters, suffering, and the Bible
We started a short series in our "mystery minute" segment at church today, on natural disasters. It's been a big year for natural disasters (I'm sure you noticed that!) and here in Townsville we haven't been totally immune.
Today we looked at Genesis, specifically Genesis 1 where God calls his creation "good" - six times in fact - and then "very good" (Genesis 1:31). It would seem that natural disasters weren't a part of that original creation - it's hard to see them as "very good"! But then human beings rebelled against God (Genesis 3) and that had consequences, not only for our relationships with God and with others, but for our relationship with our world as well (Genesis 3:17-19a). As a result this world no longer works as it should. We might say it's broken. Like a child's toy that's been played with a little too roughly, our world only "sort-of" works.
And that's important for understanding natural disasters. Because God didn't create his world to work this way. And it won't work this way when the creation is restored, better than new (Romans 8:20-22, Revelation 21:1-4). When we see natural disasters we're seeing the brokenness of this world, not the way things were meant to be.
Psalm 50 and what we do at church
Psalm 50 tells us: "Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me [God] in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me." (Psalm 50, verses 14&15)
That describes well some of what we do at church. We thank God for the good things happening in our lives. We encourage each other to "perform our vows" - which loosely translated means encouraging each other to live the way God wants us to, lives of love, honesty, courage, faithfulness. And we talk to God (in prayer) about the things that aren't going so well for us - the "day of trouble" as the psalm puts it.
And it's just plain encouraging to be a part of that. It's encouraging for me, and I hope also that you know that encouragement for yourself.
It's been a strange week here in North Queensland with the coming and aftermath of Cyclone Yasi. For our region as a whole, we can be thankful that there were not more people seriously affected. Here in Townsville nearly everyone lost power for some days, most had trees down, some had damage to property. But compared with those a few hundred kilometres north, we got off lightly.
It's not always easy to come to terms with why these things happen; often we never know why God in his wisdom allows such events. But we do know that he understands what suffering is, having suffered himself for us on the cross. "Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways." (Romans Chapter 11, verse 33)
It was great to see south-east Queenslanders get out and show some community spirit recently by helping their neighbours after the floods. And not just their neighbours; some of them were helping total strangers - another level of community spirit altogether. Jesus too spoke of community spirit. The incredible thing is though, it wasn't just neighbours he wanted us to help; not even just strangers. No the amazing thing is, Jesus taught us to love our enemies. A hard task indeed. May it be that each of us seeks not only to follow the example of our friends in the south-east, but also to follow the example of Jesus - the one who died to save his enemies.
Out with the old, in with the new!
New Year is a great time of year, a time where we get to put behind us the year that’s past and refocus on the year that’s to come. It’s our yearly “out with the old, in with the new” opportunity. And that’s a lot like Christianity. Because when someone becomes a Christian it truly is “out with the old”, the old ways of sin and self-centredness, and “in with the new”, the new ways of living like Jesus did: living for God and for others. We pray at Northside Presbyterian that your New Year’s resolutions will be good ones, ones that help you to live life in new and better ways. Happy New Year!
Preparing for Christmas
There are lots of ways we prepare for Christmas—buying presents, putting up decorations, maybe even going to Stable on the Strand! How did God prepare for the first Christmas though? Well he sent a baby (John the Baptist) to a childless couple (Zechariah and Elizabeth). A great miracle, but also a pointer to what God is like: so powerful, so magnificent, and yet in the same moment so kind, so tender. Why don't you join us at Northside this Christmas Day as we celebrate what our God is like and remember his greatest gift to us that first Christmas: the Lord Jesus.
An exciting morning
Northside held its first church service this morning (12th December). An exciting day for us. In the end though, it looked a lot like church. And that's good — church is worthwhile! What's really exciting though is that we meet as people of the risen king Jesus, who has shown us kindness beyond what we could dare to imagine. Now that's exciting!
After much planning and praying, Northside Presbyterian Church was launched on Sunday! The three (now four) Presbyterian churches in Townsville joined together for morning tea at Bohlevale School to encourage and pray for those forming the new church. Pictures here.
Northside will hold its first church service next Sunday, 12 December at 9:30am at Bohlevale State School. Everyone is welcome.