Christ, The Firstfruits

When was the last time you picked a lettuce off your orange tree? Or a cucumber? Or anything else besides an orange? I suspect it’s been a long, long time.

Why? Because, in spite of all the genetic tinkering done by scientists, an orange tree still only produces oranges. And aren’t you glad about that? Aren’t you glad that you can count on getting oranges from that tree?

And do you remember the joy of plucking that first sweet, juicy orange for the season off the tree? What a delight! And did you notice that there wasn’t just one lone solitary orange on the tree. There were dozens, hundreds of them – some riper than others, but all of them getting closer to being ready to pick by the day. That first one is what the Bible would call ‘firstfruits.’ And the firstfruits of any crop, even any animal, was cause for celebration – for a number of reasons.

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God, Our Refuge Pt 1

No doubt, it is difficult for us to imagine what life was like in ancient times – especially from the comfort of stable and prosperous Australia.

We give little thought to safety for the most part. We might be careful to lock our doors or not walk down certain streets alone after dark. But we don’t give a moment’s thought to the safety of the city as a whole.

And neither should we need to. The prospect that a hostile force would invade Melbourne and carry us off into captivity is so minuscule that we needn’t waste mental energy worrying about it.

Not so in days gone by, though. The city – small as it may have been compared to modern cities – was the place of refuge, safety, security. And that safety was provided firstly by a thick and high wall that surrounded the city, creating a virtually impregnable fortress for the citizens within.

The walls of Jericho were thick enough to have houses built into them, such as the one Rahab lived in [see Josh 2:15]. Archaeologists have found ancient cities with perimeter walls 20m thick. You don’t breach that in a hurry id you are an invading army.

With a secure water and food supply, a city could withstand attack for years. Some have held up for multiple years before being finally overrun – 22 years, in one instance.

Of course, the protection of thick walls was not the only benefit of city living in ancient days…

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Resurrection or Bust!

Christianity has been under attack from the very first days of its existence. Those attacks have been relentless – even vicious – and yet it survives.

Modern critics such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens – commonly known as ‘The New Atheists’ – continue the tradition.

It seems to me that most of their attacks have been directed at the wrong target. You’d think they’d learn after all this time.

But they continue to attack on the same fronts that have proved impregnable for centuries: the existence of God; the reliability of the Bible; creation vs ‘Big Bang,’ the hypocrisy of Christians, and more.

And every attack fails. But there is a weak spot that they should attack, there is one vulnerability. If you can tear down this, then the whole of Christianity will collapse like a house of cards in a violent storm.

And to help their cause, the Bible even tells them where to attack.

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The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Know

Reports just in from the Celebrity pages of ‘Jerusalem Post’ indicate that disgraced former Pharisee Paul continues his successful – if controversial – tour around the Mediterranean.

In every city he visits, he seems to stir up trouble. His message causes riots in some cities, and stirs up violence against himself in many.

And still he continues his tour, determined to share a message that discerning hearers have labelled bizarre and grossly unappealing. Others call it blasphemous in the extreme. Hence the riots and the attacks.

And yet, it seems to be captivating many who hear him. Reports are that the educated and religious are discerning enough to ignore or reject his message.

Initially it seems to be the poor, the working class, slaves, and the disenfranchised who welcome his message, and embrace the man himself. That should tell the discerning reader something.

Strangely though, many amongst the middle-class – and even some wealthy business owners seem to be won over by his message. Rumour has it that there are some within Caesar’s own household who have accepted Paul’s teaching.

Paul apparently has the same things to say in every town and every city; his message never seems to change. One might imagine that, to be successful, you’d need to have a few different stories to tell from time to time.

But not Paul. He seems to delight in telling the same story over and over again. He is quoted as saying that this is because “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

And he also says that he refuses to change his message because “this gospel is of first importance.”

“What on earth could be so important that you never change your message, Paul?” Well might you ask.

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A New Heaven and a New Earth

How many crazy End Times theories have been concocted over the generations out of the book of Revelation, I wonder? Probably nearly as many as the stars in the heavens.

And how many of those have proven to be right so far? I’m guessing about as many as the stars in the oceans. But still, we can’t help ourselves. Every major earthquake, every war, or plague we try to tie to some verse or chapter in Revelation. Thereby hoping to work out a timeline of the Last Days.

It certainly would be convenient to be able to link these events to specific passages in Revelation. Then we could look at this Coronavirus and know how close we are to the end of all days.

But that’s not why Revelation was given to us. And many people have stubbed their toes on this book by trying to use it for the wrong reasons.

For I’m convinced Revelation was given to us for an entirely different purpose.

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Reflections On A Year We’d Rather Forget

There never was an athlete who was able to perform at the peak of his skills by sitting on the couch watching TV. He could watch 18 hours of his chosen sport every day, but he will never even get picked for the team, let alone be able to excel.

Not even if that athlete is LeBron James, or Serena Williams, or Dustin Martin. It just doesn’t work that way.

The athlete has to train – train hard, train often, train relentlessly. There is nothing comfortable or particularly enjoyable about training. The athlete has to push against resistance, and push through pain barriers that would overwhelm the average person. The end result may be satisfying and enjoyable, but the path to that end is nothing short of intensely demanding and painful.

And few are able to reach the pinnacle of their sport without a coach to push them harder and further than they ever imagined they could go.

And so it is with Christian life and faith…

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A Difficult and Divisive Doctrine

We had some solid food to chew on Sunday at church. Food that JI Packer said “is strong meat: very nourishing to those who can take it, but acutely indigestible to those whose spiritual system is out of order.”

We can blame Jesus for leading us into it, for we were only considering what He means by His words in John 6:35-48. It’s not the only place He talks about this though. It keeps popping up in John’s gospel. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record similar statements. Paul brings it up – often. James and Peter mention it. Even Jude brings it up in his short letter.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Jeremiah are all examples of it. So clearly it must be food that the Lord wants us to chew on, to digest, and to absorb.

And yet, Christians argue over it – heatedly. Churches have split over it. Which tells me one thing about this food, this teaching – we don’t understand it. For that is the last thing that should be happening.

So what it this solid food?

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Why Do Only Some Believe?

Why is it that some people put their trust in Jesus Christ, and others do not? What sets these people apart that they become Christians, while others don’t?

Are some more righteous than others to begin with? Are they more godly, more holy already, so that they naturally take the next step and trust Jesus entirely? Is that what happens?

I doubt it. I can think of any number of people I know who seem to be better people than I, who at the same time, express zero interest in Christ. Some even openly declare their atheism.

Maybe they are more spiritual than others. They’ve always had an interest in spirituality, so it’s natural to take the next step into Christian faith.

Again, I doubt it. I’ve met plenty of very ‘spiritual’ people, many of whom I would suggest are spiritual fruit-loops, with no real interest in Jesus Christ.

Are some more intelligent than others, and so make the right decision for Christ? Surely not, for some of the most intelligent people on earth are often the most anti-God.

Well, maybe it’s that some recognise their need, their sin, their emptiness, their bankruptcy, more than others. But then I’ve known some pretty glum, pretty defeated people that never turn to Christ.

So, what is it then?

Jesus answers that question – at least, in part – in John 6. And it can make for uncomfortable – and confusing – reading for some people.

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The Bread That Lasts Forever

Finally! After 37 weeks separated by the ‘Rona, we were able to meet face-to-face. Or should I say, mask-to-mask?

Still, it was a delight to see (nearly) everyone in person. Christians are ‘social creatures,’ designed by God to connect, and connect regularly, with each other. That’s one of the reasons why the book of Hebrews warns us to not neglect meeting together [see Heb 10:23-25]. It’s just not good for our (spiritual) health.

It was a joy to join together with precious brothers and sisters-in-Christ to sing the praises of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Few things in this life can beat the sound of voices – and hearts – raised to exalt Him.

We finished off the meeting with Communion, which we also haven’t celebrated together since March. John – in an excellent presentation – reminded us of the ‘once-for-all’ nature of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; an offering never to be repeated, because it never needs to be repeated. Christ’s offering is sufficient and effective for all who would receive it, for all time.

It was fitting to end with the bread and the cup, because our text for the day was the one in John 6 where Jesus talks about the necessity of “eating His flesh and drinking His blood.”

Strange language, graphic and gruesome language. This language was the reason the early Christians were sometimes accused of cannibalism.

What in the world would move Jesus to use such disturbing language?

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The Ministry of Reconciliation

It’s not often that Elvis Presley comes to your church. Even less often does Elvis share the gospel with you.

But that was our rare privilege on Sunday. Well, not really Elvis. Everyone knows Elvis has left the building. But we did have Elvis-impersonator Mark Borg join us with his wife Gina by Zoom. It may be nearly as rare to have an Elvis-impersonator share the gospel with you.

What a strange job for anyone outside of Las Vegas or the cabaret circuit. But Mark and Gina lead a church in Malta. Elvis is just Mark’s side job.

As they shared their testimonies and the word of God with us, it became clear that Mark’s unusual career choice also provides a unique opening into Malta. For the Maltese are – apparently – obsessed with Elvis, almost to the point of worship.

Which reminds me of something the apostle Paul once wrote…

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