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Weekly SNAC, 20 May 2018: A future for Jerusalem

As a creature of habit I woke up one morning this week and as usual pushed the radio button to listen to the news on ABC radio. Then, after struggling out of bed (I’m not really a morning person) and getting myself going I settled into the morning routine of reading my Bible over breakfast. Once the coffee started to rouse my brain for the day I noticed a connection between my reading and the news I had heard while still in bed. As a creature of habit I woke up one morning this week and as usual pushed the radio button to listen to the news on ABC radio. Then, after struggling out of bed (I’m not really a morning person) and getting myself going I settled into the morning routine of reading my Bible over breakfast. Once the coffee started to rouse my brain for the day I noticed a connection between my reading and the news I had heard while still in bed. 

Jerusalem was in the news all week - it is 70 years since the modern re-establishment of Israel and tensions in the West Bank and the Gaza strip between Israel and Palestine are once again making headlines. The violence last Monday left at least 60 dead and the prospect of any lasting peace seems as impossible as ever.

With that sad news out of Jerusalem in the back of my mind I turned up my daily Bible reading plan which happened to be Isaiah 65 and 66 and I read:

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people. The sound of weeping and crying will no longer be heard in her.” (Is 65:19)

“People will build houses and live in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They will not build and others live in them; they will not plant and others eat. For My people’s lives will be like the lifetime of a tree. My chosen ones will fully enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor without success or bear children destined for disaster, for they will be a people blessed by the LORD along with their descendants.” (Is 65:21-23)

For longer than my lifetime there has been crying and weeping in and around Jerusalem from both Israeli and Palestinian families caught up in conflict. How will peace finally come I thought? How will this conflict of nations ever resolve into peace?

The answer comes in Isaiah 66. The Lord himself will intervene, he says: I will make peace flow to her like a river (Is 66:12)

This is not a promise of peace in our time but instead a promise about the future. A day is coming when the Lord will renew and restore our broken world. Isaiah 66:22-23 speaks of the day:

“For just as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, will endure before Me”— this is the LORD’s declaration— “so your offspring and your name  will endure. All mankind will come to worship Me from one New Moon to another  and from one Sabbath to another,” says the LORD. 

The part that really struck me as I read my bible this week is that the Lord’s peace is not just for one race triumphing over another. Instead the future for a restored Jerusalem (and a whole newly restored heaven and earth) is a future where ‘all mankind’ worships the Lord. That doesn’t mean every single person does but it does mean people from every single nation.  

In the midst of the complexity of human conflict like Palestine and Israel - I was reminded: who can possibly bring all the nations together and put them on the same page? Only one man can do this, as Paul describes him in Ephesians:

Jesus is our peace, …[he] tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh He did this so that He might reconcile Jew and Gentile to God in one body through  the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news  of peace to you who were far away and peace to those  who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the  saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. (Eph 2:14-19)

Even as I was saddened by the ongoing conflicts of humanity that never seem to end I was encouraged as I contemplated what God has done about it. Through faith in Jesus there is a new way of hope for reconciliation both with God and one another. On this path there is even hope for places like Jerusalem. I hope this is an encouragement to you as well as you look beyond this hurting world to the new heavens and the new earth that the Lord will bring with the return of his Son.  

Jason Veitch

Weekly SNAC, 13 May 2018 - Tough Questions

It’s been wonderful to see so many questions coming in for our “Tough Questions” sermon series. We’re going to deal with two topics this week and next, but then come back for a couple more later in the year. However, that still won’t deal with all the questions so we’ll have some other way of ensuring that every question asked is answered at the end of the series later in the year.It’s been wonderful to see so many questions coming in for our “Tough Questions” sermon series. We’re going to deal with two topics this week and next, but then come back for a couple more later in the year. However, that still won’t deal with all the questions so we’ll have some other way of ensuring that every question asked is answered at the end of the series later in the year.

But in the light of this series I thought it might be helpful to re-print the following book review I wrote a couple of years ago on the question of doubt. I hope you find it helpful.

The Doubting Christian

At some point every Christian has doubts. “Is this all true? Can I really trust the Bible? Is Jesus really the only way?” At some point we all have these questions. And sometimes we can think that we are alone in those doubts. We go to church where everyone else seems so certain and so we start to feel like a hypocrite. “Maybe I am out of place here? Church seems to be a place for people with no doubts?” 

When we start thinking this way we have to remind ourselves (and each other) that nothing could be further from the truth. All Christians at some time are like the man in Mark 9 who says to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Sadly, often those with doubts withdraw from fellowship, when in fact the best thing to do is to work through their issues with other Christians.

I have recently read a very helpful little book on just this issue called Keep the faith: Shift your thinking on doubt by Martin Ayers. This is a not a book about what we call apologetics. That is, it doesn’t seek to answer all those questions people often ask, like: Can we trust the Bible? What about the pygmies? Why does God allow suffering?

There are many other books that answer those questions. Instead, this book is about how we deal with doubt. It shows us that doubting is normal but that there are helpful and unhelpful ways to deal with it. In that sense, I have found this book incredibly helpful. Why not have a read?  

Phil Colgan

Weekly SNAC, 6 May 2018 - This article does NOT contain any movie ‘spoilers’

I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of someone inadvertently giving away a piece of crucial information for a movie that you haven’t seen yet. This ‘spoiler’ as it’s aptly named, really can spoil a whole movie. It’s almost impossible to forget that key piece of information and so we lose the opportunity to be truly surprised by the twists and turns of the plot. This week has a been a prime opportunity for spoilers to abound as people discuss the recent Marvel movie – Infinity War.I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of someone inadvertently giving away a piece of crucial information for a movie that you haven’t seen yet. This ‘spoiler’ as it’s aptly named, really can spoil a whole movie. It’s almost impossible to forget that key piece of information and so we lose the opportunity to be truly surprised by the twists and turns of the plot. This week has a been a prime opportunity for spoilers to abound as people discuss the recent Marvel movie – Infinity War.

Now before you start worrying about potential spoilers, I haven’t seen the movie and so I can guarantee there are no spoilers in this article. However, this is not true of all of the staff team at SNAC. In fact, most of our staff team are huge fans of the Marvel movies and were amongst the first to see the new movie. One member of the staff team even drove his whole family over 100km from their holiday location in rural NSW to see the movie at one of the earliest screenings! As you can imagine, our weekly staff meeting has been a dangerous place for me this week.

As we think about proclaiming Jesus in our local area, one of the challenges is the number of people who have a cultural background in Christianity. Many of these people have clearly not accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and yet are unwilling to talk about Him because they think they already know the answers. It’s sad and frustrating because those ‘cultural spoilers’ have hardened their hearts against Jesus. One approach that I’ve found helpful in this case is to share a story that Jesus told. A great example is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18 because the ending is a surprise. The goal of this approach is to create a curiosity about Jesus and to encourage the person that perhaps they really do need to look at Jesus for themselves. If you want to give this approach a go, it’s best if you can spend some time preparing and practising so you can naturally re-tell the story in an engaging way. 

On the flip side, one of the great opportunities in our local area are the number of people who have a minimal (or even zero) knowledge of Jesus. It is often the case that these people are much more willing to read the Bible since they have no previous knowledge. This is also a challenge because they’re starting much further back. If you ask someone in this category to read the Bible with you, don’t be surprised if it takes a significant period of time before they begin to understand how everything fits together. However, as an extra encouragement to give it a go, you will find many benefits for yourself in reading the Bible with a first-time-reader. The reality is that the gospel story is full of incredible twists and turns that we can miss because of our over-familiarity with events. By asking someone new to the Bible to read with you, it gives you an opportunity to forget those many ‘spoilers’ and be amazed anew by our Lord and Saviour! 
    

Kevin Stepniewski

Weekly SNAC 29 April 2018: The Vine Project

While I was away on holiday last week I had the chance to read a couple of books. One of those books was The Vine Project by Col Marshall and Tony Payne.
A follow-up to their excellent book The Trellis and the Vine, The Vine Project is designed to help ministry teams shape their ministries around a culture of disciple making. While it is designed for teams, it operates on the basic premise that all Christians are disciples called to make disciples. I found it encouraging and refreshing to be so clearly reminded of what it means to be a Christian. I thought I’d share five key convictions I took away. 

1) We make disciples because God is working to make disciples. In the words of Colossians 1:13, God is rescuing people from the domain of darkness and transferring them into the kingdom of the Son he loves. And he does this all for the Son’s glory. Give thanks to God and praise Jesus by calling others to be his disciples and praise him too.

2) The word disciple simply means ‘learner’. A disciple of Jesus is a ‘forgiven sinner who is learning Christ in repentance and faith’. We continually learn what it means to live in the light of what Christ has done for us. We live as those who are being transformed by the Spirit through the word of God into the likeness of his Son (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18). So we hunger for the word of God, and seek to prayerfully apply it to our lives each day, that we might be made more like Jesus.

3) Because it glorifies Him, we want to see others grow more like Jesus too! We seek to make disciples by persevering in proclaiming the word of God in prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit, together with the disciples around us. We want to see everyone around us grow towards maturity in Christ. For some, that will be helping them become a disciple by sharing the gospel. For others, it will be encouraging them to grow as a disciple. Take the time to think about the people you see every day. How can you encourage them to grow towards maturity in Christ?  

4) All Christians are disciples. All disciples make disciples. Here’s how the authors put it, drawing on the beautiful picture of the body of Christ in Ephesians 4; ‘By their preaching, training and example, pastors equip every Christian to be a Christ-learner [disciple] who helps others to learn Christ’. How are you intentionally helping others to ‘learn Christ’? Is this part of your everyday life?

5) Every person, in every place, at every time is an opportunity to disciple. How can we encourage them to ‘learn Christ’ by bringing the word of God to them? We can do it at Church and in our Gospel Teams – do we take the opportunities we have there to encourage others? We can do it at sport, work, the shops etc – how can we speak in all of these settings in a way that encourages and invites others to learn Christ?

There’s lots more to the book than this, especially when it comes to shaping our ministries around disciple-making. But the first step is to understand for yourself what it means to be a disciple and how you are living that out. I hope this short reflection is enough to encourage you to pause and consider what it means for you to be a disciple. Are you actively seeking to be a Christ learner? Are you actively seeking to help others learn Christ too? I found it a great encouragement to reflect on these questions myself, to repent and correct my attitude where I need to, and to strive to make the most of the opportunities God has given me to join him in his work of bringing people to his Son. 

Brendan Moar