Jesus is … worth checking out

Do you remember Popeye, the cartoon character who eats a can of spinach when he wants to develop some quick muscles? During WWII, when meat was scarce, the US Government used Popeye to promote spinach as a substitute for meat. This was because a study by some German scientists in the late 1800’s had shown that spinach contains the same amount of iron as meat.

Unfortunately, the world had fallen victim to an accounting error. The German researchers did prove that spinach contains iron, but when they wrote down their results they put the decimal point in the wrong place, thus overstating the amount of iron in spinach by a factor of 10! They later corrected the error, but apparently this news didn’t make it to the US until after the war, by which time Popeye had been getting strong on spinach for nearly 10 years!

Spinach actually contains no more iron than other leafy vegetables. In fact, the iron in spinach is not easily absorbed by the body unless it’s combined with an acid. (If you are a spinach fan, however, you will still benefit from its high vitamin C and riboflavin content.)

There are other famous myths that have been debunked, but which still are often repeated as fact.
Like the “fact” that human beings only use 10% of our brains? Again, this has no scientific basis.

How easily and quickly false ideas can become accepted truth!

What’s true in other spheres is no less true in the area of our spiritual beliefs. It’s not unusual for people to quickly give unquestionable status to beliefs that may in fact have questionable origins.

We owe it to ourselves to examine what the evidence actually says.

In the 20th chapter of John’s Gospel, John tells us about Thomas. He has gone down in history as “Doubting Thomas” – although in fact, in the end he turned out to be “Believing Thomas.”

When the other disciples told him that Jesus had risen from the dead, he refused to believe until he saw the evidence. When Jesus appeared to him, and showed him his hands and feet, complete with nail hole scars, Thomas had to radically re-think his beliefs (see John 20:28).

Like Thomas, we believe Jesus invites us to check him out for ourselves. We are glad you are here today to do that and we look forward to helping you along the way. You may find answers that surprise you!

Jesus is_____ just one option among many!

There are so many religions in our world. And they look very similar. They have religious looking buildings, similar moral teachings, and meditation or prayers to a divinity, …just for starters! It is perfectly understandable to consider them as equally valid, or just different ways of looking at the same principles.

To illustrates this, there is a classic tale of several blind monks who feel a different part of an elephant. One of them gropes the tail and says it is long and wiry. Another feels the body and says it is large and flat. Yet another handles the tusks and says it is tough and pointy. And then they all argue about what the elephant is like because they all have part of the truth. And in this sense they are all right with their part (literally) of the truth! But none of them can see the whole elephant. In other words, none of them possesses the whole truth.

Is it not the same with religion? All religions only understand part of the truth but not the whole truth. If they did understand the whole truth, they wouldn’t need to argue.

But historically, a closer inspection reveals that the various religions involve different people in different times asking different questions about different things. For example, Buddhism was founded in reaction to Hinduism. And the Koran says that Jesus never died. Where as the bible says that Jesus did die. On this historical claim alone, both religions cannot be right. Either Jesus did die, or he didn’t!

So is following Jesus just one among many (equally valid) religions? Jesus didn’t think so. He himself said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He claims to be the exclusive way to God his Father. Indeed, elsewhere he effectively claims to be equal to his Father (e.g. John 5:17-18). Is Jesus being arrogant in his exclusive claims? If he is, then he is not alone.

Remember the tale of the blind monks? We can only know that they possessed part of the truth if we alone could see the whole elephant and so possess the whole truth! So for us to claim that all religions possess only part of the truth, is to suggest that we alone can see the whole truth in a way that no other religious believer can. And this is an equally exclusive claim to that of Jesus.

The question then is whose exclusive claim is right? Jesus’ or ours?

The best way to find out is to at least read his claims in the New Testament with credible historical investigation. Are you willing?

Richard Chin – AFES National Director

Jesus is … just a crutch for weak people.

Andrew Sullivan, a US-based author and commentator, gay activist, and political conservative, called belief “a psychological crutch to keep reality at bay”.

But what’s wrong with a crutch? Some injured and disabled people use crutches. Old people use walking sticks, and no one makes fun of them! If you have a need, it’s sensible to find something that meets the need! Indeed, everyone leans on some sort of support mechanism for their life. Even the toughest person needs help to cope.

What or whom do you lean on for support? Is it a relationship or your bank account? For many, workaholism reveals their job is a crutch, and for others it’s sport. It could be drugs; for others it is food. Many lean on caffeine to get through the day!

But will your particular crutch hold your weight?

Those things are here today, gone tomorrow. The temporary caffeine hit, the relaxing glass of wine, the sporting success. Soon replaced with the need for another. And if not gone today, then certainly in a few years. Your health, your money, your job, your loved ones. All can disappear in an instant.

So, in reality, I reckon we all have crutches of some form or another.

That’s why I’m not embarrassed to admit that Jesus is a crutch for weak people. That’s exactly what he says in the Bible. Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32.)

This is a message for the humble in heart. Jesus comes for the spiritually broken. To those who know they are weak, Jesus famously promised: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). In that sense, Jesus is more than a crutch. He is not some mechanical assistance to help us walk ourselves. He is a life support system, for he provides a whole heart transplant.

On the cross, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And so the Bible says, if anyone is in Christ, the old has gone and the new has come!

Sandy Grant, St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral Wollongong.

Jesus is better than Mt Panorama

Dear friends,

I hope you had a great time in your Growth Groups last week starting to work together on what goes in the blank! We had some great suggestions – “Jesus is the eye of the storm”, “Jesus is the answer to this world’s problems”, “Jesus is relevant”. I’m looking forward to hearing your response!

Here is one written by a friend of mine…. for all the Motorsport fans out there.

Last year a friend of mine wrote an article about the Bathurst 1000. I’ve got to confess that I really love motor racing. And for Aussie motor racing fans, 161 laps of Bathurst is as good as it gets. 

So when I saw my friend had posted something about Bathurst I dropped everything to read it. 

Before I was a Christian I used to watch Bathurst from 7am till the end of the race (about 5pm). I’ll never forget the anxiety of the year Vanessa sent me out to buy take-away lunch during the Great Race. What relief to discover the shop was broadcasting the race, so I didn’t miss too much! 

I still love motor racing. But the truth is that compared to Christ, watching Bathurst for a day just isn’t as exciting as it once was. The realism of life following Jesus – and meeting with his people – trumps the escapism of motor racing. Jesus is better than Mt Panorama! 

When I’m at the race track, I’m happy to sit with the “Blue Oval Brigade” and barrack for the Falcons, but it’s just not that important. Being a Ford fan just doesn’t really impact my life or my future. Following Jesus is completely different. Following Jesus changes everything, my loves, my priorities and my passions. 

Now of course, I wouldn’t be the first person in history to swap one passion for another. But in this case I was a reluctant convert. 

I don’t follow Jesus because I find Christianity so exciting or because he makes me feel good but because I am absolutely convinced that his resurrection, 2000 years ago, has changed the world forever. 

So yes, I do love motor racing – it’s just that now, I wouldn’t trade a day meeting with God’s people for it. 

Jim Douglass (Narellan Anglican Church)

Filling in the blank….

This week in our growth groups we will all have the opportunity to start work on filling in the blank for ourselves. The next key part of the “Jesus is…” mission is you having something personal and engaging to say when you are asked who Jesus is. We are looking at something no longer than 30, or at the outside 60, seconds (that is, 5-10 sentences) that will make people consider who Jesus is afresh.

It is crucial to understand that your choice of answer may be positive or negative, straightforward or quirky. However you pitch it, it must be personal, engaging and lead to an opportunity to share the truth. The idea is to engage people’s attention and get them into a conversation with us about Jesus. In particular, we want to invite them to share their opinion, but we also want to take the opportunity to advance the claims of Christ, and what he has done for us. So you can choose something entirely counterintuitive or strange but you must lead in your 5-10 sentences back to Jesus and the truth.

As Jesus once said when he walked the earth, “Who do people say that I am?” and “What about you? Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:28-29). It’s just about the most important conversation a person could have.

It’s important to see that Jesus can defend himself, and if we want a conversation, we don’t need to be overly defensive or censorious of others’ opinions.

Here are some suggestions for how to complete the “Jesus is _______” phrase… You can take one of these and make it your own or you can create your own.

  • Not for everyone                                                • Still not healing the sick
  • The reason I’m not afraid to die                     • A denial of reason
  • Worth it                                                               • Confusing
  • My Lord                                                               • Is a Capricorn
  • The reason I smile                                             • Indescribable
  • Just one religion among many                       • Not what you expect him to be
  • Anti-Gay                                                              • Time lord
  • The reason I’m alive                                          • As good as it gets
  • A Narcissist                                                         • Not God
  • Ashamed of the church’s behaviour               • Trending
  • Our Saviour                                                         • Visible on my grilled cheese
  • A loser                                                                   • A God delusion
  • Anti-Religion                                                       • An imaginary friend
  • Alive                                                                       • Absolute truth
  • My rock when all else crumbles                       • Make believe
  • Closer than my barista                                       • Gaining ground
  • Cleaning up                                                           • Inviting
  • Taking way too long                                            • Not great
  • Just like Mohammad & Buddha                       • For losers
  • Pro-Life                                                                  • Beyond fiction

Who do you say Jesus is?

In Christ

What goes in the blank?

Dear Friends,

The “Jesus is…” Mission we are involved in during March is going to provide you with many opportunities to share with others the reasons why you trust Jesus. And it is important that we are prepared. The Scriptures say: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
(1 Peter 3:15)

Through the remainder of this month in church and in our Growth Groups we are going to be encouraging and helping each other to be prepared. The opening gambit is where it all starts – When someone asks what “Jesus is…” is all about, you say, “We are interested in people’s opinions. Jesus is… what goes in the blank?” Then pause and let them talk. But then….

What comes next can be a mixture of their opinion or awkwardness. They are, however, likely to ask you “what goes in the blank” and you need to be ready. Here is the procedure for preparing your own response:

  1. Pray for wisdom in preparation and courage in conversation.
  2. Remember we are looking at something no longer than 30, or at the outside 60, seconds (5-10 sentences).
  3. Select your favourite way of completing the sentence that is neither odd nor jargon (so by way of example, don’t choose… Jesus is beautiful, my lover, homoousion or perichoretically trinitarian).
  4. Double-check your answer is a good one by discussing it with others for theological and apologetic pros and cons (e.g. any unintended pitfalls, does it lead to or from the gospel, etc?)
  5. Find a verse to helpfully back up the point, if you can (not too obscure, and optional in terms of using it.)
  6. Write a very brief script. Aim at 5-6 sentences.
  7. Memorise the starting words and finishing sentence and just the key points, as 2-3 dot points, (and memorise the verse if you think it useful!)
  8. Practice it with a friend or in your Growth Group.

So, give it a go! And if you would like some help, just ask a member of staff and we would be pleased to sit and help you decide on an answer and prepare well.

In Christ

Jesus is …. coming

As our Summer Ministry Training Week draws to a close, we will be turning our eyes to our 2018 Mission.

As I hope you know by now, we are going to be engaged in three weeks of mission from 11th March until Easter. All the Anglican Churches in our region will be working together, complemented by students from Moore College, to start conversations with people about who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Some of the specific activities we will be involved with include:

– Leafleting at railway stations
– Multi-faith dialogue between a Christian and other leaders
– TED-talk style presentations on who Jesus is with the opportunity for interaction
– After school pop-up kids club
– Seniors Health and well-being talk
– ESL Evangelistic morning
– A men’s event and a women’s event…. and more

With all the churches involved we have a unique opportunity to really turn up the heat on the conversation and bring Jesus onto the agenda of the people in our region.

But the real core of the mission is all of us as individuals bringing Jesus into conversation. By wearing a t-shirt or badge, you give people the opportunity to ask you what it is all about.

You then answer with the memorised “opening line” to get into “Jesus Is ______.” conversations. Something like this…

“We’re interested in people’s opinions. Jesus is… (Gesture to the “Jesus Is ______.” logo). What goes in the blank?”

It might feel silly, but the idea is to get a plausible sounding introduction rolling off everyone’s tongue and sounding normal, so that people don’t feel so quite stuck or hesitant in having a go at raising the “Jesus Is ______.” topic of conversation. Of course, it will still take courage!

In the past, people who were not prepared for when a friend, colleague or passerby commented on the T-shirt/badge etc. tended to stumble around into vague conversational dead ends like this:

“What’s that T-shirt all about?”
“Oh, err, um, it’s something the churches are doing at the moment.”

Conversation quickly tails off, because neither person knows where to go then.

We are going to equip your Growth Group leaders with some material soon so you can work on it together. By learning the line exactly, you are ready to go with something confidently along those lines when a real life opportunity happily surprises you!

In Christ,
Nigel Fortescue

Jesus is…. A Loser!

As we move towards our March Mission we are hoping you will engage people with the question of who Jesus is… We are praying you will come up with your own answer to the question and be ready to share it with others. Here is one answer written by a local Presbyterian Minister that sounds strange but is strangely engaging… Who would you say Jesus is? A loser?

Jesus from Nazareth died a criminal’s death on a rubbish tip in a place without importance on the eastern rim of the Roman Empire approximately 2,000 years ago. Most of his followers deserted him and left him for dead. If they were handing out prizes for the biggest loser in the 1st century, Jesus would have been one of the finalists. However, the Bible says that this was the whole point of what he was on about. 

In his portrayal of the last day of Jesus’ life in the 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ” Mel Gibson starts with an epigraph from the Bible, the book of Isaiah chapter 53 which was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Part of that chapter reads: 

“…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. 

In Isaiah 53 someone becomes a “loser” and takes a fall that others might benefit in some way. Christians believe that is talking about what Jesus was doing when he died – that through Jesus becoming a “loser” we can gain in some way and this was God’s intention all along. 

What has resulted from this one loser’s life is staggering and undeniable. Today 1/3 of the population of the world calls Jesus their Lord in some way. The book that contains information about his life has been translated into more languages than any other book in history. As far as we know, Jesus never painted a painting, wrote a book or a poem or a play or even a song. And yet no other person in history has motivated as many works of art. Even today people are fascinated by this loser who died in all obscurity to become the most important person in world history. 

Brett Richardson

Jesus is __________?

Everyone has a thought about Jesus. Everyone. Yep, everyone. So what do they think?

In March we are going to take part in a region-wide mission that will have at its heart this question:
We’re interested in people’s opinions – “Jesus is _____.”  What goes in the blank?

Jesus himself once asked those around him, “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29). His disciples had a variety of answers then and people in Australia have a variety of answers now. I suspect that there would be a variety of answers to that question among our church community but that each one of them would point back to Jesus being our unique Saviour.

During March, we want to be asking this question of people over and over and over again. Why? Because it’s the most important questions anyone could ever answer.

So, during March we’re going to encourage you to get into conversations about Jesus’ identity. There will be Mission events and church gatherings and a team from Moore College but the core of the mission will be you engaging with the people around you. It will be you having conversations with the people you know and love to introduce them to Jesus who you know and love.

Other churches have participated in a similar style of mission in the past and what we know is that people will say all sorts of things: positive, negative, or just plain quirky. That is all part of the way it works. You want to engage people in honest dialogue about Jesus. You want to hear what they think so you can respond with what you know. It’s scary. It takes courage. But it is super exciting. Sometimes people who have never shared about their faith in Jesus have the chance to share with a friend who they think Jesus is.

Preparing for this is simple: just stop for a moment and think – what do you want to share about Jesus?

Now consider what would your neighbour say? What would the person across from you at work say? What would your children or grandchildren say? Perhaps you can’t even guess! But you can pray.

When people become followers of Jesus a grand spiritual work has taken place and we need to pray that God will enact this work in the lives of people we know and love. So start praying now for March and more training and Information is coming!

In Christ,

CMS Summer School… a week to cherish!

Dear Friends,

Back in September I encouraged you to consider coming to CMS Summer School for five reasons. As the week draws to a close, let me tell you what you missed…

  1. Great passionate Bible teaching. Richard Chin, who works as the national director of AFES and on campus at UOW, has unpacked Colossians. It has been stunning to dwell on Christ and the call that we might be willing to live for him. Download the talks from the CMS website – you will be thankful you did.
  1. Growing understanding of world mission and evangelism. CMS send missionaries around the world and each day we have heard their stories and learnt from their insights into world mission. I have attended seminars focused on evangelising Muslims and Roman Catholics and been helped to have new energy to bring Jesus easily into my conversations.
  1. Catch up with missionaries. During the conference there are opportunities to speak to, meet and catch up with “real missionaries”. On a three year cycle, all of our church’s link missionaries attend and you are able to hear more of their work. Both Karen Darda and the Clarks are here this year and hearing the joy and sorrows of their work in the world has been a delight and a cause for prayer.
  1. Great children’s program. More than 1300 kids attend summer school and they are all catered for in age specific programs (Babies to Year 12) that are awesome. I am involved in registration for the high school kids and each day hundreds have come to learn and grow and be shaped by Jesus. Our kids have loved CMSSS every year, including this year.
  1. Rest. The program runs 9am-12.30pm and 7-9pm every day. While there are some activities on, we have used the afternoons to catch up with friends and enjoy time with the kids. What a great blessing.

Choosing to come to CMS Summer School will be one of the best decisions you make. In 2019, it starts on Saturday January 5. I’d love you to join us. You will not be disappointed!

In Christ