October 31, 2020

Issues - Materialism

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Materialism

1 John 2:15-17, the Apostle John writing: "Don't love the world's ways. Don't love the world's goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world-wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important-has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out-but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. "

I wonder what you think is quite possibly one of the greatest challenges to the Christian Disciple standing alone and being faithful to God in the twenty first century?  I want to propose to you that this threat is the temptation of materialism, or to be materialistic.  This is where following Jesus' command to follow Him, take up the cross for ourselves becomes practical.  This is where loving God and loving others becomes difficult.  Materialism grips both the Church community and also Christian Disciples if it is allowed.  Eschewing and casting off materialism will see Christian Disciples who are radical by the very society, which we are trying to win for Jesus.

What is materialism?

Every person has in differing quantities: possessions and money.  These things, in and of themselves, are not evil.  It is however our reaction and attitudes toward them that causes us to be seduced in this area.  Materialism is a reliance on possessions, money people or even the church, as our ultimate objects of trust, instead of God.  The Apostle John writing in 1 John 2v16 gives a very accurate picture of materialism: "lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life." That, brother and sisters, is materialism!

A Particular Sin

If there were to be a particular sin that marks our generation, especially in the West, then it would be this sin of materialism and the worship of money, objects and people. Every day hundreds of thousands of people die from lack of food, water, clothing and shelter.  For each of us in the West, these things are taken for granted.  When we feel like a change of house or location, we just move. 

The whole Christian community is one that reflects the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit.  The Church is to be a community where the strongest members support the weakest members.  Where one member of the Christian community suffers and hurts, the whole Christian community suffers and hurts! This applies not only to the local church in a local community context, but also to the universal Church and therefore has a national and international context as well. 

Too often as Christians we are found turning a blind eye to the suffering of others where the bare necessities of life are in sparse existence.  Too often we gather possessions and people, instead of giving up our time and money generously to help the poor and needy of both our local and global communities.  When one member of the universal body of Christ is hurting, the whole body hurts!

So what?

As Christian Disciples living in the world of the twenty first century, where wealth is seen as a sign of success, the cult of celebrity is rife and where family, morals, ethics, community and God have taken a back seat, how should a Christian Disciple respond to materialism? 

A lot of Churches measure their success solely by the number of members in the congregations or by how much money goes into the offering pot each week.  However, not just good things grow.  Islam measures its success on the so-called growth in those who would consider themselves a Muslim.  It is probably the fastest growing religion in Australia.  However, every gardener will tell you that even weeds grow! So counting numbers is not the best way to measure success.

The measure of a successful Christian Disciple can be seen in thee verses from 1 John 2:15-17. The Apostle John writing: "Don't love the world's ways. Don't love the world's goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world-wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important-has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out-but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. "

Also in Matthew 22v37-40: where Jesus is saying: "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them."

Action Stations!

By doing these two things, we show we trust in God and not in anything or anybody else.  By exhibiting these commands, we cast off materialism and any thought of materialism from our lives. By doing those two things, both as a Church and as individual Christian Disciples, society will see we are neither dangerous nor deluded. 

To Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and their aficionados who think all religion is pure evil, based on delusion and that religion has never done a good thing in history to benefit humanity, it will help show the folly and irrationality of their thinking. If Church communities and Christian Disciples make radical steps such as eschewing materialism, both in being and making Disciples, I think the Church and Christian Disciples would no longer be seen as evil, deluded and irrelevant.  Rather they would be seen as a thriving community of people, resulting in Jesus being glorified and holy transformation sought.  After all, Jesus is to be the master of those who would call themselves a Christian Disciple and the Head of the Church.

As Christian Disciples, and the church as a whole, you and I are to eschew materialism, cast it off and live a life worthy of our God, living in total obedience to Him and reflected in the love we display for both our local and global communities.

For more to think about, please do read for yourself Matthew 22:37-40.  Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them.  Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1 - As a Christian Disciple, in what ways am I being seduced by materialism and the gathering of possessions, people and power?

Q2 - What things can I do, not do or give up in order to aid the weakest members of my community - local, national and global?

Q3 - How can I better use my "passion, prayer and intelligence" this week for the glory and honour of God? 

 

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October 30, 2020

Issues - Guidance

 Partake - Issues

Guidance

 Perhaps this is one of the questions that Christians ask at one time or another: "How does God guide me?"

Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take."

Isaiah 6:8: "Then I heard the Lord asking, "Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?" I said, "Here I am. Send me."

When Jesus Christ called you personally and said: "Follow Me!" and you responded "YES, Lord!" that was the start of a beautiful relationship between the Living God and yourself.   Perhaps the most common question all Christian Disciples ask is "How can I know God's will and His guidance?" 

Now of course, being active in prayer and studying the Bible play major roles, in this and they are assured ways of building the relationship between God and yourself.  We will discover that are other aspects to be considered about being guided, and discerning what is God's will for you and I.  These involve being controlled by the Holy Spirit, through counsel and circumstances and through making wise decisions.

1. Controlled by the Holy Spirit

So firstly, the Christian Disciple is guided by being controlled by the Holy Spirit. Another way to say this is by submitting to the Spirit's leading.  Fundamental to being guided by the Spirit, is for you and I to be filled with the Spirit and to keep on being filled with the Spirit, or controlled by the Spirit.  When the Spirit is quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19) or grieved (Ephesians 4:30), then the Spirit no long has control of you and I.  In order to allow the Spirit control of us, we need to resubmit ourselves to God! It is a good daily practice for you and I to do the following on a daily basis.

  • Confess all known sin (1 John 1:9) and accept unreservedly the certain assurance of being forgiven for your sins including the sin of quenching or grieving the Holy Spirit. Sin is sin and there are no degrees of sin, big or small, it just is... Any sin creates a barrier whether (in our earthly terminology) it is a big sin like murder or a small sin like lying... Homosexuality and pornography are just as bad as lusting after that girl who just walked by - all are adultery.... That's one of the reasons the Pharisees got it so mixed up and why Jesus Christ was indignant with scorn towards them misleading people.
  • Devote to being a living sacrifice for Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1-2)
  • Enable the Holy Spirit to convict you of anything wrong and sinful in your life (Psalm 139:23-24)
  • Seeks the Holy Spirit's divine power in order to serve Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 3:16) and to do all things for glory of Jesus Christ, for this is one of the prime roles of the Holy Spirit, and sadly, often a neglected part of the Holy Spirit's role in the life of the believer.

Additionally, part of being controlled by the Holy Spirit, the Christian Disciple is to yield to Him.  Romans 6:13 and James 4:7 command this.  In yielding to the Holy Spirit, the body (1 Corinthians 6:20) and mind (Romans 12:1-2) are given to Him sacrificially for the glory of Jesus Christ.  Both the body and the mind are yielded, because the body activates what is conceived in the mind.  It is a total dedication of all thoughts, plans and actions into God's hands and the seeking of His divine wisdom.

Being guided by the Holy Spirit is illustrated in Acts 16:6-10 where Paul and his group of people acted quickly!  "Paul and his companions went to Phrygia, and then on through the region of Galatia. Their plan was to turn west into Asia province, but the Holy Spirit blocked that route. So they went to Mysia and tried to go north to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn't let them go there either. Proceeding on through Mysia, they went down to the seaport Troas. That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans."

2. Counsel and Circumstances

Additionally to submitting to the Holy Spirit, other people and circumstances are also great helps in regards to guidance.  Proverbs 24 reminds us that: "The wise are mightier than the strong, and those with knowledge grow stronger and stronger.  So don't go to war without wise guidance; victory depends on having many advisers.  Wisdom is too lofty for fools. Among leaders at the city gate, they have nothing to say."

We may not be going into physical war, but seeking the advice of others in trying to understand God's guidance, plays an important role in deciding God's will in the life of the Christian Disciple.  When seeking the advice of others, we should bear in mind that the person should be a reliable, godly and faithful servant of God - and know us well. 

As Proverbs 25:19 says "Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot". However, as Christian s we must also be aware that even the godliest of people make mistakes, such as Nathan the prophet when he exhorted David to build the temple in 2 Samuel 7.  In the end, each of us alone, is responsible for our own actions and for discerning God's guidance for themselves. Then we also have circumstances, which are a great learning tool.  Circumstances surround us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

However, as Christians we are to live above all circumstances, while being mindful of them.  Through circumstances, God often disclosed his perfect will.  As Paul writes in Romans 8:28 - "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."

Some examples of where God's will was discovered through circumstances include:

  • Abraham being asked to substitute a ram caught in a thicket for his son, Isaac (Genesis 22).
  • God arranging for Pharaoh's daughter to be bathing in the River Nile as the baby Moses floated by (Exodus 2).
  • Paul's nephew over hearing a plot to murder Paul, and then reporting it to the authorities and therefore saving Paul's life (Acts 23).

Now some may sceptically claim that these are purely coincidental, but if they are, and all others like these are, its an awful lot of coincidence!

3.  Wise Decisions: Now, its all very well to say that we are to make wise decisions. That would seem obvious!  But how do we go about it? A great way is by endeavouring to maintain a right attitude, and asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Have I prayed and meditated on God's Word regarding the decision?
  • Have I given every area of my life to Jesus Christ?
  • Am I prepared to be obedient to God? (Proverbs 3:5-7)
  • Am I willing to sacrifice my desires for God's Will?
  • Do I truly love and acting lovingly towards other people?
  • It should not control me habitually (1 Corinthians 6:12)
  • Will it cause another person to sin/stumble? (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)
  • Does it build Christian character? (1 Corinthians 10:23)
  • Does it bring glory to God? (1 Corinthians 10:31)
  • Can I thank God for this activity - could Jesus accompany me?
  • If in doubt, throw it out! (Romans 14:22-23)
  • Abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

 

For more to think about please do read Isaiah 6. Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them.  Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. Am I willing to do whatever God commands me to do?
Q2. Am I willing to be humble enough to ask other people's advice?
Q3. Am I willing to sacrifice my desires so that God's Will is achieved and His glory acclaimed? 

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October 29, 2020

Issues – Be Radical

 Partake - Issues

Be Radical

Luke writes of the early church in Acts 2:42-47 "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need..." then onto v47 "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

1. The Purpose of the Church

First of all, the purpose of the church! The church, we know, is described as the body, bride and temple of Jesus Christ.  We, the church, are to be as Jesus Christ and fulfilling His purposes! From the Bible, we can see at least 5 purposes of the church.

  • To glorify God (Ephesians 3:10 & 21)
  • To build up spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:12-13)
  • To equip for service (Ephesians 4:11-13)
  • To reach those outside the church (Matthew 28:10)
  • To promote the spiritual and physical welfare of all people - (Galatians 6:10)

Every church is to at least have those 5 things as its purpose.  Your church is to exist, not for those who belong to it but also for those outside its walls!  If the church gets the balance wrong at all, then surely it is failing in all of its purposes!  One of the key things for churches in the 21st century is in the area of providing welfare, both for its members and those in the local and global community.  Too often churches and its members have fallen into the ideological trap of consumer-based materialism. 

There is a saying that God helps those who help themselves.  I want to tell you that that is clearly unbiblical.  As a Christian and a church, you are to help those who cannot help themselves.  After all that's what God through Jesus Christ did - helped those who couldn't help themselves! The church is to provide welfare for all on all levels - physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual.  Too often the church only concentrates on one or two of those areas.

2. What will you say?

Judged accordingly! And in fulfilling those purposes, we will be judged! We are aware, I am sure, that God will judge all people for their sin. That is clear within the Bible.  But did you know that there is to be a judgement for all those who profess to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? It will not be a judgement for sins and wickedness, because for Christian followers, those have already been judged when Jesus Christ died on the cross (Isaiah 53v4-6; 1 Peter 2v24)! Of that you have been declared innocent and accepted by the Lord Jesus Christ, as you have accepted His free offer of forgiveness!

However, you and I will be judged for what we have done with our gifts and talents!. We will all give an account of ourselves to God, if we profess to be Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ (Romans 14:10), and will be judged according to what we have done with what we have been given (2 Corinthians 5:10). The quality of our work will be tested (1 Corinthians 3:11-15), and our motives will be exposed. Exposed as to whether things were done for God's glory (1 Corinthians 4:4-5) or for our own glory.

As we give account of the opportunities and abilities entrusted to us (Matthew 25:14-30), rewards may be gained or lost (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). Rewards such as the Incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9:25); the Crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4); Crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4v8); Crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19) and the Crown of life (James 1:12). Therefore, do all you can for the glory of God the Father, as you submit to the Son Jesus Christ in the power of God the Holy Spirit! Go and help your church fulfil those 5 purposes of its existence: to glorify God, build and equip, to reach out and provide spiritual and physical welfare for all people within its community and beyond.  Don't wait to do it, take every opportunity to do it!

How do we go about this? Let me suggest two ways to be radical: radical care and radical finances!

Radically caring: Too often people in need, are shown care and concern for a little while, but gradually as time goes on, the caring ceases. All sorts of excuses are given, but in reality, there can be no excuse or reason for not caring.  Not caring means not loving.  Love is to be for all people, regardless of personalities, conflicts, opinions, gender, sexuality, prejudice and bias.  Lots of people leave churches and house groups, through the back door, because they don't get the care they need and desire.  Too often, I would say.  Too often the church is too interested in its own little world of new buildings, new programmes, new schedules or new members, as important as those things can be!

Rather than churches that look after only the interest of select people within its walls and community, the church is to look after all interests of all, both its members and non-members and within both the local and global community.  We are to eschew, cast off, being insular, self-seeking and materialistic.  If your own church can't supply the need required, then it may just be that one of the other churches in your community can provide the need! Local churches, working together, to show that churches can work together - something we are often accused of not doing!  By loving and caring for others, we show true fellowship with Jesus Christ. We can be seen to be one church, even though we are separate expressions of the one global church.

Most people who are sick, both short-term and long-term, will appreciate contact or even a visit! There must be someone you know in your church you can do that for! Be caring!

And on a even more radical note, lets look at money!

Lets talk money! For a lot of people there are three subjects never to be raised within church circles: money, sex and politics!  We may look at the others in another podcast, but lets look at the Christian and money!  Jesus certainly talked a lot about money, even just a cursory look in the Gospels will reveal that!  Before I go further, this is aimed at all Christians, not just a select group!

We all desire to mature spiritually (one of the Church purposes remember). Perhaps the greatest indicator of this in the 21st century, concerns financial giving. Giving is to be done whole-heartedly and cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). It is not so much how much is given, but how much is left after giving. God looks beyond the amount that is given to the motive behind it. All our money and possessions belong to God anyway, so giving is to be in response to this..

Failure to give back for God's work, what He has given in the first place, robs God (Malachi 3:8)! The reason it is robbery is because the giving cannot be used to support those who are working for God.

Most churches with one busy pastor could quite easily afford another pastor on the payroll if more people gave money using those biblical principles. Missionaries shouldn't have to literally beg for funding as some do, particularly when some professing Christians continue to build up massive pension pots to keep themselves in the luxurious manner they are accustomed to when they retire.

The hallmark of the early church is clearly seen in Acts 2.  The New Testament church made sure that giving was done and that the poor, the oppressed, the lonely and the widows were taken care of.  People gave.  When anybody was in need, another member of the church fulfilled that need: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs. That is radical church! It is not to be for just the first century church but also for the 21st century church.  It is not communism under another name as I have heard it called. Those who say that are entrapped within the snare of materialistic consumerism and political dogma, looking after their own interests rather than the interests of others. Its biblical welfare as commanded by Jesus Christ and exemplified by His life.  Anything outside of that can be regarded as deplorable, revolting and an abomination.

That is also radical! Churches and Christians are to be so radical so that even today, people outside the church can say with amazement: "These people love their God because we see that they love each other and us!" Go! God gave everything so that you may life and life in abundance, so by caring and giving, you will reflect that. Be radical church and encourage others to be likewise.

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October 28, 2020

Issues - Words

 Partake - Issues

Words

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G'day and welcome to Partake and our series looking at some of the issues facing Christian Disciples in the twenty first century.  Last time we looked at Materialism, and today we look at something that has the capability of affecting every person on the planet.Jesus, our Master, said in Matthew Chapter 12 "How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It's your heart, not the dictionary, which gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is blight on the orchard. Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation." Jesus took words extremely seriously and so must we for we are a result of our speech and we will be judged for what we say.

Words Alive!

Have you guessed what issue we will be talking about? Yes - that's right - the issue is about Words! Words matter and for the Christian disciple they are off the utmost importance as the building blocks of communication: whether by thought or through the tongue. One of the greatest sins of the twenty first century, that all Christian Disciples need to be wary of, is the use of words.  Communication, which is cynical, sarcastic, murderous and discouraging, surrounds us and we are coerced to join in, when in fact we should be standing alone against it. The twenty first century is the communications century - everything can be communicated around the world at the click of a mouse button.  What we say, think and write has the potential to be a sinful action or a sinful inaction.  Regardless of what other people say or do, we are to speak, think and write without sinning. Let those be responsible before God for their own actions and inactions - you are only responsible for yours!Words are the central means of communication regardless of our language, nationality or culture. Needless to say that every one of us has either been hurt, or has hurt others, by communicated words.  The power of the tongue in communication and speech is awesome. It has the power of life & death and those who love it will eat & bear its fruit.  The tongue is a fire, which left unguarded, can corrupt the whole body and set the whole course of life on fire. We need to watch the words we speak and control our speech, or it will control us.

A Right Use!

So what is a right use of the tongue in communicating?  We are to use our words to nourish others, encourage and lift them up.  For the tongue of the righteous is choice silver. (Prov.10:21).  Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet in the soul and healing to the bones.  We find that if we give an apt reply we will find joy and discover the goodness and healing a timely word brings!  But we are not to speak glibly and hypocritically but with truth, sincerity and love - as a mother speaks to her daughter.

Guard it!

How can we guard its use?  By asking the Holy Spirit to watch over our lips and set a guard over our mouth, according to the Psalmist in Psalm 141:3.  It is a measure of wisdom to speak words when required and with discernment.  Any fool can speak words all the time, but sometimes there is a need for silence, for even then foolish people are thought to be wise.  Frequently, we are told by the world to be quick to speak and slow to listen. But as Christian Disciples we are to do the opposite, and stand alone against it!  We are to be slow to speak and quick to listen, according to James 1:19.

Jesus' Words

Jesus' words encouraged and healed, such as to the woman caught in adultery, when he used discernment and wisdom.  He actively encouraged others gently towards paths of right living.  He spoke words lovingly to his mother.  He even spoke words of kindness whilst He hung from His cross, during his last moments before death! He is to be our guide and Master in the use of speech, thoughts and words.  That is not to say he didn't rebuke with an attitude of love, as he most certainly did on occasion to the Pharisees and other religious leaders.Matthew 5v21-22 is an example of the seriousness of words. Jesus speaking: "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."Here Jesus equates calling somebody a fool with the physical act of murder! Murder has its beginning in anger developing into uncontrollable rage! Words, thoughts and attitudes of anger can lead the Christian Disciple to sin even more if they aren't stopped quickly. Similarly, adultery has its beginning in lustful thoughts!  The words we formulate in our minds and those that proceed via our mouths are of utmost importance to God and therefore should be of utmost importance to us!  Let the words you communicate and think about, be like those of Jesus - "full of grace".  Do not sin, either in your deeds, in your thinking and all means of communicating.

How are you doing?

How are you doing in your use of words?  Are your actions backing up your words? Are the words you use always full of grace, uplifting, encouraging and building! Sure there are times when words are to be used for rebuking in love, but always used under the control of the Holy Spirit.  The words you speak reflect your inner attitudes, your inner thoughts and your inner being.  The words you speak and communicate reflect who you are.  If the words you communicate are derogatory, inflaming and cursory then that reflects your inner thoughts and attitudes.  Control your tongue, commands James.  A person who controls their tongue can be likened to a ship with a rudder, and able to be steered to safety!  An uncontrolled tongue reflects a ship that is heading into dangerous water! Your words and all your communication have the power to bring life and encouragement but also on the contrary, has the power to bring corruption, degradation and death.  Let the Holy Spirit who lives inside you if you are a Christian Disciple; help you to use your words for the supreme glory of Jesus Christ, who after all is your Master! By doing that, you will truly be seen to be one of His disciples and be Standing Alone for Him and His majesty!  He is to have supremacy over all things in your life, including your words! Make no mistake, one of the issues facing Christians and a possible barrier to standing alone, is the use, abuse and misuse of words.

For more to think about please do read James 3vv1-11. Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. Are the words I speak, words that heal and encourage, or are they also used to hurt and damage people?

Q2. When I am talking with other people, is it for gossiping, maliciousness or are they for healing, encouraging and uplifting others?

Q3. When was the last time I confessed and asked forgiveness for my sinful use, misuse and abuse of words?Thank you.

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Christians and culture

Cultures from around this world are individual, unique and diverse. At least 20 are represented here in this room. Have you ever noticed how people from different countries greet each other? Those from Latin America, will kiss each other on the cheeks. Australians will shake each other firmly by the hand, punch each other on the arm, say "G'day" and proceed to jokingly insult each other. English people, however, shake each other by the hand limply, take a step back, start to talk about the weather and look for the nearest queue to join! Americans greet each other with a hug, take a step back, talk to each other and once the other person has left, promptly forget the other person's name. Yet other people from other nations say hello by bowing or even by sucking mouths! All these are generalisations!

So we see that from many different cultures from over 200 countries on this planet, there are many differences - rich in variety and stark in contrast! And that is why we have come together - gathered from many different traditions and cultures, to both see and show brief cultural insights. If we were to take a more indepth look into a culture that is different from our own, we would see in it, both likes and dislikes and also similarities. The things that are acceptable to me in a cultural sense, may well shock you, because of your cultural upbringing. Some of what we are as people is because of the culture we were born into and raised within. Take for example, an El Salvadorian wedding, where the husband at the post-service reception places his wife's left leg on a chair, discreetly lift her dress to the upper thigh and proceeds to pull her garter off with his teeth! This is in front of everybody! He then throws the garter to a gathered group of single men, all eagerly waiting to catch it!

Now if you are offended by this, it is probably because of your upbringing in a culture, where at a wedding, which is not the done thing. Somehow I can't see this happening in a Japanese wedding, in case it was deemed offensive, particularly to the guests! But just because something is different from your own culture, does not necessarily mean that it is wrong. Our cultural heritage and upbringing affects our ethics, lifestyle, family values, and worldview and so on. Culture also has a place and a say in our religion. Some cultures insist that you follow a particularly religion out of respect for tradition, whether that is nominal Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism Islam, Zionism, Taoism, Shintoism, Spiritism or any other ‘ism' which is your cultural norm. Sometimes there are severe pressures and penalties to pay if you want to change your religion, say to Christianity from Islam.

Now I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus, was, is and always will be God! So what does Jesus have to say about culture and cultural differences? Jesus kept all the cultural tradition, as a good Jewish man that did not affect his own personal holiness and offend those to whom he engaged in a cross-cultural exchange. Whether it was a Roman centurion; a Canaanite woman; Samaritans; Greeks or other cultures, Jesus was always sensitive to their particular problems regardless of his cultural traditions, taught to him about not touching or talking to foreigners, women, sick and poor people. He continually broke the traditional cultural religious taboos, by doing these things, and that is one of the reasons that Jewish authorities hated him and plotted to kill him. That is ok, you might be thinking if you are not a follower of Jesus. You may well be thinking that I am a Christian because I was bought up in a Christian country and it is your cultural tradition to follow this Jesus.

But if you are thinking that, then maybe you are also thinking that Jesus is only for Jews and those in the West where Christianity is the normal religion. You may also be thinking that Christianity is not for you because your tradition and culture say that you must follow another religion. I am a Christian because Jesus was pursuing me! True my upbringing in a country which at least is nominally Christian did pay a small part in my turning to follow Jesus Christ. But by becoming a Christian, I rebelled against my parents and against my culture. The main reason I am a Christian, is because Jesus Christ was chasing me. I have decided to follow him - will you follow him or reject him?

You may well reject Jesus Christ as your Saviour and the Son of God because you don't know enough about him yet. If that is your reason then read about him in the Bible. Or you may well reject him because you simply don't want to acknowledge him for who he is. That at least is honest! But please, don't reject him simply because your culture says to stick to your own cultural or national religion. That is just patronising nonsense. Jesus is for all people of all time, all nations and all cultures. Jesus, as we read in the Bible, crosses all cultural boundaries and welcomes all to his searching and outstretched arms. Don't let culture be the excuse for not accepting Him as your God and saviour. Jesus is and always will be the Son of God, the saviour for all people of all nations, languages and cultures for all time. In John 12v32, Jesus said that he will draw all people to himself. So, come. Come to Jesus and start to follow him right now! For those of us who are already followers of Jesus Christ, what does the Bible tell us about culture and following Him.

The Bible tells us to be holy, following Jesus Christ as Lord, and growing in righteousness. It is hard for us, because the Christian life is demanding and yet also exciting! We use all sorts of excuses for sinning; that is doing wrong against God and others. Sometimes we use the excuse that is part of our individual cultural identity to do that, so ergo, it can't be wrong! In some cultures, man can have more than one wife; in still others men treat women as a little lower than slaves or dogs. The Aussie culture is well known for its arrogance, insulting and being rude to all and sundry. Other cultures place emphasis on gross materialism & collecting possessions at all costs.

Yet other cultures and countries, allow indifference to the suffering of the poor and sick in their community, putting their low position in society down to bad luck, kismet or fate. Now we know that all these things are wrong because the Bible clearly tells us they are wrong. The Bible says only have one wife, love and respect each other. The Bible says love one another; don't be rude but be humble and not arrogant. The Bible says take care of the poor and sick in the community. The Bible says don't accumulate possessions for possessions sake. And yet we can use the cultural barrier excuse to try and justify our sins, time and time again. When our cultural traditions cross over the lines of sin, drawn out for us in the Bible, then we must at all costs to ourselves, stop doing them!

Now I am not saying do away with all our cultural traditions - just those that are clearly unbiblical and hinder our path to personally holiness and personal righteousness. Let us follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be prepared to sacrifice your cultural taboos at all cost to yourself and run the race set for you, whilst keeping your cultural differences. So, in conclusion, those of you who are not yet followers of Jesus, don't let your culture and traditions stop you from deciding to follow Jesus and running to those outstretched arms that are waiting for you. For those of us who are already followers of Jesus and believe in him for our salvation, let us stop using our cultural traditions as excuses for sinning. Repent of any attitude, behaviour or action that causes you to sin.

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