Archive for the ‘Matthew 7’ Category

Matthew 7:13 – 14 – PRISON DIARY – JOURNEY TO LIFE

Prose, Poetry and Photos © By Ross Cochrane

Cross = Love

Cross = Love

In the Aged Facility where I am a Chaplain, I meet many people who, when finding themselves in high care, move through a process of grief over the losses that come with age. Life changes dramatically after a stroke or a fall or when dementia makes it impossible for people to live at home. All of a sudden they are living in a building with locked doors with keypads and nurses writing care plans, careworkers showering, lifting, and doing everything for them. It’s all a little confusing, confronting and unfamiliar. It can feel as if they are trapped.

It is often the inward prison of negativity that traps people more than their outward circumstances. This is true through life but can come to the forefront when someone comes into high care.

I have also noticed what happens when someone finds Christ. All of a sudden the prison on the inside is opened and they are free. Free to live as God intended. This prose and poem talks graphically about that journey. I have not tried to water down the grief. Isaiah 53:4 speaks of Jesus. It says “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;”

PRISON DIARY – JOURNEY TO LIFE

DAY 1 – LOSS OF YOUTH 

Journey to Life

Journey to Life

As to where I am or how I got here, I cannot tell you. But the diary I hold in my hands claims my name on the cover. Inside I find this verse from the Bible – John 21:18 (NLT) “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.”

Lifted like a mist on mountain slopes
The haze clears enough for me to see. I am old,
And wrinkles stare from mirrors on a clean white wall.
I cannot fathom how distant hopes
Ended, broken and bruised, torn, homeless and cold
These words I leave to journal such a fall.

A care worker and a walker, seem strange,
Whoever is crippled, cranky, unconvinced,
With soft, sweet, sure, safe, assuring words,
Is greeted, treated kindly in exchange.
Absurd!

DAY 2 – LOSS OF FREEDOM

Key to Life

Key to Life

I am able to walk with the help of a walking device. A Care Worker attended to me today, and when I asked her where I was, she said “You are in a safe place.” Despite constant reassurances to the contrary, I have concluded that I am in a prison! Files and Records. No privacy. Escape seems impossible. I would not get very far, even with my walking frame.

On the next page of my diary I read Psalms 118:5 (NLT) “In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free.” If only.

I know I am meant for other things,
Not lies and patronising tones, and these locked doors.
My ears, dulled to all the other sounds around me
Hear freedom’s constant calls. Flightless wings
Refuse passage from this sad prison. It causes
Hope to fade, and fear fails to set me free.

Their care invades, interrogates, ensnares,
While ever I remain, constrained to live now,
What life is left, in this single room.
My private things in folders are shared, theirs
To Consume. 

DAY 3 – LOSS OF HEALTH, RELATIONSHIPS AND THE FAMILIAR

Key to life

Key to life

I have exchanged my friends and family with inmates and guards. The inmates are all very old. The guards all very young. Different generation, different cultures, paid to be friendly. I still shudder to think that young women take me to the toilet and shower and dress me in the morning. My son says I have no choice.

Sentenced, I seek for my release, reach
For keys to other kingdoms with a future sure
Where heartfelt cries are answered and I once more walk
Free, unfaltering, fearless. Each
Footstep closer to friends, fam’ly, and cure,
Where old mates, tried and true, gather to talk.

I have exchanged familiar with strange;
Whatever is diff’rent delights to devour
The sure, safe, secure and stable things,
And whispers words of warning of the change
It brings. 

DAY 4 – LOSS OF HOME AND HOPE

Boxed TimeMy family avails themselves of visiting rights occasionally, but it seems they think I deserve a life sentence and have abandoned trying to advocate for my release. Today I cried when they left. I learned that my beautiful four bedroom home, where I have lived for the last 40 years, is being sold by my son. Somewhere down the line I exchanged my home, spacious gardens, and a big back yard for a one room cell with photos. This hardly seems like a fair exchange. Life wasting.  Inheritance draining. A burden to my family. Set aside. Abandoned.

The Bible verse for today is Psalms 71:9 (NLT) “And now, in my old age, don’t set me aside. Don’t abandon me when my strength is failing.” Don’t abandon me.

Today, I have cried for life bereft,
For loved ones advocating not for my release.
For homes sold, taken, traded, forty years of waste,
Tears tasted forfeit fall, failed, unblessed.
Escape plotted and plans, so hollow, they cease
To make sense. My dreams in shackles, erased.

DAY 5 – LOSS OF MONEY, WORK, RESPECT, MEANING

Discovered today that I have no money to spend. A successful business, millions earned over a lifetime, money to burn in the bank but I am broke. My son told me that he is now my power of attorney and he will pay for everything. Enforced poverty.

I said somewhat foolishly “Have more respect! Don’t you realise who I am?” Has he forgotten? Have I forgotten who I am? A doctor, an army officer, Prisoner of war, a Businessman, a Mayor! Was I the Mayor? Who am I? No-one seems to care who I am anymore. I am just a grain of sand on the beach, a tiny ripple in an ocean. “Don’t laugh at me!”

Hebrews 13:5 (NLT) “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”” It seems even God wants Power of Attorney!

Power taken from me, enforced lack,
Where is my million dollar wealth? Has it dwindled now?
It evades, is inaccessible evermore,
A prisoner of time. Send me back!
Respect, honour are scorned, sold, shallow, but how?
And my trade, my craft, sawdust on the floor.

Sand sifts, hourglass-like, survival slips, slides,
Sedation is stable, settled, soothes for now.
Closed door, house of straw, coffee cups.
An imposed life where meaning from me hides
And ducks. 

DAY 6 – LOSS OF CHALLENGE

I was so pleased when one guard said she would take me home today, but she simply proceeded to take me back to my one room prison cell. Is she mad! Am I mad!

Tablets everyday. Surviving but not living. I have been issued a walker to get around, but there is nowhere to go, no challenges to face, no future to plan, no contribution to make, nothing truly meaningful that I can do in terms of work. Closed doors. Imposed routines. I have come to consider a cup of coffee as one of the most important events in life. Nothing dangerous or risky. Nothing to fear, no mountains to climb, no real difficulties to overcome. If I fall, a monstrous piece of machinery turns up to pluck me from the floor and place me on the bed. It seems the worst enemy around here is gravity.

Joshua 1:9 (NLT) “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

“Please, can you take me home!” Insane hopes,
But I am trundled, bundled to a prison cell,
Where assessed risks are guarded and no dangers lurk
Sentries pencil their paperwork, ropes
To choke challenge are wound, and sound the death knell
On all threats, and on adventure. Their work
Is to protect, to reduce all life’s dare.

Whoever has fallen, is plucked safe and well,
With swift, safe, sure, artificial arms.
No hazards here, but superficial care
Hurts, harms.

DAY 7 – FAITH FOUND

Cross

Cross

Devotions. Lumped together with people of different faiths. Might as well go as it’s all that I have got to express my faith. Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Chaplain says God doesn’t have a band-aid for the wounds I have on the inside, or a drawer full of pills to help me cope, but God does offer His total healing, forgiveness, friendship and direction in life and in eternity. He can be trusted to keep His promises. He will never leave me or forsake me. He can set me free on the inside.

Today I read about Abraham. Romans 4:19-22 (NLT) says “Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead. Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises. And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous.”

Jesus loves me this I think I know. I better take it to the Lord in prayer. I’ve been invited to devotions by the Chaplain tomorrow. Pierced hearts cannot somehow with band-aids and pills and magic potions be healed.

DAY 8 – FREEDOM WITHIN

Old

Old

The Chaplain read from Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT) which says “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. “But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” That’d be right. Even the road to heaven is too narrow. Hopefully it has wheelchair access. Better take my walker and hope for the best.

Seriously though, perhaps it’s not that I am in a prison. It is that the prison is in me. In John 10:10 (NIV) Jesus says “… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” His death on the Cross for my sins has set me free. Thought about this all day.

I read from Isaiah 46:4 (NLT) and it spoke to me. God says “I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.”

John 8:36 (NLT) says “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” 

DAY 9 – NEW REFLECTION

So I embark on the adventure of faith, with it’s challenges and potholes and narrow roads. My faith is still a bit bumpy and it is a challenge everyday. But today I choose life.

I look in the mirror. The old man who stares back at me is the real diary. My faith, written on my life.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT) says “… anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 

DAY 10 – THE TRUE DIARY

Journey to Life

Journey to Life

Ascending like mist on mountain slopes
The haze has lifted. I still see that I am old,
My wrinkles stare from mirrors on a clean white wall,
But now I fathom who I am. Hopes
Fulfilled I see, reflected in that form so bold,
A shining light to journal such a call.

Fresh life written in that face revealed. True
Diary of faith, forgiveness I behold,
God’s grace for grief’s wounds, freely poured.
His faithful touch heals, redeems, makes me new,
I am restored.

Advertisements

Matthew 7:24-29 – HOW TO BE SHOCKED ENOUGH TO TAKE ACTION 

Building Your Life On The Rock. Painting and image by Ross Cochrane. Turn your head sideways to the right and you will see a sleeping headland or cliff-face imbedded in the rock.

A luxury villa with an immaculately manicured lawn, beautiful swaying palm trees, an infinity pool, a jetty for speedboats and a helipad, this is the paradise world of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Just one of 300 man-made islands sculpted from sand; a 14 billion dollar dream in Dubai. It took 5 years to build and 320 million cubic metres of sand dredged from the sea to create these islands and nest them inside a protected lagoon. But of course when you build on the sand things come crashing down; enter 2008’s global financial crash. Virtually overnight the market collapsed. Contracts worth hundreds of billions of pounds were put on hold. 60 billion dollars in debt. Shock!

In reading about Dubai World I couldn’t help but be reminded about the story Jesus told in Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT) Jesus says “… anyone who hears My teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Epitaph – “His life was built on an unstable foundation and was not able to withstand the gradual undermining erosion that took place. Cracks in the wall began to appear early in his life. When the storms of sickness and suffering came, when the storms of temptation and sin came, when the storms of misunderstanding and gossip came, when the storms of doubt and rejection came, when the storms of stress and death came, when the storm of God’s Judgment came His life was built on sand and came crashing down. It was washed out to sea. The aftermath of a cyclone and the reminders of His life are now strewn in wreckage along the beach.” Shock!

The storms of life test the foundations of our faith. Not that you would notice the difference on the outside between the house built on sand and the house built on the rock, but when the storms come you will see how immeasurably different they are.

Jesus speaks about building on a solid rock foundation. Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT) “Anyone who listens to My teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.” 

The “bedrock” relates to the message of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mountain but also to all His teaching. “Petra” (rock) is the word that is used here in the original language of the Bible. It doesn’t mean a stone or a single rock but it is describing a great outcropping of rock, a large expanse of bedrock which is SOLID, STABLE, AND UNMOVABLE.

How stable is your faith? What are you really trusting in? Will it still be there when the storms have passed, anchored and unmoving? Will the last storm of Judgment burn away the refuse of a life lived without God and produce irreparable devastation and separation from God for eternity?

Matthew 7:28 (NLT) says “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were AMAZED at His teaching …”

Amazed! Astonished! Shocked! There is a big difference between being astonished and coming under the authority of what Jesus is saying, between adding Jesus to our lives as an optional extra and truly following Him as our Lord and Saviour. Jesus was after action not just astonishment, worship not just wonder, obedience not just observation, salvation not just shock. The invitation is to allow God to turn amazement into action by actively trusting and following Christ as your Lord and Saviour today, the Solid Rock foundation for our lives. 

Pastor Ross 

Matthew 7:24-27 – HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN SUSTAINABLE HOME 

Build on the Rock – Photo creation by Ross Cochrane

Many years ago we built our first house. The chief aim in BUILDING A HOUSE AND A LIFE is that it will be able to withstand the storms that inevitably come against us. We consulted a builder we trusted. He was a man with integrity and he assured us that he would build us a house that would last. If ever we pass through Armidale, NSW, we visit that little house where we began to raise our family. We learned a lot from building that little house, so here’s a CHECKLIST before you start building a house and a building a life…

1. Consult with an EXPERT BUILDER and LISTEN to instructions. Listen to someone who knows the building trade. Get access to someone who has credibility.

A carpenter by trade and profession, Jesus Christ knows houses and the building trade. He is the MASTER BUILDER of a person’s life. Psalms 127:1 (NIV) says “Unless the Lord builds the house, it’s builders labour in vain …” In Matthew 7:24 (NLT) Jesus says “Anyone who LISTENS to My teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock …”

In Exodus 33:13 (NLT) Moses looks to God and says “… let me know Your ways …” Psalms 25:5 (NLT) says “Lead me by Your truth and teach me, …” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT) says “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.” His Word (the Bible) is comprehensive. It’s all in writing. Keep a copy of the plan at hand for every situation you encounter. You will be amazed at His teaching and the credibility of His authority (Matthew 7:28-29).

2. CHECK THE FOUNDATIONS. Engineer-designed, special REINFORCING and treatment due to high wind zones or proximity to the coast. Jesus Christ is the rock solid FOUNDATION for every life (1 Corinthians 3:11). Every person has an opportunity to build on the best foundation. In Matthew 7:26-27 (NLT) Jesus goes on to say “But anyone who hears My teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

3. COUNT THE COST. Luke 16:11 (NLT) says “… if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?”

Since we built our house the Government in Australia has introduced assistance programmes (such as the First Home Owner’s Grant). Philippians 4:19 (NLT) speaks of the best assistance programme in life. It says “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”

4. SIGN THE CONTRACT. When I was sure I signed a contract. When I was sure about Christ I made a decision to trust Him to build my life. Acts 16:31 (NLT) simply says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved …” I believe! I’m committed! Let’s build!

In Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT) Jesus says “Anyone who listens to My teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock …” 

Pastor Ross

Related articles

Matthew 7:22-23 – HOW CAN THINKING PEOPLE BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?

How Can a Thinking Person Believe?

Jesus makes it tough for people living in the Western World. He says “On judgment day many will say to Me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in Your Name and cast out demons in Your Name and performed many miracles in Your Name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you who break God’s laws.’”

All these things are unfamiliar to our culture. In just a few sentences Jesus speaks about JUDGMENT DAY, PROPHECIES, DEMONS, MIRACLES, KNOWING GOD and GOD’S AUTHORITY to tell us what to do. Not what we want to hear in our scientific age. Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist, mocks the fuse that has been lit by the words of Jesus in these verses. He wants to cast out Christians in the name of science.

Yes, I know there have been times in history when Christian culture has confused spirituality with superstition, regarding various amulets and charms with power to cast out demons. Yes, religious leaders have used these trinkets to promote superstition for personal gain and power. Yes, many believed that all diseases were produced by evil spirits and those with intellectual disabilities or suffering from a mental illness or Epilepsy were considered to be possessed by demons. But please don’t tar every follower of Christ with the same brush? Same old, same old.

Jesus believed in the existence of demons! As a Bible-believing Christian today I acknowledge the existence of a spiritual world including the demonic, without having to put any trust in amulets and charms. Similarly every Bible-believing Christian I know believes in miracles, and signs and wonders without attributing superstitious beliefs to eclipses and comets, magic and false prophets. No intelligent person can explain every human condition by science alone.

Unlike Richard Dawkins, many cosmologists today are speaking of parallel universes or multiverse, even though they are conflicted because it doesn’t fit neatly into the test-tube of science. In his book, A Brief History of the Multiverse, author and cosmologist, Paul Davies, says, “… how is the existence of the other universes to be tested? … somewhere on the slippery slope between that and the idea that there are an infinite number of universes, credibility reaches a limit. As one slips down that slope, more and more must be accepted on faith, and less and less is open to scientific verification …The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language, but in essence it requires the same leap of faith.” — Paul Davies, A Brief History of the Multiverse

George Ellis, like most cosmologists, accepts the idea of the multiverse saying it would be so far away, however, and that it’s very unlikely any evidence will be found. He says “As skeptical as I am, I think the contemplation of the multiverse is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the nature of science and on the ultimate nature of existence: why we are here … In looking at this concept, we need an open mind, though not too open. It is a delicate path to tread. Parallel universes may or may not exist; the case is unproved. We are going to have to live with that uncertainty. Nothing is wrong with scientifically based philosophical speculation, which is what multiverse proposals are. But we should name it for what it is.” — George Ellis, Scientific American, Does the Multiverse Really Exist?

I know that like the multiverse, when my prayers are answered in miraculous ways we are still not be able to sieve it through the grate of science and come up with God or a miracle. Yet to deny God and miracles on the basis of science is a lie and the spiritual dimensions of life will remain disregarded and silent, unable to be investigated due more to rebellion than reason.

Miracles are not only possible, but any thinking person will concede that life is not lived in the test tube of science alone. Unfounded assertions and rudeness will not help the cause of science. Such a limited view of life displays arrogance and ignorance. Such arrogance and ignorance is the soil in which unbelief grows and does not leave us open enough to investigating the possibility of the truth of the Bible. The invitation God gives is simply to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8 – that’s about as empirical as it gets! 🙂 

Pastor Ross

Matthew 7:22-23 – HOW TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE AND STILL GO TO HELL!

Judgment. Picture created by Ross Cochrane using Paint.net and Filter Forge and MorgueFile.org

“I think he’ll go to heaven. He lived a pretty good life. He deserves it.” I speak to a relative after the funeral service and suddenly I am aware that nothing I said was understood. My assistant Chaplain tries to redeem the opportunity, but the relatives eyes show confusion and the moment is lost among other guests.

“But officer, I am an excellent driver most of the time”. As the police officer writes me a ticket he looks at me as if I just don’t understand (I never drive over the speed limit … Hardly ever … OK, probably too often).

Living a good life was not the reason for Graham (not his real name) going to heaven. On judgment day he will not stand before the Lord and say “Lord, I lived a pretty good life.” How lame would it be to stand accused before any judge and say “Well judge, I’ve lived a pretty good life” and expect the real problem for you being there to be pardoned. Romans 6:23 (NLT) says “For the wages of sin is death,…” Time off for good behaviour doesn’t count when it’s a death sentence.

Matthew 7:22-23 (NLT) says it hasn’t changed. Same false assumptions! But Jesus says “On judgment day many will say to Me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in Your Name and cast out demons in Your Name and performed many miracles in Your Name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you who break God’s laws.’” Will He look at them as if they JUST DON’T GET IT? 

The Bible mentions various forms of JUDGMENTS. This judgment refers to the last judgment, sometimes referred to as the judgment of the GREAT WHITE THRONE. It pictures a COURTROOM where a VERDICT is pronounced on those who have made a choice not to include Christ in their lives.

Romans 8:1 (NLT) says that “… there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” It’s like the law of DOUBLE JEOPARDY. Christ paid the price for my sin so it’s been dealt with once and for all (Romans 6:10). Those who don’t know Christ, however, will be judged according to their WORKS. It will be THEIR WORKS versus THE WORK OF CHRIST on the Cross (Revelation 20:12). The judgment will verify what the Bible has said all along – that HUMAN WORKS, no matter how good, CANNOT satisfy the justice of God concerning our sin (Matthew 7:22-23, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 6:23).

Since God is totally fair then He can only be satisfied by the work of Christ on the Cross for our sins. When we trust in what Christ has done, then, and only then, can He offer us a place in heaven. Romans 6:23 (NLT) goes on to say “… but the free gift of God is eternal life THROUGH CHRIST JESUS our Lord.”

OUR GOOD WORKS DON’T ERASE OUR SIN, any more than eating lettuce will somehow counterbalance the calories you have just consumed in eating an extra large pizza. Those who insist on their OWN GOOD WORKS rather than accept the WORK OF CHRIST in paying the price for those sins will be CONDEMNED. Jesus says that even those who cast out demons and perform miracles in His Name will not be accepted for doing so if they don’t know Him personally and …

… OBEY HIM. OBEY WHAT? 2 Thessalonians 1:8 (NLT) speaks about God’s judgment “… on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to OBEY THE GOOD NEWS OF OUR LORD JESUS.” Obey the good news about Christ! The good news about Christ is found in John 3:16-18 (NLT). It says “For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him. “There is no judgment against anyone who BELIEVES in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has ALREADY BEEN JUDGED for not believing in God’s One and only Son.” He’s the only One who has come to save us! We can’t save ourselves. No-one but Christ can. What are you trusting in – yourself or Christ?

The invitation is always to know and trust in Jesus Christ. In John 10:27-29 (NLT) Jesus says “My sheep LISTEN to My voice; I KNOW THEM, and they FOLLOW ME. I give them eternal life, and they will NEVER PERISH. No one can snatch them away from Me, for My Father has given them to Me, and He is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.” 

Pastor Ross

Matthew 7:21-23 – THE HEART SHAPED KEY AND A USELESS LIMB

Cross = Love

Shirley has dementia and has real difficulty in understanding her world. She has also suffered a stroke which has paralysed half her body. With her good hand she lifts her paralysed hand to me and says “What is this? Here, take this away will you. I don’t want it!” She doesn’t recognise the useless limb anymore as being hers! It has the appearance of an arm but it’s power has been denied. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 that there are some like that useless limb. They have a “FORM OF GODLINESS but DENY ITS POWER” (NIV).

Does God look at some of us like Shirley looks at her paralysed limb and say “Depart from Me! I NEVER KNEW YOU? You are not My hand, the instrument of My purposes! You are paralysed and useless even though you look as though you belong. You have a FORM OF GODLINESS but have DENIED IT’S POWER!” (Matthew 7:23, 2 Timothy 3:1-5)?

With the right key, HUGO, an orphan, in the movie by the same name, restores an intricate, robot-like automaton. Hugo was convinced that if he could make the automaton work, it would give him a message of hope to make sense of his life. In order to find purpose in life he fixes broken things, and reflects on the fact that machines don’t have any extra parts. Every part of the machine is necessary. At one point he says “I couldn’t be an extra part. I have to be here for some reason.” Not only does he find all the right parts including a HEART SHAPED KEY, but eventually he also finds the purpose and love he has been looking for as he is accepted into a new family.

So DENYING THE POWER OF GODLINESS IS NOT USING THE HEART SHAPED KEY! Without it life will not make sense. John 3:16 (NLT) says “For God LOVED the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who BELIEVES IN HIM will not perish but have eternal life.” To have the key but not use it is to DENY IT’S POWER.

Denying the power of godliness is rejecting the power of Christ’s death and resurrection to impart forgiveness and connection with my heavenly Father. If I don’t turn the key by believing in Christ and coming under His authority I forfeit the purpose for which I was created, and no matter how good or religious I look, I will only have a FORM OF GODLINESS. I am a broken automaton, or a lifeless limb.

The invitation is to believe in Christ and what He has done for you, to turn the heart shaped key, to be free from the penalty of your sins (Romans 6:23), to see the cogs begin to whir and life begin to pulsate through you so that you can operate as your Creator intended. Far from being a lifeless limb, you will find healing grace through His love. Far from being a broken automaton, God says “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” (Ezekiel 36:26 NLT). Accepted into His family, born again, you will be no longer orphaned, but a child of God. (Galatians 3:26). Turn the key today.

Pastor Ross

Matthew 7:20-23 – HOW TO BECOME WELL-KNOWN

Deceptively Fruitful

It is winter in Australia and the only tree we have in our backyard has miraculously borne fruit. This is remarkable since it is not a fruit tree. At first glance you would never know. It has hundreds of ripe mandarins in it’s branches. On closer inspection, the branches of a flourishing fruit tree from my neighbours side of the fence has made my tree deceptively fruitful. My tree is actually quite bare, not even a leaf. I don’t want my life to look genuine, yet in reality find that I am as bare of good fruit as my tree in winter.

Matthew 7:20-23 (NLT) in the Bible says “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven … only those who actually do the will of My Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to Me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in Your name and cast out demons in Your Name and performed many miracles in Your Name.’ But I will reply, ‘I NEVER KNEW YOU. Get away from Me, you who break God’s laws.’”

Who are these fruitless people who call Jesus Lord, yet perform miracles and prophesy in His Name? Somehow they do these things and still aren’t KNOWN by Christ? On one hand Jesus says you will know a person by the good fruit of their ACTIONS. On the other hand there are those who cast out demons in His Name and perform miracles in His Name who appear to bear good fruit but who are NOT recognised by Him as His followers! Are you well-known?

According to Barna research 64% believe they will go to heaven when they die. Jesus says that there will be FEW who find their way to heaven because few have KNOWN Him on earth or are known by Him (Matthew 7:13-14). Few have come under His authority. Too many have a superficial faith. Big words, no character. Duty but no depth. Flowery prayers and floury lives. Dancing like David outwardly but disabled like Mephibosheth inwardly (2 Samuel 4, 16). Ritual without righteousness. Religion but no relationship. Sanctimonious but not saved. Bowing but not obedient. Deceptively fruitful, but inwardly bare.

In the end, it’s not going to be what I have done for Christ that counts, but what HE has done for me. It is not MY words about Him, but HIS Word applied to my life that will enable me to obey His will. 1 John 4:19 says that I love because HE first loved me. So it is not MY profession of Him that matters but HIS profession of me. It is not how much I try to do things for Him to gain points, but what HE has freely done for me by sending His Son to die for my sins.

The invitation is to know Christ as Lord, not simply mouth that He is Lord. The word “LORD” (Kurios) in the Bible signifies sovereign power and absolute authority. The kingdom of heaven IS coming under HIS authority. 1 Corinthians 8:2-3 (NLT) says that the person who loves God is KNOWN and recognised by God. In John 14:15 (NIV) Jesus says “If you love Me, you will obey what I command.” Loving God opens up a genuine pathway of communication and relationship with God. This relationship with God through faith in Christ informs my life and enables me to live and be fruitful in the way God intends. ARE YOU WELL-KNOWN BY GOD?

Pastor Ross

Matthew 7:16-18 – CHRISTMAS TREE OR FRUIT TREE?

Christmas Tree or Fruit Tree? All is not as it seems.

Strange to chop down a tree, decorate it with fake fruit and place it in the living room as if it is growing. Smells real, but cut off at the roots and propped up. Replace the apples with brightly coloured baubles, fancy lights, garlands, ornaments, tinsel, ribbons and candy cane. Place a toy angel or star on top of the tree for religious significance and presents around the base. Then after a while, throw it out or burn it. Christmas trees are seasonally profuse and then of no use.

John Stott says “The Christian should resemble a fruit tree, not a Christmas tree.”

When Jesus speaks of false prophets in Matthew 7:16-19 I thought of John Stotts analogy with Christmas trees. They look attractive, exciting, different. They set the stage to get us emotionally involved but they don’t really have anything lasting to offer, nothing that will sustain. Matthew 7:16-23 (NLT) says “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions….”

WHAT IS BAD FRUIT? Rotten? Poisonous? Imitation? Baubles and bells – attractive alternatives? All the above. It looks good but has no life. Teaching which has dangerous consequences for my life and no correlation with what God is saying. In the context of Matthew so far, bad fruit is related to the negativity and judging attitudes of the Pharisees, their hypocrisy and reputation-driven public displays and wrongly motived “good” works, their legalistic unbending traditions (Matthew 3:10), their self-righteousness, and their unforgiving, rigid, harsh and pettyminded outlook on life, expressed in words and actions.

Sometimes it is what we say and begin to believe about ourselves which isn’t true. I can become my own false teacher. My own negative attitudes distort who I am in Christ and can be a powerful influence in my life. An over inflated view of myself is just as bad. Romans 12:3 (NLT) says “… Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” It’s always worth asking “What characterises my life? How does God see me? Am I living a fruitful life? What kind of influence do I have on others? What positive difference am I making in the world? Do I belong to a fruitful Church?”

WHAT IS GOOD FRUIT? Tasty, nutritious, useful, performs what it was designed to do, carries seeds of the same kind as the tree. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT) speaks of fruit which is actively outworked in our actions and motivated by the Holy Spirit. “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

Of course I know that a Christmas tree is just a traditional decoration. So at certain times in the year I tolerate counterfeit reality. What is disturbing is that there are times when I am also tempted to accept what amounts to false teaching of false prophets because at first it is so appealing, so glamorous and promises a candy cane, sugary kind of love, joy and peace which has no substance. It gives me an emotional high and helps me justify my sins with cheap grace. But long-term I discover no sustenance from the fruit these trees bear and I am left craving for the next quick fix.

I soon find that there are no Christmas tree substitutes for the Cross and repentance (Luke 3:8). No fancy lights to substitute for the light of the world. Jesus simply says “I am the light of the world. If you follow Me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12 NLT). No brightly wrapped presents to substitute for the gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sins. Romans 6:23 (NLT) says “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” No candy cane junk food quick fix substitutes for developing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The invitation that Christ gives is simply to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). Christmas Tree or Fruit Tree?

Pastor Ross

PS You may not have seen the face hidden on the edge of the Christmas tree? Side on. Looking down. Not all is as it seems. Sometimes what is concealed is an important part of the picture.

Matthew 7:13 – 14 – PRISON DIARY – A Parable

My dementia lifted today like mist from a mountain. The haze that has been my life has cleared enough for me to look in the mirror and see that I have grown old. Very old. As to where I am or how I got here, I cannot tell you. But the diary I hold in my hands claims my name on the cover.

DIARY ENTRY – DAY 1- I am able to walk with the help of a walking device. A Care Worker attended to me today, and when I asked her where I was, she said “You are in a safe place. Don’t worry about anything. You can eat, drink and enjoy life while you have the opportunity without having to think about tomorrow.”

When I began to object another attendant took me aside and assured me that she knows what is best for me. She placed her hand on my shoulder and in a rather autocratic, controlling, patronising tone of voice said “Please don’t complain. You have a beautiful place to live and everything is done for you!”

DAY 2 – Despite constant reassurances to the contrary, I have concluded that I am in a prison! The guards interrogate my family and me for information constantly, keeping records everyday. It is not for my eyes, but it must be a fascinating file, because so much time is spent writing in it. I can’t go to the toilet without it being noted. This seems like an extraordinary invasion of privacy.

What crime have I committed? I asked a guard if he could check my records and see the length of my sentence and my release date, but he sat me down to watch television. Perhaps, like many around here, he is hard of hearing. What bothers me is that it will take several tries for me to get out of this chair again.

DAY 3 – I have exchanged my friends and family with inmates and guards. The inmates are all very old. The guards all very young. Different generation, different cultures, paid to be friendly. I still shudder to think that young women take me to the toilet and shower and dress me in the morning. My son says I have no choice.

Day 4 – My family has visiting rights occasionally, but it seems they think I deserve a life sentence and have abandoned trying to advocate for my release. Today I cried when they left. I learned that my beautiful four bedroom home where I have lived for the last 30 years is being sold by my son. Somewhere down the line I exchanged my home, spacious gardens, and a tennis court for a one room cell with photos. This hardly seems like a fair exchange. Life wasting.

I hear the family say “Is he asleep? He might as well be dead.” I still have my hearing. I am a burden to my family. Inheritance draining. Thoughts of suicide today. Escape seems impossible. I would not get very far, even with my walking frame.

DAY 5 – Discovered today that I have no money to spend. A successful business, millions earned over a lifetime, money to burn in the bank but I am broke. My son told me that he is now my power of attorney and he will pay for everything. Enforced poverty.

I said somewhat foolishly “Have more respect! Don’t you realise who I am?” Has he forgotten? Have I forgotten who I am? A doctor, an army officer, Prisoner of war, a Businessman, a Mayor! Was I the Mayor? Who am I? No-one seems to care who I am anymore. I am just a grain of sand on the beach, a tiny ripple in an ocean. “Don’t laugh at me!”

DAY 6 – Drugged everyday. Surviving but not living. I have been issued a walker to get around, but there is nowhere to go, no challenges to face, no future to plan, no contribution to make, nothing truly meaningful that I can do in terms of work. Closed doors. Imposed routines. I have come to consider a cup of coffee as one of the most important events in life.

DAY 7 – I was so pleased when one guard said she would take me home today, but she simply proceeded to take me back to my one room prison cell. Is she mad! Am I mad!

DAY 8 – Insecure. Guards are there to serve and protect me, men and women armed with their paperwork who are always planning strategies to keep me from experiencing any real challenges in life. Nothing dangerous or risky. Nothing to fear, no mountains to climb, no real difficulties to overcome. Biggest challenge today – going to breakfast! I have to look both ways just to walk down the hallway. If I fall, a monstrous piece of machinery turns up to pluck me from the floor and place me on the bed. It seems the worst enemy around here is gravity.

DAY 9 – Devotions. Lumped together with people of different faiths. Might as well go as it’s all that I have got to express my faith. Jesus loves me. This I know. Take it to the Lord in prayer.

DAY 10 – Chaplain says God doesn’t have a band-aid for the wounds I have on the inside, or a drawer full of pills to help me cope, but God does offer His total healing, forgiveness, friendship and direction in life and in eternity. He can be trusted to keep His promises. He will never leave me or forsake me. He can set me free on the inside.

The Chaplain read from Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT) which says “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. “But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” That’d be right. Even the road to heaven is too narrow for wheelchair access and dangerous. Better take my walker and hope for the best.

Seriously though, perhaps it’s not that I am in a prison. It is that the prison is in me. In John 10:10 (NIV) Jesus says “… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” His death on the Cross for my sins has set me free. Thought about this all day.

DAY 11 – So I have swapped the wide road with it’s wheelchair access, lack of obstacles and easy smooth path and chose to embark on the adventure of faith, with it’s challenges and potholes and narrow roads. My faith is still a bit bumpy and it is a challenge everyday. But today I choose life.

DAY 12 – My dementia descends today like mist on a mountain. The haze that has been my life has cleared enough for me to look in the mirror but not to recognise the old man who stares back at me. As to who I am or how I got here, I cannot tell you. All I have is this diary and my faith. O God, You who promised never to leave me or forsake me, …help me today….

Pastor Ross

Chaplain of Shalom

Matthew 7:15-20 – CHARACTER VS REPUTATION – A Parable

“Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow” (Lincoln).

When the light peeked over the mountain and shone down upon the forest glade, there in the faint mist of early morning stood a beautiful fruit tree and its shadow. The shadow would dance gracefully in the mist and as the mist cleared it stretched out upon the earth, full length. It boasted to the tree of how extensive it was but by midday and on rainy days it was humbled again. The tree pointed out to the shadow. “You are only a shadow. You have a distorted view of yourself. Without the light I would not grow and without me you would not grow and recede each day. Don’t think more highly or lowly of yourself than you should. Remember that you represent me but you are not me.”

The shadow did not understand and was insulted by what the tree was trying to say. It was not content to merely “represent” the tree. It wanted more. In the morning when the shadow stretched full length it said, “I am more important to you than you may think. Without me your influence would not be extended to the far corners of the glade. Without me many would not know that you exist! I make you known and give you credibility.”

The tree was concerned about the shadow’s sense of self-importance. It replied “You can certainly stretch the truth about me to others, but you cater to the textures of the personality of all that you are with. Tainted and painted by what you are projected upon, you will always depend on others to shape you, taking on their preconceived ideas. In the end your influence is immaterial when describing my character. Your influence has no substance.”

The shadow began to pout. It found some of the lowest, darkest and most secret of corners and began gossiping and whispering unkind tales about the tree. There was no substance to what the shadow said but others gave the far-fetched tales substance. It was cold and lonely in the shadow of the tree for a time and during the winter months the shadows edges were more and more faded, blurred and indistinct.

As winter became spring the light around the tree defined the shape of the shadow in more truthful terms, but the shadow still did not shed any light at all upon the real character of the tree. Those who spent time on the dark side of the tree were intimidated. “Why are you so arrogant, so black and white in your attitudes” they said to the tree.

“You will never discover anything about me when you listen to stories of those who lack light and who walk in darkness” said the tree. “Walk in the light and look up into my branches and you will have a much more accurate assessment of who I really am. Your views at present are shaded, dappled, two-dimensional silhouettes, mere projections, and only an inadequate outline of what I offer.”

One day in the early stirrings of spring, the glade was suddenly washed in light as God looked down upon the tree. He had recently painted the tree with autumn colours, golden ochers, burnt umbers and raw siennas, a spectrum of brilliance, and with the gentle breath of His Spirit it’s leaves were scattered in the breeze, only to be replaced in the Spring with luscious buds. Unseen in the heart of the tree, far beneath the textured surface of the bark, He fashioned and formed another growth ring. He spoke gently to the tree “Some will pass by and walk within your shadow and see only a dark outline of who you are but I have looked upon your heart. I see that when the winter seasons have left you bare and barren, that deep inside of you there is the dream of Springtime fruit.”

And with these words, soon the tree was heavy with sweet, tender fruit, brilliant in ripe colours, flaring in the light in contrast to the thick deep greenery of its newly formed leaves. And God said “Yes, just as you can identify the character of a tree by its fruit, so you can identify the character of people by their actions. Walk in the light as I am in the light” (See Matthew 7:20 and 1 John 1:7)

Pastor Ross