Simon van Bruchem

Getting Grace and Faith Right

If you are a Christian, you are trusting in the One who is truly trustworthy. Jesus is the only One who really is. He really did pay for your sins. There are many people in this world who have faith in something, probably stronger faith than you do, yet they are trusting in the wrong thing.
Christians love to use the words ‘grace’ and ‘faith’. You would be hard pressed to listen to a Christian sermon or sing a Christian song without mention of one of these words. But what do they mean? Can you come up with a short and simple definition of each one? Sometimes we assume we know what words mean but cannot explain them well; these are words we need to be crisp and clear about.
Grace is getting something good that we don’t deserve. When it comes to God, this word is especially applied to what God has done for us in Jesus. If we trust in Jesus, we do not only have our sins forgiven (though that is terrific!), we also get incredible blessings we don’t deserve. We get adopted into God’s family, we get God’s favour not his anger, and we get a certain hope, only to name a few.
Faith is the companion word to grace. Having faith in something or someone is simply to trust them. It is a relational word. So, when we say that we have faith in Jesus, we are saying that we trust that Jesus is who He says He is, and He has done what He says He has done. Faith is our response to God’s grace. God gives us what we don’t deserve, and we receive it by faith.
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Encouraging in a Distinctively Christian Way

If we are a Christian trying to comfort and encourage a grieving brother or sister in Christ, we can say so much more than this. We can speak of the comfort we have in Jesus. We can speak of our future hope with no more crying or mourning or pain. In other words, we can point people to Jesus, not just express empathy to them.

What do you think it means to encourage someone? My immediate thought was that it meant to say something nice to someone. Perhaps that would be compliment their clothes or thank them for something. Perhaps it would be cheering on a child in a sporting match. While those are indeed good things to do, Christian encouragement is different to and deeper than this. If we know Jesus and what He has done for us, we have so much more content with which to encourage others.
Near the end of 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes this:
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
(1 Thess. 5:11 ESV)
Our immediate reaction is to think he only means to be nice to one another, but Paul is saying far more than this. V11 starts with the word “therefore” which means he is continuing on from what he was writing about earlier. Paul had just been writing about the certain hope for the future that Christians have because of the work of Jesus. This means that v11 is telling the Thessalonian Christians that their certain future is a source of encouragement; when things are difficult, they can encourage one another by reminding themselves of the truth of the gospel.
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Pursue the Things of God

Plan to work on your godliness. This could mean deciding where and how to serve the church family. It could mean identifying a weakness you currently have and being careful and thoughtful about how you might improve in that area. We all need to pursue the things of God intentionally and repeatedly. Make every effort to be more like Jesus.
When you are trying to change some kind of bad habit or mindset, working on what to stop doing is only part of the story. You need to replace the bad habit with something else. That is why you often find former smokers becoming committed runners. It’s not just about what to stop; it is also about what to start.
Paul uses this logic when he speaks to Timothy about the dangers of greed. While being aware of the problem and fleeing the love of money is important (and see the last blog post on this here), Timothy was also urged to replace this love with something else. We read this in 1 Timothy 6:
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.                                                  —1 Timothy 6:11 ESV
The instruction here is not only to flee greed, but to pursue the things of God. We all are made to have desires; Paul is not telling Timothy to just stop desiring things. No, he is to desire to serve God and not money. He is to serve one master and not another.
Just as the word “flee” is an active, continuous verb here, so is the word “pursue”. The idea is that active effort be taken to pursue the things of God. And not just once, a decision to follow Jesus made sometime in the past. These kinds of active decisions are required regularly and often. Greed is a real continuous danger and neglecting the things of God is also an ongoing problem for us.
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Regular In-Person Church Attendance is Critical for Your Faith

Why does this matter so much? It is a concrete way of showing your commitment to the people in your spiritual family, and it shows that honouring God comes first among your many other priorities. It gives you consistency of Biblical input and the best opportunity to learn from God’s word. Regular church attendance leads to stronger relationships with those in the church. And if you have children, attending the same church each week sends a message that God and His people are of first priority to your family. 

Going to a church service every week is something that most Christians have historically done at a bare minimum. (There have been times when two services on Sunday, or even daily services at dawn, were the norm!) Yet the pattern for many Christians in our current age is to go to church much less regularly than that. It is common for even long-term Christians to go to church fortnightly, monthly, or whenever there isn’t a better offer going.
Our recent experience with COVID has exacerbated this trend. I have heard from many other churches that a significant proportion of their members are continuing to watch the weekly church service on livestream rather than coming in person. In my church (which chose not to continue offering live steaming), there has been a noticeable increase in people who come regularly but not every week. In-person church attendance has, for many Christians, become something that fits around the edges of other things that we want to do.
Now, there are many places in the Bible where regular meeting together as believers is expressly encouraged. It was the pattern of the early church to meet together, sometimes every day (Acts 2:46) and sometimes every week (Acts 20:7). Christian gathering for worship was regulated as it was assumed to be a significant part of the life of the community (1 Corinthians 14). And, of course, we have that famous warning in Hebrews 10:
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb. 10:24-25 ESV)
So why are so many Christians not putting a high value on weekly worship with their brothers and sisters in Christ? I have heard people say that they don’t want to be legalistic. We are saved by grace, not by religion, and surely we are still real Christians if we don’t go to church every week. And sure, I see the logic of that argument.
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Fleeing the Love of Money

Be aware of when greed controls your heart. When you realise that many of your conversations turn to the subject of money or house prices, or that much of what you dream of revolves around new things, confess to God that you have a problem. Greed is far worse for us than we often think. Don’t walk away from it; run.

We live in a time where greed is perfectly acceptable to most people. We use words like “ambitious” and “upwardly mobile” and “aspirational” which sound so much more positive. Using all of our efforts towards a better life and nicer things is just the norm. We need to realise that this desire for more is a great danger for us. The Bible is full of warnings that greed can be a big problem for our faith.
For example, look at these famous verses from 1 Timothy:
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.
(1 Tim. 6:10-11a ESV)
The danger being warned against here is the love of money, not whether you are rich or poor. Whatever your current financial status, it is the desire for more than can lead to people wandering from the faith. It is a craving, a relentless wanting, that leads only to disaster in terms of our faith. It is so easy to substitute our love and service of God with a love and service for money.
Paul’s advice to Timothy is simple: flee these things. Notice how strong that word is. Paul doesn’t calmly say that greed can be a bit of a problem, so be careful. No, Paul says FLEE!
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Looking Forward with Hope

We know and trust that our faithful God will give us life after death, a glorious life if we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. Even on the really bad days, we can hold onto this hope. And on the days when things are going really well, we know that what is coming will be so much better still.

Many novels and movies these days are set in the near future, and they generally have something in common. The future most of us expect is a disaster. Whether that means living through world wars, nuclear disasters, environmental catastrophes, or cruel dictatorial governments, most visions of the future are bad. There are many who have no hope when they look to what is coming.
The Sadduccees in Matthew 22 might not have expected killer robots or global warming, but they also didn’t have much hope for the future. They had a privileged life now, running the priesthood and having the support of the Romans. Yet they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (v23). They thought that death was the ultimate end. All they had to look forward to was growing old and then being no more.
Yet when they bring a rather unusual question to Jesus that deals with the resurrection, they don’t get the answer they expect.
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God is Still Filling His Wedding Banquet Hall

Don’t let the media discourage you or make you think the church is irrelevant or out of date. We have a message everyone needs to hear. We want others to know the hope that we have. Pray for God to bring many more into his wedding feast. There is room for many more.

Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a wedding banquet a king is hosting for his son in Matthew 22. Through history, God had been preparing the way for his people to come to this big party. This was primarily the Jewish people through the covenants and prophets and patterns of the Old Testament. The tragedy of Matthew 22 is that a great majority of the Jewish people did not recognise Jesus as the son of the king, and they would not therefore be part of the wedding banquet that God had planned.
The great news of Matthew 22 is that the invitation is open to all who will come. Anyone, from any background, whether good or bad, is welcome to come to the wedding feast. Anyone who comes to Jesus is most welcome.
Now, if you watch the news, you could be forgiven for thinking that the church is an old, dying institution that has no relevance to modern Australia. We have seen that in the commentary around the Andrew Thorburn incident in Melbourne last week. It seems that everyone is lining up to condemn views that historically all Bible-believing Christians would hold to.
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Christianity is Not About Being Nice or Respectable

Don’t focus too much on whether others think you are nice or religious or respectable. Follow Jesus. And, like Jesus, welcome anyone who comes to him, including those who you might naturally exclude or think are disreputable. Make sure you care less about how you look to others and more about how you can please your Father in Heaven.

Many people think of Christians as nice, clean-cut people. Those who are respectable, who are pillars of the community. There is a perception that Christians sometimes feel that they are superior to other people, looking down on those who have made different lifestyle choices. And – let’s be honest – sometimes that accusation has truth to it.
It wasn’t that different for Jewish people in Jesus’ day. It was clear to most people who the good guys were and which people should be avoided. The religious leaders were the good guys. They took the law seriously and they were widely respected; you could even see their devotion by what they wore and how they arranged their hair. On the other hand, there were people that were commonly looked down upon, especially tax collectors and prostitutes. Not only were these less than savoury professions, they associated with the Romans.
Into that context, Jesus had a conflict with the religious leaders in Matthew 21. They saw him as causing problems in their area, the temple. They demanded to know whose authority he was acting under. After an initial discussion, Jesus went on to use three stories to unpack who he was. The first one was the parable of the two sons:
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”
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Real Unity in the Gospel

It is so easy to fall back into your own denomination or ministry culture and criticize those who do things differently. Yet we need to show a watching world that we are as united as we can be. I also learn a lot from those in other traditions. It would be arrogance in the extreme to think that the way we are used to doing things is the only good way to do them! Realistically, with the state of the church in Western Australia, we cannot afford to rely only on our own denominations to reach everyone with the gospel.

A couple of weeks ago I spent two days at a conference with 170 or so other gospel workers. It was the Perth Gospel Partnership annual pastor’s conference. The PGP is an association between those who affirm a reformed and evangelical view of the Scriptures.  (You can find out more about PGP here).
Good conferences are always encouraging, and the speakers on preaching and sexuality issues were helpful and thought-provoking. Yet I don’t go to these events for the speakers. I would attend this conference whoever happens to be speaking. I am always encouraged by the people.
Perth is a small place in terms of gospel ministry. Although the city has almost three million people, there are relatively few churches. This has led, over time, to an ecosystem where people know one another across denominational boundaries. The reformed churches in Perth tend to send their ministry candidates to the same interdenominational theological college (Trinity Theological College) and support the same Christian university ministries.
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God Will Bring Justice for Every Believer

Many Christians are suffering for their faith in this world. Even in countries without active persecution, Christians are excluded and face problems for simply being faithful. God cares deeply about this. Pray to Him about this. Ask for justice to be done. You can confident God knows your situation and listens. 
Ahab and Jezebel and their family ruled Israel as tyrants; we read of their exploits in the latter part of the book of 1 Kings. They were not satisfied with setting up an alternative religion to Baal instead of worshipping the true God. They went much further than this, seeking out God’s prophets to kill them (1 Kings 18:4). True believers went into hiding so that Elijah thought he was the only one left (1 Kings 19:14).
What do you think the faithful believers in those days prayed for at night? I am sure they prayed for the downfall of the rule of Ahab and Jezebel. They wanted God to get the glory He deserved from his people. They would pray that God would care for them.
Naboth was one of these faithful believers who was killed by Ahab and Jezebel (the full story is in 1 Kings 21). He stood up against a king who wanted to take his land, even though God gave it to him as an inheritance. Naboth was executed on trumped-up charges and his sons were also killed to ensure the crown got to keep his land. This act of injustice led to a promise of the fall of the house of Ahab in a bloody and terrible way.
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