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The natural world speaks to us, constantly sending information our way. It comes
from the stars, the moon, the sun, the ocean and the mountains. Psalm 19 explains,
“There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard” but then we read that
no sound is heard from them. It is a poetic way of saying this is nonverbal communication.
Why does nature fill us with wonder and grandeur? Why does it take our breath away?
Why do we write poems about it? Why does it move us like art? These verses are
saying because it is art. Nature is God’s handiwork: it proclaims the work of His hands.
There is a benevolent cosmic consciousness behind it all.
What does it feel like to hear this voice? Prominent physician, biologist and
etymologist, Lewis Thomas, once wrote: “I cannot make peace with the randomness
doctrine: I cannot abide the notion of purposelessness and blind chance in nature. And
yet I do not know what to put in its place for the quieting of my mind.” The nonverbal
communication will not be silenced. It reminds me of what is sometimes called the
proximity effect in a classroom. A teacher walking around the room increases her
perceived presence even though she doesn’t have to say a word.
Of course, much more than nonverbal communication must take place in a classroom
if students are to learn, and so it is with Psalm 19. In the second half of the chapter God
is said to articulate Himself more clearly through His Word, the Bible. While the
cosmos will not allow the quieting of our mind towards Him, God’s law, precepts and
commands are said to revive the soul, make wise the simple and give joy to the heart.
Like trying to find the right words to explain how you feel, and then experiencing relief
and elation when they are found because you have been able to express yourself truly.
An experience is good, but to have someone to share it with is better. While we can
appreciate a work of art, to know the artist in person is something else altogether. God
reveals Himself in the Bible because He wants us to have more than an experience of
His cosmos, He wants a relationship. That’s why He sent Jesus, the perfect articulation of everything God has to say (Hebrews 1:1-3).
I recently started at a new job in Melbourne CBD. My new office is located on Bourke Street, close to the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, which is a nice change having previously worked for many years in a quiet corner of Docklands. As I took a walk along Bourke Street Mall the other day, I saw a long line of mostly university students outside a shop. I later found out that they were queueing for bubble tea.
What is bubble tea? It is a sweet tea-based drink, containing tea of some kind, milk and/or flavours, as well as toppings, such as the chewy pearls, fruit jelly, grass jelly, or puddings. Surprisingly, bubble tea doesn’t get its name from the pearls in the drink. But, rather from the bubble froth produced after the tea mixture is shaken to enhance its flavour. The pearls are made from a process which shapes starch from tapioca roots to their pearl form. Since its birth in Taiwan in the late 80s, bubble tea has taken the world by storm. Numerous stores or franchises have popped up around the world. According to foodies’ website Zomato, there are at least 37 bubble tea stores today in Melbourne CBD alone.
Is bubble tea good for you? I don’t want to burst the bubble – no pun intended – but I just learned that tapioca pearls found in bubble tea are very unhealthy. An average cup of bubble tea contains 45-55g of sugar and has a whopping 340 calorie count. That’s more sugar than a can of Coke! But fret not! There are other alternatives toppings to add to your bubble tea besides the pearls, which makes it “less unhealthy”.
As I write this I began to wonder, is everything sweet bad for you? Several articles on the internet indicate that there are actually a number of sweet things which are good for you, and honey comes on top of the list. Honey brings many natural benefits to our body. Apparently honey can boost energy, stave off diabetes, lower cholesterol, increase skin tone, reduce hair loss, even prevent fizz and split ends. Honey also has antibacterial properties. The Manuka honey for example has been shown to fight digestive bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers. An article by the CSIRO even says that having the right amount of honey as part of your afternoon snack could help prevent weight gain.
The Bible says in Psalm 119:103 “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth”. The Psalmist uses that analogy because the word of God provides us many natural benefits, beyond those offered by honey. When taken in daily, the word of God nourishes, strengthen, and equip us for good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17), it renews our mind (Romans 12:2), and it helps us battle sins and temptations (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Do you also know that natural honey is the only type of food that does not go bad? Its antibacterial properties combined with its supersaturation of sugar prevent the growth of yeast and other fungal spores.
Peter once said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Not only it is naturally good for us, and it could help us fight sins, the word of God lasts forever (Isaiah 40:8, 1 Peter 1:25) and it gives us an everlasting benefit. The word of God leads us to eternal life in Jesus Christ. Words of eternal life are the sweetest words of all. So, let’s remember that this month as you sip through your bubble tea, or hot chocolate, or chai latte, or any sweet beverage of your choice.
PS: If you need help to start getting into reading and enjoying the Bible every day, Phil and I are always available. Speak to us at church, or contact us via email, or on Facebook, we can go for a cup of coffee (or bubble tea). Also, I still have a few copies of Tim Keller’s My Rock My Refuge, a daily devotional based on the Psalms, which we are using in Malvern PC as our Bible reading plan this year. It’s a great way to kick start the new financial year :)
There are times when Christians might and do experience ‘blowback’ for their faith. It comes from
different directions. For example: a reaction from a friend to a comment about marriage, an old
school friend who finds your faith offensive, a relative who is unreasonably angry about your
faith, a spouse who is downright scornful about Christianity, or an adverse reaction from work
colleagues on discovering you attend church. Or it just might be a case of subtle condescension at such ‘outdated’ views.
Campbell Markham, pastor of Cornerstone PC in Hobart, recently wrote an insightful article in the
Australian Presbyterian magazine about such trials, and about persecution for the faith. He
suggested that the best solution is to remember the words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who are
persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Rejoice and be glad, for
great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:10,12).
Jesus doesn’t merely tell us not to be angry, anxious, or upset. He says to rejoice! Why should we
rejoice? When Jesus says ‘the kingdom of heaven is yours’, this is a beautiful way of referring to
God himself. In other words, through Jesus, we belong to God, and are His forever. Also, when we
are attacked or denigrated in some way, it may be a confirmation that we are willing to be counted as followers of Jesus, and that our commitment is true.
So pray for the work of the Spirit in your life, that you might deal with such difficulties as
Jesus would have us do, with patience, joy and love.
As I write this message we are about to celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving. The tradition
of giving thanks to God for the produce of the land has its roots in the first books of the
Old Testament. In Exodus 22:29 and 23:16 the Israelites were called upon to celebrate
the first fruits of their crops and to dedicate them to God.
Not all of the harvest was to be reaped by the farmers. Some was to be left in the fields
for the poor (Lev. 19:9), reflecting the heart of God for those who have nothing.
The practice of celebrating Harvest Thanksgiving was taken up by churches and
became quite popular from the mid-19th century. The idea behind it is that we give
thanks not just for food from the land, but for all of God’s abundant blessing to us.
As a consequence we should practice generosity toward the needy.
The concept of the harvest would later take on a metaphorical meaning, referring not
to the physical, but to a spiritual harvest (2 Cor. 9:10). Finally, the harvest, in the words
of Jesus, came to refer to the last judgment. This is where the weeds are separated from
the good grain, each finding their eternal destination. (Matthew 13:30).
The Lord has given us good things, which we enjoy daily. He has also given us
something beyond measure: eternal life, as we trust in Jesus. We can be confident that
we will one day be brought ‘into his barn’as we are found in him.
In recent times, an evangelical church in Sydney was surprised to learn that it could not
use the phrase ‘Jesus is Alive’ in its advertising, as the term was considered offensive.
They were requested by Lendlease, the company that owns the supermarket where the
digital ads were to be shown, to change it to ‘the Risen Christ.’ After some adverse
publicity, Lendlease apologised unreservedly, and protested muchly its policy of
‘inclusiveness’. The pastor of the church noted that the same company was happy to
have advertising for lingerie which was semi pornographic in nature, and from which
he sought to shield his children.
Our situation in Australia is not completely comparable to ancient times, or indeed
other nations and locales in our own day, where governments routinely jail and even
execute Christians for their faith. It is nevertheless a point of note that Christians are
today called to stand with faith, courage and conviction. And what is our conviction?
It is the message of the ad, the same one on our own sign at MPC, that Jesus is alive,
and that all that the Scriptures say about him is true. It is for this reason that believers
can ‘take up their cross’ and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). The aim in so doing is not
to look with anger and hatred upon a hostile world. It is instead to reach out in love,
compassion and service, as our Lord would have us do.