Read His Words Before Ours!
1 Peter 3:13–16
1 Corinthians 9:19–23
I grew up a pastor’s kid in a small town in Queensland, Australia. I love being an Aussie. We don’t take anything too seriously, especially ourselves. Our country has beautiful beaches, desserts and rainforests, interesting and deadly animals, and a culture rich in history and diversity. I may be biased, but I believe Australia is the best country in the world.
When I was a little girl the Australian culture resembled a Christian ethic in many respects. Almost all of the shops were closed on Sundays even though most of my friends were at the beach rather than in church. Traditional family values were accepted and esteemed, and television had very little swearing or nudity. Most kids lived in a traditional family, with married parents and siblings. We called ourselves a ‘Christian country’ and our community values respected that.
Fast forward forty years and times have changed dramatically. None of the things I just mentioned are true anymore. Sunday is one of the busiest retail days of the week, and many people have to juggle their desire to attend church around their work commitments. Most television is full of inappropriate content, and sadly, the majority of Australian children live in a home with either a single parent or in a blended family of divorced adults and stepchildren.
With the breakdown of Christian values our community is broken, and its people are hurting. The disease of accumulating wealth and success has gripped us, leading to workaholicism and the worship of productivity. The breakdown of family relationships has resulted in a community of hurt, lonely and broken people. People’s lives are full of conflict, unforgiveness and anger. Our community is ravaged by anxiety, suicide and mental illness.
I have been blessed to always be a part of a supportive and loving church family. This encouraging environment has helped me navigate the challenges of marriage and raising three children. I have been able to worship God wholeheartedly and listen to His word preached openly every week through my entire life. This is a gift I often take for granted. The local church has always been a safe place for me, a place I love and retreat to. My church was an integral part of my personal evangelism. If I wanted to introduce someone to Jesus, I would invite them along to church. Things are different now.
A few years ago we had a Royal Commission into institutionalised abuse, and a light was shone on the horror many children endured at the hands of those who claimed to represent Jesus. The moral failures of high-profile church leaders made the headlines, and the Church’s reputation was smeared. It has become more difficult to be a Christian in Australia.
I have been compelled to my knees as my heart breaks for a community who desperately needs Jesus, and yet has largely rejected the Church. It has changed the way I think and the way I live. I am learning to take Jesus outside the walls of my church.
This has had to be very intentional for me. For most of my life, all of my close friends were already Christians—already part of my church family. I had to make an effort to mix with people who don’t have a faith, people who are very different to me. First, I joined a fitness group. We met to work out in a park close to my home three mornings a week. I found myself making friends with a lady who was openly gay. It was so good for me to get to know her as a person, with hopes and fears and worries similar to my own, and for me to share my life with her.
I also joined a community book club. Each month we read a new book, most of which I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, and we discussed the themes and characters together. The group was smart and diverse, and very different to me. They had different political views, different backgrounds and different values. At the end of my two years in the group one of the ladies said to me, “I’ve never known a proper Christian before.”
Reading the gospels, I am always challenged by the way Jesus lived and who He spent time with. It wasn’t with the religious people, who were often judgemental and exploited those they were supposed to be leading. No, Jesus spent time with sinners. The people who were far from God. The ones who needed healing, saving and loving.
In Matthew 9 we read about Jesus calling Matthew to be one of His disciples. Matthew was a tax collector, someone who had betrayed his own people to work for the occupying Roman nation. Matthew was getting rich by exploiting others, and the people hated him for it. And yet, Jesus calls Matthew to be part of His inner circle.
The first thing Jesus does is have lunch at Matthew’s house with his tax collector friends, but the Pharisees, the religious leaders, didn’t like it. They questioned the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Matthew 9:11—12)
As an Australian Christian I have spent most of my life with the healthy, people who already have a relationship with God. But now, God has called me to go to the sick. It is challenging and uncomfortable at times. I often feel awkward and struggle to find the right words to say, but God is faithful. I am learning to be a friend to those who are far from God and show them what Jesus is like. Australians need Jesus.
My prayer for the Australian Church is we would represent Jesus well, both as individuals and as an organisation. Pray we would be a friend to the sinners and introduce them to the One where hope is found and help them find a safe place of belonging in God’s family, here on earth as it is in heaven.
Bio: Christine is a writer who packed up her city life to live in an RV and travel full-time around Australia with her husband. She misses her three adult children and church family while loving the opportunity to explore the beauty of creation and strengthen her sense of adventure. Christine writes about faith, self-care and simple living on her blog, www.livingwithmargins.com.
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!