Happy New Year! We are excited to begin 2016 with a few personal reflections from some of Alphacrucis College’s faculty, on something from the scriptures has captured their heart as they begin a New Year. We hope you will be inspired by these. We are looking forward to posting stimulating new articles in the coming months.
We wish you a safe and fruitful New Year. Happy Reading!
Lily Arasaratnam-Smith and Andrew Youd
Creating, in 2016
It is, of course, a new year. At the start of each new year, many make ‘new year’s resolutions’, believing that there is something inherently hopeful about the possibilities of the ‘new’. I think all of humanity is wired that way. At the beginning of a newborn’s life, we innately believe in the wonderful potential of their future. At the start of a marriage, we’re convinced that love is all we need, and that love will see us through. At the start of a business, we dream of it multiplying and returning well on our investment. We are wired to think with hope at the beginning of something.
In light of this, I contemplated the beginning of another year. My first thought was how grateful I am that God provided us constantly with new ‘news’. He didn’t create time as an endless repetition of a divine pendulum. He created a new day every 24 hours. He created a new week every seven days. He created seasons to continue to provide us with a new opportunity to sow, and a new opportunity to reap. Considering some of the days we have to endure, how wonderful it is that God would give us so many opportunities to leave the past behind us, and embrace the new (day, week, year) with that innate sense of hopeful expectation.
However, as we all know, ‘new year’s resolutions’ have a very low success rate! No matter how hopefully we start, it’s so easy to lose that hope as we’re confronted with various realities. So, I was asking God about this conundrum and felt to read again about the very beginning. In Genesis 1:1 it says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Note, firstly, that it starts with God. I’m not sure how you began your year, but I know the year is always going to be better if God is in the centre of it! Secondly, it says “God created”. I don’t know if you consider yourself ‘creative’ or not, but as we are made in the image of The Creator, we are creators, no matter how we see ourselves. How do we create? Well, the same way God does. Genesis 1:3 says, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Our words create. What words are you creating 2016 with? It’s so easy to simply state what we see, what already exists. However, even though the earth was “without form, and void”, God didn’t say “oh look at the formlessness of earth!” He spoke that which was not, as though it was. So, again, I ask (while challenging myself), what words are we using to create 2016? May your 2016 be filled with love, joy, and peace!
Ps Daniel Thornton
Head of Music and Creative Arts
The Tree Stump and Roots Protected by an Iron and Bronze Band
You will be driven away from human company and live with the wild animals. You will graze on grass like an ox. You will be soaked in heaven’s dew. This will go on for seven seasons, and you will learn that the High God rules over human kingdoms and that he arranges all kingdom affairs.
The part about the tree stump and roots being left means that your kingdom will still be there for you after you learn that it is heaven that runs things (Daniel 4: 25-26 MSG).
This New Year found me in the book of Daniel learning with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah how to survive and flourish even in a community that did not share the same faith.
You may remember the story of the huge tree being cut down, very familiar I am sure, I must have read this many times! However, I had not noticed the stump and the roots being left, ‘leave stump and roots in the ground belted with a strap of iron and bronze in the grassy meadow’ (v.23). How descriptive, how specific, a belt of iron and bronze.
Perhaps I was on the lookout for this subconsciously as back in December I had installed three aluminium belts around the stem and roots of three trees in my back garden to prevent the encroachment of the grassy meadow onto the stems that would deplete the nutrients for my trees; I am not planning on chopping my trees down!
So the Lord built in a protection, the iron and the bronze, for the decimated roots and the stump of the giant tree in Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream. He was preserving potential for the future after Nebuchadnezzar had learnt that he couldn’t do anything without the hand of the High God ruling over his affairs.
This has been the lesson for me too. It is so natural to think that my own skills, gifts and hard work could build great things for the Lord, but no, that’s not true at all. It is clear to me that any success or achievement here on earth is the result of the hand of the High God who graciously lets us use our skills, gift and hard work in his endeavours.
The greatest lesson I learnt from this passage is that even if our skills, gifts and hard work are cut right down to the ground the Lord can still bring them back to life in his time when we have learnt his lessons.
Dr Jim Twelves
Dean, Faculty of Education
Mark 9:35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
In this passage Jesus has to rebuke his disciples after their “secret” debate over who was the greatest. In doing so, He redefines greatness and leadership. Serving is the greatest mission; and Jesus demonstrated through his life.
This passage is a constant reminder of what God has called us to: to serve one another.
This example has inspired me to make a motto to “Simply Serve.” There are two aspects to this:
- Simply SERVE. I need to follow the example of Christ and serve others. I am not my own master. I ask myself, “How can I serve my family, my community, my work, our churches, our nation and the world?”
- SIMPLY serve. Serving is simple, and I want to make it simple. It can be simply offering someone a drink of water, or opening the door. No one needs a degree to serve, anyone and everyone can serve. It is interesting much of technology has been created to make life simple, in fact often technology makes life complex. Serving is simple, and does not require the latest gadgets and manual on how to use them. As I serve I ask, “is this the simplest way? Can I serve to make things easier?”
I am challenged and encouraged to be a better servant. Jesus came to simply serve, I want to be more like him.
Ps Dean O’Keefe
Director of VET Ministry and Partners
Ingredients for Effectiveness in the Knowledge of Christ
It’s the beginning of a new year, when we all inevitably pause to take stock of things. Some of us make new resolutions, others look for new opportunities, yet others look for ways to simply survive another day. I often look for a Word to which I can hold on as I begin the year. This year that Word comes from 2 Peter 1: 3-10.
I was particularly compelled by, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness knowledge, and to knowledge self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5-8).
I could spend the whole year unpacking each one of those attributes and what they mean in the context of living in relationship with Christ. I think sometimes we are tempted to focus on the attributes that best align with our own expression of faith. For example, we may emphasise perseverance or self-control if we are a driven and disciplined person who believes that the Christian faith is about exercising discipline and denying fleshly weaknesses. Or perhaps we would emphasise mutual affection and love if we find that most appealing. But what is compelling as I read this is that Peter identifies all of these attributes as key ingredients for being effective and productive in the knowledge of Christ. And he urges us to possess these qualities in increasing measure. To me this reiterates the dynamic and progressive nature of living in relationship with Christ. We don’t reach a certain “acceptable” level of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love, in our Christian faith where we can say we have arrived. These qualities are to increase, continuously, consciously, as our relationship with Christ grows.
As I begin a new year, I reflect on what it means to add goodness to my faith, knowledge to my goodness, self-control to my knowledge, perseverance to my self-control, godliness to my perseverance, mutual affection to my godliness, and love to my mutual affection. What does that look like in my everyday choices? I hope to keep this question at the forefront of my mind so it doesn’t get sidelined in the busyness of everything else.
Associate Professor Lily Arasaratnam-Smith
Director of Research
Doing What I Can with God’s Help
1 Corinthians 9:24
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
We know we cannot all be the best. It doesn’t matter how much we want to get the prize we know that there is only one winner.
This should not stop us from setting goals of improvement. But to do this we must do an honest assessment of our weaknesses and deficiencies. I have often found that my weaknesses are to do with little things and that only small adjustments are required. If I can identify a few small weaknesses and make the adjustments or learn what is required, the impact is noticeable. It may only be noticeable to me but that is OK.
There is two kinds of ambition. Godly ambition is a desire to do your best with humility. Ungodly ambition is the desire to be better than everybody else (and are proud of it). Paul writes in 1Timothy 3:1 of a trust worthy saying: If anyone aspires toward the office of leadership, he/she desires a noble task. This desire/ambition is epithumei in the Greek of the New Testament. And Paul says it is good! In saying this Paul understands the servant nature task overseers undertake.
Dr Ian Jagelman
Head of Leadership Studies
Wisdom and Understanding
Over the last few months I have been working through the book of Proverbs and meditating on its message. Amongst the many themes, I have been struck by the focus on wisdom and understanding.
Growing up in Pentecostal/charismatic churches, an often quoted verse from this book was Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (NRSV). The use of this verse encapsulated the devotional relationship with God that we were encouraged to have, but it also, whether intentional or not, had the effect of reinforcing the priority of the heart over the head and the suspicion of science and education.
I am very thankful for my Pentecostal heritage, and I continue to be inspired by the interpretation of this passage passed on to me, particularly the personal devotional faith aspect. But I have come to rethink the apparent suspicion of the head and learning that such an interpretation can promote.
What strikes me as I have been reading through this wisdom book is its encouragement for the young to pursue a life of wisdom and understanding. Proverbs was probably used like a textbook for the education of the young, and it starts by giving them the goal and vision for education: it extols the hero or virtuous person as one who is characterised by, amongst other things, wisdom and understanding (see chapter 1:1-7 and 2:1-15).
The message of proverbs maintains a wonderful tension. It does not elevate IQ or the pursuit of knowledge or facts alone. Instead, one is to take head to the instruction and learning from their teachers so that they might grow in wisdom and understanding. It is almost like there is a moral and spiritual quality to learning. In this way there is a sense of humility that the book and this passage (3:5-6) encourages: final trust does not lie in one’s own insight, but in God. There is this wonderful circularity being promoted: God is both the reason and source of wisdom and understanding, and God is the final goal of the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge.
As I enter 2016, I am meditating on how I might make the pursuit of wisdom and understanding my Goal; and how God might be the start and end of that journey.
Associate Lecturer in Theology
Good News Must be Told – Reflections from 2 Kings 7:9
Starting on 28 November 2015 and ending on 15 January 2016, a group of Alphacrucis students have been studying cross cultural ministry in the World Harvest Institute training intensive. As I was getting ready to lecture the last Monday of the course, my morning devotions, which I then used as a class devotion, came from 2 Kings 7:9. Four starving Israelite lepers discovered that the Syrian army that had besieged Samaria had run away, leaving their supplies of food and loot unattended. It is hard to imagine their excitement as they started helping themselves and stowing their plunder. But then, “They said to each other, ‘This isn’t right. Today is a day to celebrate, and we haven’t told anyone else what has happened.’” So they got word to the guards at the gate of Samaria and the city was saved from its sorry plight.
Over the weeks of World Harvest Institute, as we looked at the spiritual needs of the world, we saw that net world population is currently increasing at the rate of 231,500 people per day. We also realized that each person on earth, no matter the cultural and religious background of their family, has a right to hear the gospel meaningfully in their lifetime, thus giving them an opportunity to respond to God’s offer of salvation. But the only people equipped to give them this opportunity are Christians. Those people will have other non-spiritual needs, and there are many agencies involved in seeing those needs met. But as Christians, there is a need for us to gain a fresh sense of the excitement of what God has provided for us through Christ, and to also sense the responsibility that comes with that excitement. Or to extend what the lepers in the story were sensing to ourselves, “If we do live in days that are worth celebrating – and surely we do – it goes without saying that we would want to tell others what has happened.”
And 2016 …? Amongst tight schedules, full programs and crowded deadlines in the amazing Christian academic institution that Alphacrucis is, it is easy to forget the reason for all seasons, and therefore to forget our good news that simply has to be told. Selah!
Ps Kevin Hovey
Head of Pastoral and Cross-Cultural Ministry
Leading and Loving Co-Workers in Christ
Beloved, I pray that you may flourish and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your life. 3 John 2
This is a powerful little verse tucked away in a letter many Christians have forgotten about or never read. The elder writes a letter to Gaius, his ‘son’ (vs. 4), to encourage him to continue to be a co-worker with the truth (vs. 3-4, 8).
What strikes me about this verse is its holistic vision.
Firstly, the elder repeatedly calls Gaius ‘the Beloved’ (vss. 2, 5, 11). This signals a depth of care, commitment and concern for Gaius. The elder is not just conducting business, but rather writing a heartfelt letter to a co-worker in ministry. This year, I want to practice and experience such care, commitment and concern for my friends and colleagues in ministry. I don’t want to forget that we are God’s children, adopted into His family and that makes us brothers and sisters. I want to express my care, commitment and concern for others and not assume that they know it. Secondly, the elder prays for Gaius. Again, this demonstrates the care, commitment and concern that the elder has for Gaius. The elder makes time to speak to God on behalf of Gaius. The elder specifically prays for Gaius’ flourishing. This flourishing is connected to Gaius’ faithfulness to the truth, namely, how he walks in the truth (vs. 2). My prayers for others didn’t use to reflect these emphases on flourishing, truth and faithfulness. This year, I want to seek God on behalf of my family and friends. I want God to help them flourish. I want them to be pursued by the truth and remain faithful to Him. In the words of the old Puritans, I want them to be “seized by the power of His great affection.” Thirdly, I want to continue to pray for the physical well-being of people. I’m certain I haven’t worked out the details of why God heals in some cases and not in others. But regardless of my myriad of theological questions surrounding the complexities of this issue, I want to pray for the physical well-being of people. I want them to flourish in all areas of life, and not assume that I know what the flourishing looks like.
This verse expresses a concern for Gaius as a person, not just what he can accomplish for the elder. Godly leadership, as modelled by the elder, expresses a heartfelt concern for all areas of people’s lives. It is a commitment to the flourishing of others through care, commitment and concern. It is demonstrated through prayer on behalf of others, and a practical affirmation of one’s love for the Christian family.
Sean du Toit
Bible Lecturer, Alphacrucis College New Zealand