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MAKE THE MOST OF OPPORTUNITIES

Ephesians 5:15-20
2nd November 2003

"God helps those who help themselves." That is said often by people in an act of stealing. This week we saw a bank manager jailed for five years for stealing almost $19 million from the Commonwealth Bank branch in Karratha, Western Australia. The inappropriately named Kim Faithfull, 36, stole the money for online gambling that saw him bet up to $500,000 a week in stolen money.

Rene Rivkin is in more trouble. First he was convicted for insider trading with a sentence of 78 days of periodic detention. But a brain tumour - since removed - allowed him to skip detention. Now, the Australian Investments and Securities Commission and the Australian Taxation Office are delving into his complicated financial arrangements in Switzerland. He now may face perjury charges over two secret Swiss bank accounts. Rivkin has admitted to Swiss authorities he was behind the secret accounts with businessman Trevor Kennedy and former federal Labor politician Graham Richardson. The allegations involve taking every opportunity to help themselves. God does not help those who help themselves to what belongs to others. We are encouraged to make the most of every opportunity, but not at the cost of integrity and honesty. The principle of helping yourself by taking opportunities when they present themselves is still true, even though some misuse it by taking advantage of other people or their inside knowledge. A good example of taking every opportunity, was in what I heard of Robert Bolt in Parliament this week. Robert Bolt missed the birth of his first two children because he was in jail. He only saw his third child enter the world after a big wake-up call from his Aboriginal community in Nowra to which he belongs. Since he was 15 he has spent five years in prison for 50 assault convictions.

All assaults were made while he was drunk. In 2001, he was due to face court for aggravated robbery, but was given the option of "circle sentencing". He had to face members of his community and the victim, who together with the local magistrate decided the penalty. He said, "You think the Aboriginal elders are going to be on your side because it's black versus white. It was a bit of a shock. I thought if they are saying I am doing wrong I must be doing wrong." After he was given nine months' weekend detention, his mother thanked the sentencing group for "saving my son". Robert has a future as an artist. Even the Judicial Commission of NSW bought one of his paintings. He is now crime free.

Another 28-year-old man who punched his wife was told that "domestic violence has no part in Aboriginal culture". The community representatives criticized the offender and ordered community service. One of the offenders was bluntly told: "You have no respect for the elders. You should respect your partner. This can't go on. Stop climbing into a beer bottle." The process is painful, but it brings about real change. One elder said circle sentencing is 'the first system that solves a 200-year-old problem' of our indigenous people and alcohol. The aboriginal men are given an opportunity instead of a prison cell but they are told bluntly to make the most of their opportunities. There would be no more. Throughout this year, each Sunday night, we have been considering "Living The Christian Life-style" as our main theme. One aspect of Christian living is that Christians are people who make the most of their opportunities. God opens doors for us, but we must enter. Paul frequently stated that in his life and travels, doors of opportunity were opened which he took.

To the believers in Corinth he wrote: 1 Corinthians 16:9 "There is a real opportunity here for great and worthwhile work, even though there are many opponents." To the Colossians he wrote: 4:3-5 "At the same time pray also for us, so that God will give us a good opportunity to preach his message about the secret of Christ. For that is why I am now in prison. Be wise in the way you act toward those who are not believers, making good use of every opportunity you have." His own plans were often frustrated and closed because God had a better plan in mind for him, even though at the time Paul could not see it. 2Corinthians 2:12 "When I arrived in Troas to preach the Good News about Christ, I found that the Lord had opened the way for the work there." Paul took every opportunity open to him.

To the Christians in Ephesus 5:15-20 he wrote words good for us today: "So be careful how you live. Don't live like ignorant people, but like wise people. Make good use of every opportunity you have, because these are evil days. Don't be fools, then, but try to find out what the Lord wants you to do. Do not get drunk with wine, which will only ruin you; instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with the words of psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing hymns and psalms to the Lord with praise in your hearts. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, always give thanks for everything to God the Father." So many people live in despair and look for new opportunities. Alternative economic systems, low cost housing; job creation schemes; better government handouts all of which seem to me like promising prettier wallpaper in the prison of despair. What can be done for people facing a despairing future? On my Parliament Office door, I have a sign that says: Christians believe the future is bright with hope.

There are three things that you must do to make your life meaningful. Instead of a despairing future you will find that with Jesus Christ you have a Friend and a future.

1. BE CAREFUL HOW YOU LIVE.

A future that is bright with hope comes not through a better economy, smarter legislation, better education, more government handouts, or in a pill, bottle or syringe. The answer lies in changing yourself and your attitude to the world. If you want to find meaningful relationships, basic security in life, vision of hope for the future, it has to start with you. It has to start with a new life. If you find the light of Jesus Christ, instead of the darkness of the world, you will discover friendship, hope and opportunity a new you. The Lord Jesus said you would be "reborn". The Apostle Paul described you becoming "a new creation".

That is the promise the church holds out to you. The Christian is an ambassador for Jesus Christ. Other people look at you. They know you are a Christian and want to see the way you behave and respond. You must be careful in the way you live, speak, and in your actions and motives so that people always see that you belong to Him, that you are on His service, that you are using your motives and abilities to work for Him. Paul here says "take care": take care of your behaviour, attitude, appearance and dress. v15 Paul says, "Don't live like ignorant people..." Paul is again emphasising that once you a Christian you are different. You seek God's guidance, God's will in everything you do. Christianity is very practical. It has to do with how you live, how to be a better person, how to relate with other people and how to live in a difficult world. You have only one life, so be careful how you live.

2. USE EVERY OPPORTUNITY BEFORE YOU.

When I was 21 years of age, an old man Mr W.T.Atkin, the Director of the Churches of Christ Department of Social Services in Victoria said to me, "I want you to become part of the Department of Social Services. I want you on the Board of our hospitals, our homes for the aged, on our Social Justice Department covering the whole area of caring for people through various kinds of institutions." He wanted me to take part in decision-making covering millions of dollars of property and hundreds of peoples lives. At 21, I was 40 years younger than the nearest youngest person. Why did he want me to take care of the Aged? I did not know - and he did not know - but he was preparing me all those years ago for this job I now do every day as Superintendent of Wesley Mission with our four hundred centres of care. He would say to me, "Young fellow, make your opportunities, do not just wait for them to come." That is what Paul meant when he used the phrase "Redeem the time!" Make use of your every opportunity.

Paul wrote, "Make good use of every opportunity you have..." Paul did that in prison while chained. He made every use of his opportunities. He wrote letters to all the churches and places he had visited. Those letters are our New Testament. He could not get out to preach so he preached to his guards. By the time he wrote the letter to the Philippians he was able to say, "Here now in Caesar's prison, in the base of this palace, there is a church of believing soldiers." Paul says, "Don't be fools, then, but try to find out what the Lord wants you to do." How can you find out what the Lord wants you do? Pray about it. Read the Scriptures. Discuss with other Christian people. Hang around with other Christians. God allows His will to be known through others to you.

3. BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD.

v18 29 Paul says, "Don't get drunk, instead be filled with the Spirit." Christians should listen to the word of God. There is no way you can be a drunk Christian. That is a contradiction of terms. "Do not get drunk." That's why I brought up the matter with the President of the United States. President George W Bush was in Canberra to address both Houses of Parliament in joint sittings. I was there. I sat in a reserved section for twelve people who had been invited by Mr Howard to meet Mr Bush personally to discuss issues on their minds. The twelve were an impressive group of Australian leaders. I was honoured to go to the Cabinet Room and to meet and discuss issues we thought were important with the President. Issues like Iraq, free trade, international relations, Australian prisoners in American prisons and so on. I wanted to encourage him in His Christian faith including his domestic policy of "faith-based initiatives". He replied that the legislation on faith-based initiatives was the most important on his domestic agenda and he was determined to use state funds to help churches and synagogues run social programs meeting community needs.

I told him I had been reading a publishers preview copy of a new book "The Faith of George W. Bush" Pan/Charisma by Stephen Mansfield. He asked me how it had treated his faith. I gave an example of how his faith had helped him overcome his drinking habit. Paul said, "Do not get drunk it will only ruin you. Instead be filled with the Spirit." From the time George W Bush recommitted his life to Christ, he has avoided drinking alcohol, and his wife Laura said to me, "That is true!" The Spirit who comes from God, is not the spirit that comes out of bottles. They are opposites.

Drunkenness is an elation that is physical, short term and destructive. The Spirit filled life is spiritual, long term and constructive. Paul applies that principle to the difficult areas of life. What are the consequences of being filled with the Spirit of God? v19 "Speak to one another with the words of psalms, hymns and sacred songs." One of the most beautiful things is being able to communicate with one another. A second consequence of the filling of the Holy Spirit is that you will sing praises to God. What was the preaching of John Wesley without the singing of Charles Wesley and those great hymns? Singing is a sign of the Spirit of God. Third, be thankful: "...always give thanks for everything." The Spirit of God, when it fills your heart turns you into a sharing, singing, speaking person, a person who is full of hope and optimism.

Many people face economic hardship. You cannot find meaningful relationships. Your visions of the future are without hope. But the way to change it all is to start with yourself, to change your own life so you have a new outlook, a new attitude, to face a new future with a new you. No one comes into the Kingdom of God unless he or she is born anew. If you want to live a life that is full, abundant, free and eternal, you must start with a new you, committed to Jesus Christ. You must understand from the Word of God that you are a sinful person and that Christ died to save you from your sins. You then must ask Him to forgive you of your sins and to cleanse your heart. You must ask Jesus Christ to come and dwell within you, to become a new person. Living the Christian life-style starts with you taking every opportunity to change. That is why Paul said: "Now is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation." Will you take this opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour?

REFERENCES.

  • The Expositor's Bible Commentary. F E Gaebelein Ed 1981.
  • Sydney Morning Herald 29.10.2003. "Circle of Shame" Michael Pelly.
  • Sydney Morning Herald "The Annus Horribilis" Kate Askew. 31.10.2003
  • "The Faith of George W. Bush" Pan/Charisma Stephen Mansfield.
Wesley Mission, Sydney.