BUNDOORA PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

COVID 19 Updates

 

Staying in Touch: Our roadmap... (23 Oct 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Our roadmap...


I was grateful to see the Government responding to the decreasing infection numbers last Sunday by easing the travel restriction to 25 km and increasing the time that could be spent outside. And yes, opening up hairdressers and barbers, although as someone enjoying memories of the long locks of the 70’s getting in to the barber won’t be my first priority.


But in terms of what we are allowed to do as a congregation not much changed on the 18th, and there are only small improvements pre-announced for the third step which, Lord willing, will start on the 1st November. We know the situation is fluid, and we might get more than they have thus far indicated, but there is no certainty. We will just have to keep our ears tuned in to the rolling announcements.


Nevertheless, it is progress, progress in the right direction, in the direction of the last step and covid normal, so today I want to talk to you about how we can make use of what is permitted in step 3 and also about the planning we are doing for the last step and beyond.


Making the most of the 3rd step


According to the roadmap as of the 1st of November, the third step, we will be able to leave home for whatever purpose and without any distance restriction. We will also be able to meet outdoors with ten people and have “two visitors once per day [plus dependants]. The two people may be from different households.” This gives a lot of scope for encouraging each other, catching up as you feel comfortable in person with many whom you have only seen on-line in recent months. You can now have another family over for a meal, invite your neighbour whom you have been getting to know through the lockdown to cross that boundary fence, or have your single friend over to share family life, or have a couple of friends join your household. I encourage you to start re-connecting in person and to build on relationships that may have developed through this time. While some of us may feel tired I think you will find in person gathering energises. Even larger groups of friends can meet outdoors, and with daylight saving and warmer weather there is opportunity to catch up after work. And we would encourage you to consider sharing the livestream with others and follow that up with a meal together. The encouraging each other to love and good works that God calls us to [Hebrews 10:24-25] depends on each one of us, and the capacity to do that face to face will continue to be in our homes during Step 3.


The encouraging each other to love and good works

that God calls us to depends on each one of us


Under step 3 churches are only allowed an outdoor gathering of up to 20 ‘plus a faith leader’, no indoor gatherings. A faith leader is someone who is either an employed pastor or a trainee. From the government’s point of view it does not include elders or growth group leaders, so this is a limited permission. Sadly what is permitted for churches is out of step with what is permitted to hospitality businesses who will be allowed 20 indoors and 50 outdoors per venue, subject to density quotients. Representation is being made to the Government about this by our Moderator and the leaders of other denominations, and we will have to wait and see if they change their mind to give us equivalence with hospitality businesses. Nevertheless the pastors will try and make use of what is allowed by starting to catch up with groups, and by conducting baptisms outside, which we plan to record and include in the livestream.


Our plans for the last step (Lord Willing!)


Hopefully we will not be in step 3 for long and will move steadily to the last step. What are we planning for this stage, when “public worship (not including private ceremonies e.g. baptism, bat mitzvah) can resume in outdoor and indoor settings subject to density quotient?”

Three introductory comments.

Firstly, as said before, we are continuing the livestream of services. We know that we will not all be able to return, nor will we all feel comfortable returning. Health varies, vulnerability varies, the requirement to stay at home if you have any symptoms of infection will mean that not all will be able to come on any given week, and confidence in our capacity to create a safe environment will vary. Even when we are in ‘Covid normal’ there will continue to be many for whom being together in the building is not an attractive option for good reasons. We will be continuing the live stream, and seeking to connect on line with those who can’t be in the physical gathering.

Secondly, we don’t know as yet the details of the government’s requirements for re-opening. Those details, whether for example we open with a maximum of 100 people in the building or whether we just need to abide by the density quotient [one person per four square metres], affect what we can do and who we can have in the building. For detailed plans we will need the detailed guidelines.

Thirdly, there is so much change we want to catch up with the leaders of ministries and growth groups to talk through with them our and their plans for the coming months as we seek to adapt to the changing regulatory environment. We are hoping to do this via Zoom on the evening of Tuesday 3rd of November


What will our sevices look like? 


So what are we thinking to do when we get to the last step, which we hope to arrive at by the end of November? At that stage we plan, Lord willing, to open the church for services.

  • We will start with two services at 10 and 5, while being committed to increasing the number of services as more and more feel comfortable in returning to face to face meeting.
  • We will be operating according to our Covid Safe plan which has already been completed and approved by the BOM, and so there will be, for example, hand sanitizer stations, distance requirements, seating arranged to conform both to the distance requirements and the density quotient, no shared food and drink.
  • We will be asking you to stay away if you have any symptoms or signs of illness.
  • There will also be cleaning requirements both before and after each service, and any activity in the building.
  • The density quotient  [one person per four square metres] sets limits on the number of people who can be in any particular space so you will need to book ahead, and we will share the details about how to do that closer to the time, for the details of the ticketing system do depend on how many will be allowed in the building. This pre-booking will also satisfy our record keeping requirements, which is a good reason to make sure your details in BundyConnect are up to date.
  • In preparation for returning to the building we will be making a series of short videos that will guide you through what to expect.
  • Due to the density quotient we won’t be able to resume a children’s programme for all children. At the moment we are planning to run creche and a program for children up to and including those in grade 2. Those in higher grades will need to continue to join their family in the service.


The need for new teams of people to serve


To make it possible to resume services we will be developing a number of teams of people who are willing and able to serve their brothers and sisters in necessary areas - ushering and registration, cleaning, and children’s ministry [creche and Sunday School].

  • The teams will be different from the rosters we have run pre-Covid.
  • We will be encouraging you to serve on only one team and to be available more than the previous one in six, as we are looking for people to develop expertise in their area and to be committed to getting their team’s job done. This may well require flexibility in when and how often they serve as gaps can easily develop if we are to stay away if we have any symptoms, as we must.
  • We are hoping that there will be in the morning teams a willingness to help get a second morning service going if the need is there.


We need to have an indication of people’s availability to serve on the cleaning, ushering and registration, and children’s teams, as re-opening will depend on the operation of these teams. So, before all the details of what will be involved can be settled, as those will depend on the regulations under which we can re-open, we are asking you to register your interest by clicking on the button on the live stream page, or by following the link in today’s email . This will allow us to plan to re-open with more confidence and also to communicate with you with further details of what will be involved before we start.


We are keen to make coming together possible, as soon as possible


We know that coming together for services again will not happen overnight. Confidence in being in each other’s presence may fluctuate, the regulatory environment will change over the coming months, there may be spikes in infection rates. There will be effort involved and changes to what might have become a comfortable Sunday routine. But we are keen to make coming together possible as soon as possible.

Why? Why when at first it will be a different experience to our pre-covid experience.

Firstly, God in His Word commands us to meet together to encourage one another, and our Creator knows what is best for us. We are embodied people, and physical presence is so much richer than virtual presence.


God in His Word commands us to meet together to encourage one another, and our Creator knows what is best for us. We are embodied people, and physical presence is so much richer than virtual presence.


But secondly, it is love that wants us to meet. Love for new believers, who can come to experience being part of the family in our gathering, get to know more of their brothers and sisters and receive their encouragement. Love of our children, whose discipleship can be supported by being able to grow up with peers who are also engaged in learning the faith. Love of the as yet unbelieving community, for our corporate witness as we serve one another in love is real and tangible, something which commends the gospel to many who are just starting to consider the faith. Love of one another, for at the heart of loving in deed and truth is physical presence, openness to the unintended opportunity for service, association on the basis of Jesus’ choice, not our own. Where it is easy for our hearts to be self absorbed and self concerned we all need the encouragement to keep our eye on the day of our Lord’s return and the community where we can grow in Christlikeness by ‘in humility counting others more significant than ourselves’, looking not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others [Phil. 2:3-4]. At the heart of that community and that encouragement is gathering together around the word of the Lord.


Where it is easy for our hearts to be self absorbed and self concerned we all need the encouragement to keep our eye on the day of our Lord’s return and the community where we can grow in Christlikeness.


So please pray and consider what you will do when restrictions are further eased, and whether you can help us get back together by serving in one of our teams.


Pray for the government, that they would be successful in suppressing the spread of the virus and look favourably upon our requests to speed up the re-opening of our churches


Pray for Session, Board and Staff as we work to ensure conformity in our gathering to government regulations for meeting, and more importantly work to make sure we can meet together safely.


Pray for each other that, in Paul’s words, our ‘love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that we may approve what is excellent and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Phil. 1:9-11


 

Staying in Touch: Our Varied Responses... (16 Oct 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Our varied responses to lockdown


Here we are waiting again for the Premier’s announcement this coming Sunday about a further, we hope, relaxation in restrictions. All this week there has been talk of rolling averages, of whether the criteria for relaxation will change, speculation about what exactly the Premier will say. And there has also been further discussion of the cost of the lockdown to our mental health and to our economy. You might have noticed that the frustration of some has become increasingly vocal, along with expressions of support for the Premier and the Government’s plan. Those responses have brought home to me again just how diverse is our experience of and reaction to the lockdown. For some the lockdown has given more time with the children, more time at home in the evenings with their husband or wife, allowed them to develop better relationships with their neighbours. There have been changes they are thankful for. For others the restrictions have meant they are unable to see family, share their new babies with them, lost work, been isolated and alone, have had their grieving disrupted, have come to fear eviction, or found their mental health issues exacerbated. It has been a very negative experience for them. For many, the experience has been mixed – there have been elements they have enjoyed, elements they have found very tough, and often a profound weariness.


Just as our experience of the lockdown varies, so, like the wider community, our responses in the congregation to the lockdown also vary


And just as our experience of the lockdown varies, so, like the wider community, our responses in the congregation to the lockdown also vary. Some of us are grateful for and reassured by the Government’s management of the crisis. Not perfect but providing clear guidance and rules to prevent the spread of the infection amongst us. Others are frustrated by inconsistency and at being robbed of individual discretion, and still others are angry for the prolonged imposition of restrictions and the failures of the government in the quarantining of travellers and contact tracing, and the destruction that has been inflicted on their businesses and lives as a result. At different times we may have experienced all three responses ourselves – gratitude when we see the increasing numbers in the second wave in Europe; frustration at small and unnecessary restrictions on activity; and fleeting moments of anger at some media revelation.


How should we live with people who have differing views?


These different responses do exist amongst us. How should we express our views? How should we live with people who have differing views?

First of all we have to accept that views among us may legitimately differ, as other people’s experience may be quite different from our own.


Secondly, we have to keep seeing this time in the light of God’s sovereignty and steadfast love. Ultimately this virus is from Him, the One who ‘kills and makes alive, who wounds and who heals’ [Deut. 32:39]. The Lord is working His purposes out through this, whether that is to humble our society, judge our pride, shift the hearts of His people from love of the world to love of Christ, help us to set our hope fully on Him. Whatever we think of the government’s response, our God has a good purpose in this for His people. He teaches us, confident of His grace because we have been justified through faith in our crucified Lord Jesus, to ‘rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance character, and character hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5


While we have food and shelter and many of us have jobs, isolation, loss of freedom, constant anxiety about the effect of the virus, as well as sickness and grief, are forms of suffering, experienced more intensely by some than others. Our confidence in God, in His steadfast love for those in Christ, should be seen in a joyful heart even in our suffering, and we should look for the fruit of endurance and tested character as we keep on trusting our Lord. Anger should not be our predominant response, but joy and a real hope, knowing neither the virus nor the government’s response can take from us what God has given us in Christ. As we go through this we are to keep the big picture, God’s intention to exalt the Son as Lord and save His people, in mind. In the current uncertainty there should be an abiding certainty in God’s purpose, and as our emotions go up and down as they do there should be a constancy to our joy.


In the current uncertainty there should be an abiding certainty in God’s purpose, and as our emotions go up and down  as they do there should be a constancy to our joy.


Thirdly, we need to keep living in relation to the government and to each other in conformity to God’s word. Trust in God is seen in obeying Him when we don’t feel like it, when what He commands goes against our inclinations [Prov. 3:5-8]. A brief passage that teaches both how to relate to government and to each other is Titus 3:1-2

Titus 3 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.


Trust in God is seen in obeying Him when we don’t feel like it, when what He commands goes against our inclinations


The Scripture is clear. We are to be submissive to the authorities, to comply as we are able with their instruction. That does not mean that you have to agree that theirs is the best or only strategy. It doesn’t mean you can’t be disappointed in some of what they say and do. But it does mean that you should do what they say, out of trust in the Lord Jesus, love of neighbour - for an orderly society is good for all, and a desire to enhance the reputation of Jesus in our community. Love directs us to be submissive, just as occasionally love may make an exception where it does not jeopardise the health of others. But we are not to be self-willed and belligerent, or act without regard for the good of all. In fact we are always to be ready to do good, whether that is praying for our government, sharing meals, meeting someone in the park for a walk or picnic, ringing up your brother or sister to encourage them, supporting those in need like the many who get no government benefit.


Love directs us to be submissive, just as occasionally love may make an exception... But we are not to be self-willed and belligerent, or act without regard for the good of all.


And God says speak evil of no one. When we are angry at someone or feel their decisions are hurting us it is easy portray them and their motives in the worst possible light and to make assumptions about what we don’t and can’t know – like what they are thinking. But God calls us to be gracious, to only speak truth, and to avoid quarrelling. We are to be gentle and show perfect courtesy to each other – even when we disagree – and to all. Perfect courtesy [or humility or gentleness] listens patiently. It doesn’t dismiss, doesn’t speak over, doesn’t shout. It is what we need to engage the world with soft words and hard arguments. We need perfect courtesy.


Paul bases this call for love of the other in all our interactions on our own experience of the ‘goodness and loving kindness of God’, shown to us when we were “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another”. This gracious love has saved us and transformed us [Tit. 3:3-7]. Trusting our God, knowing His forgiveness and love, secure in His care, means we are to live and speak differently now. It means we look in whatever circumstances we are in to the good we can do [Tit. 3:8] and so adorn the name of our Saviour in our troubled society, and that good in a divided and polarised society includes the way we speak of others, speak of those with whom we disagree.


Trusting our God, knowing His forgiveness and love, secure in His care, means we are to live and speak differently now.


Next week we will consider the changes in the regulations and talk about the plans we are making to help us get back together again in various ways. The restrictions cannot continue indefinitely, and we are commanded to meet for mutual encouragement, and most of us I suspect by now are wanting the encouragement that comes in real, not virtual, meetings. But in the meantime, see in the continuing limits on our freedoms an opportunity to keep exercising faith in our sovereign God, in His steadfast love and faithfulness to His people. And see in our varied responses to the continuing restrictions an opportunity to practice and grow in godliness as we relate to government and each other according to the Lord’s instructions because we trust Him over our own insight and emotions. Listen to Him and live His way, for His way is the way of wisdom and life.


 

Staying in Touch: The Power of Conviction (9 Oct 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

The Power of Conviction


In Melbourne we are witnessing, living with, the power of conviction, of what it is to have a firmly held belief. Many in our society, including our premier, are convicted that the Covid-Sars2 virus is both highly infectious and dangerous, particularly to the lives of the elderly, even if they don’t know how any particular individual will respond to exposure to the virus. This is a rationally held belief, based on good evidence from overseas and here. But what I want us to reflect on is the fruit of that belief, the evidence all around us of the power of a genuinely held conviction to shape individual and collective decisions and behaviour.


Sharing this conviction many have been willing to change their individual lives quite radically, suffer inconvenience, experience distance in close relationships. Once gregarious people have shut themselves up in their homes. Others have turned their dining tables into workspaces. Grandparents have not seen their grandchildren. People whose smile could light up a room now hide it behind a mask. This belief has changed people’s lives.


And Sharing this belief our society has collectively radically re-organised itself, with city streets quiet as many work from home, permits for work now carried in cars, holidays foregone, even the football moved interstate. We have even been willing to become poorer.

As a believing society we have also engaged in a campaign of persuasion, informing of both the risks and the required behaviour, making sure the message gets out, urging people to change their thinking and living.

We are witnessing, experiencing, the power of a shared conviction about danger and how to avoid danger, a conviction that has brought change to so much of our lives.


We are witnessing, experiencing, the power of a shared

conviction about danger and how to avoid danger,

a conviction that has brought change to so much of our lives.


The Conviction of Gospel Truth


As a community of believers in Jesus we also have a shared conviction, a conviction about far more than the danger of a virus. It is a conviction of the truth of the gospel, about what brings eternal death, and what will bring eternal life. It is a reasonably based conviction, founded on the witness to the resurrection of Jesus, confirmed by the gift of the Spirit.


Conviction of the truth of the gospel

is a conviction of a great danger.


And conviction of the truth of the gospel is a conviction of a great danger. The gospel clearly says ‘it is given to people once to die, and after death comes the judgment’ [Heb. 9:27], that ‘God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness’ [Acts 17:31], and that the Lord Jesus will gather all the nations before Him and separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats. The outcome of that judgment for those who do not confess Jesus is Lord is not in doubt – in Paul’s words ‘wrath and fury’ for those who ‘are self-seeking and do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness’ [Rom. 2:8]; in Jesus’ words the goats, those who have not loved Jesus in loving His people, ‘go away into eternal punishment’ [Matt. 25:46]; in John’s words “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” [Rev. 20:15]. We believe all outside Christ are in eternal danger.


The Uncomfortable Truth of Judgement


Now I find the idea of people experiencing God’s just anger eternally disturbing as there are so many I know who do not confess Jesus is Lord. Our world finds the idea that they could go to hell for their rebellion against God abhorrent. And I also find in myself that In between our own discomfort and the world’s rejection it is easy to go quiet, to suppress, the expression of this conviction, not to urge change to avoid this danger.


But Jesus taught on judgment and hell. The story of the sheep and the goats is a story He told. In His parables of the net and the weeds [Matt. 13:36-43, 47-50] it is He who speaks of the end of the age when ‘the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' [Matt. 13:49-50] It is He who speaks of hell, Gehenna, more than anyone else in the New Testament. [e.g. Matt. 5:22, 29-30, 10:28, 23:33; cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-10, Rom. 2:5].


And uncomfortable as it may be God’s judgment and His anger against our sin are right. His anger is His settled, just and unceasing opposition to our sin, the determination of His holiness to remove from His presence all that misses the mark of righteousness, all that defiles and destroys His good creation. Sin is condemned because it is the opposite of all that is good and righteous and lovely, the rejection of the wise, loving and just rule of our good Creator, the corruption of natures made to love God and care for creation that makes us full of self-love and exploitative of what is entrusted to our care. And God’s judgment tells us how we live our lives matter, and that justice matters in the universe. Judgment and anger at sin are good and right.


And if we are faithful to the gospel we confess God would be right to send me, to send you, to hell – our sin is that serious. I hope that you know that in your heart, as you look at the way you have treated your almighty and good creator, at the contempt you have shown for God in the way you have treated those made in His image. You may be able to think of a particular time when you came to that realisation, but even now our indifference, our thanklessness, our selfish thoughts and words, our lust and anger and envy and pride – which we may be able to hide from others but cannot hide from God, deserve hell.


From Judgement to Salvation!


Yet praise God the gospel is not primarily a message about judgement, but how we can be saved from judgement. Jesus said He ‘did not come to judge the world but to save the world.’ [John 12:48] That salvation is for all who will repent and believe as it says in John 3:17-18 "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”


That is why the gospel is so good.

It is a message of life, not death;

of forgiveness, not condemnation.


That is why the gospel is so good. It is a message of life, not death; of forgiveness, not condemnation. It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe [Romans 1:16-17]. And it is a message of the undeserved love of the almighty and holy Creator, for it says He gave His Son to die for sinners, for us while we were still sinners.

Believers confess the gospel message of Christ dying for our sin and being raised with all authority  has saved us from judgement, saved you and I from a hell we deserved. That is why it is so wonderful, and remembering what we deserve for our sin helps us remember that it is wonderful, and that the God we have come to know in believing the gospel is thoroughly good, rich in mercy, is love, worthy of all praise and thanks.


But the experience in our society’s response to Covid 19 of the power of conviction of danger and the way to escape danger to change the way we live makes me ask "How has my conviction of how we can be saved from the much greater danger of judgment and eternal punishment by believing the gospel changed the way I live?”


Our society’s response to Covid 19 ... makes me ask

"How has my conviction of how we can be saved from

the much greater danger ... changed the way I live?"


I think being made to ask that question is one of the useful outcomes of this pandemic experience as we witness what a conviction of danger and away to escape danger will do. Even if we have engaged in that question before, and I know many of you have, we can become weary, tired out by the difficulty of trying to speak to others about the coming judgment and how Jesus saves us from that judgment. Tired, buffeted by rejection and dismissal, we can start to withdraw and live self-contained lives, lives that become more focused on getting on with our own plans than helping others escape hell.


So take the opportunity the pandemic gives to ask yourself:

  • How does conviction of the truth of the gospel, of my being saved from hell by the death of the Lord Jesus?
  • How does my experience of His gracious love in believing the gospel?
  • How does my consciousness that to be like Him is to want to seek the lost?
  • How does this gospel given conviction, experience and consciousness shape my life now?
  • Does it make me willing to keep trying to persuade others about how they can escape eternal danger?
  • Do I consciously pursue a life that keeps this conviction and consciousness at the front of my mind, a life that gives time for confession of sin and thankfulness for a Saviour, time to be reminded of the truth of the gospel?
  • And does my gospel conviction make me willing to suffer loss – whether of time, or energy, or money, or popularity, to help others avoid hell?


If they are to hear of Jesus they will

hear of Him from the Christians they know


These are question we all have to engage in for today people won’t hear about Jesus in the media. They are not likely to attend a crusade, or even attend a church.

If they are to hear of Jesus they will hear of Him from the Christians they know, and if they read a gospel it will be because a believer they know has asked them to read it with them, or invited them to go together to a course like Christianity explained.

Are you that Christian? Do people witness the power of your conviction in your life?



 

Staying in Touch: The road to 'rebuilding' (2 Oct 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

The road to 'rebuilding' 


Perhaps it is the warmer weather, perhaps it is the falling numbers, but I have allowed myself to start thinking about the time we move into the ‘Last Step’ on the Premier’s roadmap. Many talk about this time when we are allowed to meet again in the building [subject to density quotient] as ‘restarting’, as if our life together was put on pause and we just need to press the play button and everything resumes. That will not be possible, not only because the continuing restrictions in the roadmap makes it impossible but because of the impact of the lockdown. Damage has been done to the health of individuals and to the fabric of our relationships, energy has been depleted, momentum lost, finances altered, and for some there has been a rethinking of their commitments and how they want to use their time. Over this time we and our circumstances have changed. Acknowledging this some prefer to think of the time after the start of the ‘Last step’ and beyond as recovery. We have been on life support, restricted in movement and relationship, and now, leaving ICU we need to recover strength, relearn skills, and re-engage. That I think is more realistic, suggesting it will take time to recover our energy for meeting with others and sustaining service.


"Over this time we and our circumstances have changed...

We have been on life support, restricted in movement and relationship, and now, leaving ICU we need to recover

strength, relearn skills, and re-engage."


Lessons from the building project 


But this last week one of my grand-daughters randomly asked me how long it took to build Bundy. That started me thinking, as I reflected on the building project, of the time of the ‘Last Step’ and the months that follow as a time of rebuilding, with the opportunities a rebuild gives to refine and adapt, to make sure that what we do is fit for purpose in our changed circumstances. Further, reflecting on the building project provided me with some helpful insights into how we need to go about the task of rebuilding. Let me share with you five.


1. Proioritise evangelism and discipleship

Firstly, we – and I say we because this was a whole of congregation project as some of you will remember and I will comment on further below – we prioritized evangelism and discipleship in both the design and execution of the project. The building was designed to be a safe and welcoming space for individuals and families, a place where whatever their age they could hear the Word of God taught. You can see that for example in the learning level with its multiple Sunday School rooms, in the auditorium with the acoustic priority given to being able to hear the spoken word, and in the provision of good creche and cry room spaces. We wanted people to be able to come and listen together to the gospel, to be able to encourage each other to learn to do all that Jesus has taught us. The priority given to making disciples was also seen in the execution of the project, by the way the pastors were spared to keep on preaching and teaching by others accepting the responsibility to supervise all aspects of the work. There was no pause in normal ministry.

As we rebuild after this prolonged and unprecedented shut down making disciples of Jesus through calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus and then teaching all that He has commanded, encouraging each other to continue to grow and persevere as disciples, must continue to be our priority. That may mean keeping on doing many of the things we were doing together before, and it may also mean doing some things differently. For example, some of you have shared how you have had more time with your neighbours, deepened those relationships. For you that commitment to making disciples may mean prioritising those relationships over some other activities, including prior church activity. Another example – we will try to have a continued expanded on line presence, and in some contexts where it makes it easier for some to participate we will continue to run online courses and groups. For others this commitment to being and making disciples may mean continuing diligently with daily devotion, deepening your personal relationship with the Lord and your prayer. It might also mean a renewed commitment, where many have experienced loneliness or stress in their family, to teaching about marriage and family life, to showing that a commitment to living Jesus’ way is better.

The experience of the pandemic has and will bring change to us and our society, but one thing that never changes is Jesus’ call for His disciples to make disciples and the need for people to hear the gospel and call on Jesus for salvation, and that must remain our collective priority as we rebuild.


2. Be Patient

Secondly, in building the building we were patient. It didn’t happen overnight or in a rush. We first started thinking about it in 2005 when we applied for a share of the Thompson bequest, but the first service in our new building was not held until August 2012. There had been years of consultation and planning, and even in 2012 it was not all finished. To avoid debt we deferred completing the mezzanine until we could fund it, and so it was completed over the next two years. Patience not only gave us a better outcome, it preserved our relationships when things became a little stressful, as they do in any building project.

Patience with each other, and graciousness towards each other, recognising that all our circumstances are different, will lead to a better outcome and preserve our relationships as we rebuild. There will be frustrations about regulations, cleaning, different levels of confidence in face to face meeting, debate about what stays the same and what could helpfully change. With patience and graciousness we will get a better outcome, and all get there in the end.


3. Be Generous

Thirdly, in building the building we were generous, with our time, energy and money, and that generosity came freely from the heart. It was so encouraging. Many of us are now in changed circumstances – less time because we have small children, less energy, changed finances. But with a similar generous attitude where we are willing to give of our ourselves because we know and trust Christ’s generosity to us, we will regain momentum. And I am hoping that those of us who are well provided materially, having seen the uncertainty of riches in the threat one small virus is to the share market and property prices, will set our hope fully “on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” and in doing that be eager to ‘do good, be rich in good deeds, be generous and ready to share’ as Paul commands in 1 Tim. 6:17-18, so that gospel work is sustained amongst us and beyond.


4. Work together

Fourthly, in building the building, we did it together. I am talking about more than coming together for working bees, although we did. The building project was never one person’s idea. We together decided that a building would serve the work of making disciples, together we committed to it, and working together with the gifts God gave us in each other, by God’s grace we completed it. The building project gave me a new appreciation of the truth of 1 Corinthians 12, that the Lord through His Spirit gives His people the gifts they need for the functioning of the body. Rebuilding our life together will happen where we decide that our common life, our meeting together and sharing in ministries together, serves the work of the gospel and sustains us in being and helping our children and each other to be disciples of Jesus. Having decided and then committed ourselves to rebuilding I am also confident that the Lord will give us by His Spirit all the gifts we need to sustain and grow our common life, to rebuild it effectively.


5. Remember that God can and will provide for his church

Fifthly and finally, on a personal note, the building project helped me grow in conviction of God’s faithfulness and exposed how little my faith is compared to the trust He deserves. While I confess that all the wealth of Creation is at our Father’s disposal, and while I take continual comfort from the story of how Jesus fed the five thousand with the disciples’ five loaves and two fish, multiplying the disciples meagre resources so they could do His will, seeing the Lord provide the $3.6 million dollars and the team of people needed to build the church building amazed me while filling me with thankfulness. In that amazement I realised how far my faith in my Lord falls short of the faith He deserves, the Lord who has promised that “whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” John 16:23 Having seen this year our plans for the church disrupted and momentum lost; as we feel our own tiredness now, we should not doubt that He will work this experience for our good, that He will hear our prayers where we are about His business, the business of making disciples, and that He can provide all the resources we need for that task. In His love and wisdom that good may well involve things looking a bit different as we together give ourselves with renewed energy and urgency to calling people to repent and trust Jesus. That good may well take time to be seen clearly, but our Almighty God has promised and He is faithful and deserves our wholehearted trust.


"Having seen this year our plans for the church disrupted and momentum lost; as we feel our own tiredness now, we should not doubt that He will work this experience for our good"


So whatever our circumstances as, Lord willing, we come to the ‘Last Step’ let us pray that we learn to trust Him as He deserves to be trusted, and in that trusting find the courage and strength to live together faithfully as we rebuild our common life and common witness in our community.


Staying in Touch: The temptation to grumble (25 Sep 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

The temptation to grumble

 

I feel the falling number of cases should have put more of a spring into my step, but with uncertainty about how limited or generous the relaxation of restrictions might be on Sunday and one day not being much different from the next in isolation I confess to feeling rather flat at the end of the week – what might be more colloquially called ‘blah’. I suspect that all of us have had days like that during this lockdown. We’re not down, we’re not up, we just find it hard to work up enthusiasm for any of our daily tasks.

 

It was in this state that I recognised a new sympathy for the Israelites in the wilderness and a renewed awareness of a temptation that faces many of us at this time – grumbling. Think of those Israelites. Doing a lot of work every day to get nowhere in particular. And every day the same menu – manna! Miraculous as it was you can understand them saying after a year of it;

“Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks and the onions and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing to look at but this manna!” [Numbers 11:4-6].

And before the provision of the manna we can understand them being anxious – anxious about what they would drink in the desert, anxious about what they would eat, and not certain about how things would turn out. It was under these circumstances that they began to grumble against Moses and Aaron, and grumble against God [Ex. 15:24, 16:2-3, 17:3]. That grumbling [or ‘murmuring’] then reached its height when they came to the border of the promised land and the spies brought back a bad report about what they had witnessed.

“And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” [Numbers 14:2-3].

They were basically in all their grumbling saying to the LORD 'You don’t care. You don’t know what you are doing. You are not for us and intend ill for us. We would have been better off not listening to you in the first place.' They were despising the LORD.

And in my ‘blah’ days, when I feel there is no progress and yet see accumulating loss and damage to individuals and society, I can sometimes sense those kinds of murmurings rising in my own heart. ‘I know you are in charge of all things LORD. So what are you doing? Why is it going on without relief? Why are you allowing so much damage to be done to individual lives and to the church’s life? Where are you taking us in all this? Do we need to go – I liked things the way they were.' And as I see jobs being lost along the way and the government’s support reducing I can sense an anxiety about provision, about what we are to eat and drink, or have to pay our rent or mortgage. I sense those murmurings and know I must address them for God warns us against grumbling.

"We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come." [1 Corinthians 10:9-11]

 

As I see jobs being lost along the way and the government’s support reducing I can sense an anxiety about provision, about what we are to eat and drink, or have to pay our rent or mortgage. I sense those murmurings and know I must address them for God warns us against grumbling.

 

Israel’s experience should teach us not to grumble. You see grumbling is faithless.

The Psalmist reflecting on Israel’s behaviour in the wilderness wrote

Then they despised the pleasant land,
    having no faith in his promise.
They murmured in their tents,
    and did not obey the voice of the Lord.
[Psalm 106:24-25]

 

Faithlessness gave rise to grumbling, and grumbling to the disobedience that caused that generation to fail to enter the promised land

Believers in Jesus have good promises given to us by God’s grace, and we know He loves His church.

 

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. [Matthew 6:31-34

 

We can say confidently, says the author of Hebrews “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me? [Heb. 13:6]

We should trust our Lord. He knows us, and He will provide.

And we see the Lord had a good purpose in Israel’s wilderness wandering. Just before they entered the promised land Moses surveyed their time in the wilderness and said

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. [Deuteronomy 8:2-5]

 

He has a good purpose for us, a purpose Romans 8:28-30 tells us He works in all things. He is humbling us to teach us to rely on His Word just as His Son the Lord Jesus did in His own need [Matt. 4:4], to rely on His word, not on our own plans, or abilities, wisdom or wealth. None of those will raise us from the dead. We are assured He is disciplining us in these trials as a loving Father disciplines His children [Heb. 12:3-11], training us to know He can be trusted and that believing and obeying His word is the way to life, the way to come to our inheritance, to rise with Jesus in the new heaven and earth. Whatever our trials we should trust Him to know best how to help us grow as His loved children, to bring us to His goal that we are conformed to the image of His Son and share His glory. While that goal slips sometimes from our own minds, it never slips from His.

 

Whatever our trials we should trust Him to know best how to help us grow as His loved children, to bring us to His goal that we are conformed to the image of His Son and share His glory. While that goal slips sometimes from our own minds, it never slips from His.

 

Trusting that He is at work in us and for us and so not grumbling also allows us to stand out, to shine as lights in an anxious and fearful world [Phil. 2:12-16], to witness to a hope others can come to share by coming to know the true God by trusting the Lord Jesus.

Paul finishes his encouragement to learn from Israel in the wilderness not to grumble with both a sober and encouraging word

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. [1 Corinthians 10:12-13]

 

We can over estimate our spiritual strength, an over estimate that times like this can expose. Trials come and we find ourselves easily shaken. Our goals or plans are frustrated and we find ourselves quickly becoming discouraged, and those murmurings questioning our God’s goodness and might quickly arise – despite that fact that as believers we say that God has loved us so much that He gave His Son to give us eternal life and peace with Him. It is almost embarrassing to have to acknowledge the frailty of our faith.

 

But it is better to acknowledge it so that we don’t try and tough it out on our own. We make use of the way of escape the Lord provides. I have found when the temptation is grumbling that way of escape will include remembering, remembering both the gospel and its promises – that Christ has died for my sins and He lives and reigns now with all authority and will raise me up, and remembering His faithfulness and care for me over many years – that He has been to me the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23; giving thanks for all His mercies, but especially for that love which I could never deserve, and a Saviour who will never fail; and the fellowship of the Lord’s people, being upheld in hope by the fellowship of brothers and sisters who are also looking for the day when the Lord returns, the day that is closer now than when we first believed

 

We make use of the way of escape the Lord provides. I have found when the temptation is grumbling that way of escape will include remembering, remembering both the gospel and its promises.

 

I hope you don’t have many blah days, but when they come don’t give way to grumbling. Remember the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, and that love has a great goal for His beloved people our loving God is working in all things. Give thanks and keep joining with the Lord’s people to both encourage and be encouraged to persevere to our goal..

 

 


Staying in Touch: Keep Hearing God's Word (18 Sep 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Our shared convictions

 

Last week I spoke of the pressure the continuation of restrictions, especially the restriction on our meeting, places us under as individuals but especially as a congregation. I suggested that if we are going to endure that pressure, escape the danger of disconnection, we needed to draw on our shared convictions for strength and direction. One fundamental conviction we share as followers of Jesus is the need to love one another and I know, like the New Testament, I return to that often. But as I have talked before on persevering in love during this time, today I will speak about another of our shared convictions, the need to keep hearing God’s Word, the Bible, read and taught. Prior to the lockdown anyone who visited our Sunday service, or who participated in any of our ministries, would soon recognise that hearing the Bible taught so that we could understand what it says, believe and obey its teaching, was central to our life together.

Why was that? And how does our conviction about the Bible guide us at the present time?

 

The Bible is the living God's word, for us!

 

The bible is central to our life together because it is the word of the living God, spoken for us. The Christian starting point is that the gospel, the word the apostles were sent by Jesus to preach, is the word of God. When we believe the gospel we believe God has forgiven our sins, that God will raise us up when we take up our cross to follow our Lord Jesus and God will give us eternal life. It would make no sense to believe these things unless it is God who promises them, unless it is His word we are hearing in the gospel. And that is what Christians have believed from the beginning. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers

 

“We also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God,  which is at work in you believers.” - 1 Thess. 2:13

 

Believing the gospel to be the Word of God is where we start, and then we find that the Jesus we meet in the gospel as the Lord, God with us, and the apostles who bring us the gospel, teach us to receive the Scriptures of the Old Testament as the Word of God [e.g. Matt. 5:17-18, Matt. 19:4-5, Mark 7:6-13, Luke 24:26-27, 44, John 10:34-35; Romans 9:25-29, 2 Tim. 3:15-17, Heb. 1:5-13, 3:7, 2 Peter 1:19-21]. Listening to Scripture we are listening to God, listening to the Word He has given to us.

And the Lord assures us that His word will do its work in our lives. It is living and active [Heb. 4:12-13], with power like the power of the word that first brought light into existence to bring His life giving light into the darkness of our lives [2 Cor. 4:1-6], the power of God to save [Romans 1:16-17]. It is the word that always achieves God’s purpose in speaking it – as the LORD says in Isaiah 55

 

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. -
Is 55:10-11

 

As Paul calls Timothy to the work of preaching and teaching this word he reminds Timothy of what that purpose is in the lives of God’s people.

 

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:14-17

 

The Scriptures bring us to trust Jesus for salvation, and they are given by God to equip us to live as His people, a work Timothy knew in his own life even as he shared them with others. It is through the reading and preaching of the Scriptures applied to our lives by the same Spirit who gave the Scriptures that we grow and persevere as disciples of Jesus, people who are taught to do all that He has commanded us [Matt. 28:20, Romans 15:4].

It is because we only continue as Jesus’ disciples where His gospel word is heard, believed and obeyed that teaching that word and the Old Testament word that speaks of Jesus is central to the ministry of those appointed by Jesus to shepherd His people, and central to our ministry to each other. Elders are to be ‘apt to teach’ [1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:9], and Timothy is told to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort with complete patience and teaching.” [2 Tim. 4:2]. This is the word we know will do God’s work in our lives and in the lives of all His people, the word through which He will call His people to Himself [John 10:3-4, 16; 17:20], strengthen them to persevere, mature them to live fruitful lives as His followers.

 

How does the Bible guide us now?

 

So how does our shared conviction about the Bible guide us at this present time?

First of all we believe like Paul that ‘the word of God is not bound’ 2 Tim. 2:9. Its power and efficacy is not in any way limited by our inability to meet. It is through His unchained word that the Lord will continue His good work in our lives. And at this time of trial we need more of the word, not less, so that we are like that tree planted by streams of water, sustained in life and fruitfulness by meditation on God’s instruction [Psalm 1]. That is why we have encouraged you to use this time to be renewed and refreshed in the habit of reading and meditating on God’s Word daily by publishing the devotion. And that is why we have retained at the centre of our livestream the preaching of God’s word. We want you to keep engaging with God in His word, the big God we encounter in the prophets, whom all creation serves, including viruses, who rules the affairs of nations, including Australia, and who can comfort and sustain His people, including us; The big God, who can, in the words of Isaiah ‘give power to the faint and to him who has no might increase strength.’ [Is. 40:29]

 

But it is not just in what is generated, what is written and spoken, that our common conviction is expressed. If it is a shared conviction it will also be expressed in how we receive that word – giving ourselves to daily reading His word, and keeping on listening to it as it is preached, at whatever time we can tune in to the livestream. It is only as the bible as God’s word given for our good is our common conviction, the conviction that guides the behaviour of us all through this time, that our individual and common life as believers will be sustained by it. While the pastors work hard to make the word clear, and covet your prayers for us to that end, in the parable of the sower the fruitfulness or otherwise of the word is determined by how it is heard. Responsibility is placed on each of us as listeners. So as we experience some of those trials [Matt. 13:21] or know more of the cares of this world [Matt. 13:22] that can make the word unfruitful, recognise that what these test is how you are hearing the word, whether you will be good soil, the person who hears, understands and puts the Word into practice. Be that good soil; act on what is our shared conviction about the Bible – keep on reading and reflecting, listening and learning. Connection with the Word will sustain our connection with each other and our fruitfulness through and beyond this pandemic.

 

Staying in Touch: Sadness and continuing loss (11 Sep 2020)

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Sadness and loss


I am glad that I am speaking to you at the end of the week and not at the beginning. These few days have given me time to engage both with what the Premier said last Sunday and my emotional reaction to his roadmap. It took me some time to work out that behind the disappointment, deflation and anger I felt on hearing the announcement was sadness, sadness for what this means for us individually and communally. My sadness is both for the continuing loss and for the absence of relief from the pressures we are under that this timetable, with what can most charitably be called its ambitious targets for case number reduction, guarantees we will experience well into November and probably beyond.


Continuing loss. Individually we continue to experience loss, whether it is an inability to visit family or friends – new babies, parents, brothers and sisters, some who may be experiencing sickness – or an inability to grieve together, or loss of work, or loss of some time away from the pressures of schooling and work from home. Loss of freedom to travel, or of confidence to plan. If we are young that inability to see friends, to play together or hang out together, coupled with the loss of structure and structured activity, is particularly hard.


When I think of our life together that loss is experienced most in our inability to meet together. Take Sunday. Good as our livestream is, the thought of many months more of livestreamed services just brought home to me how much we had lost in not being able to gather on Sunday. Our Sunday gathering is what could be called a thick experience. There was singing, catching up, the children seeing their friends, age appropriate learning, being able to hear the bible talk without distraction, many conversations that allowed us to stay in touch, the energy of being together. The livestream is decidedly thin, two dimensional. Our experience of the livestream is individualistic, not communal – just myself and my family or housemates; if we have younger children it is distracted, not peaceful; and it throws a lot more responsibility on the listener to engage, but engaging with a screen is harder. We work hard at the livestream and trying to maintain connection through it – seeing different faces in the songs, readings and prayers, and zooming together at the end – but compared to the feast of our gathering it is survival rations. We can be both thankful for it and all those who work so hard to produce it and at the same time feel sad for what it is not, for the loss of regular Sunday gathering we will continue to experience on this timetable for months to come. But that is only one loss. The leaders of our ministries – for example Growth groups,  playgroup, mainly music, kid’s club, youth group to name the more prominent – are all working hard to keep us together, but we still feel the loss of not being with each other in person, and again many of our young people feel it profoundly.


I also felt sad for the pressure the timetable continues to place us under with its deferred relief and the continuing uncertainty of its numbers dependent steps. While, for example, some are planned to go back to school with the commencement of term 4 [depending on numbers] the timetable for years 3-9 is uncertain. So many will continue to work from home and do school from home, and do it without the help of others. And relief from loneliness, the capacity to meet friends is also numbers dependent and strung out over months. By the 26th October you can meet with ten outdoors and have an indoor household bubble with another household, but only by the 23rd of November can you move to 20 people in your home, if the numbers – no new cases state wide for fourteen days - allow it. This may or may not be necessary for Covid control, but it maintains the pressure of isolation for many more weeks. Telling people there is no other way and making these relaxations dependent on ambitious targets only increases hopelessness. And pressure can be destructive, exposing the cracks and weaknesses that are already there in relationships and patterns of life. This pressure – whether it is of tiredness, or loneliness, or anxiety about finances, or an inability to escape – is cumulative. With this announcement I felt sad for the continuing and accumulating pressure it continued to put many individuals and families under.


The danger of not being able to meet


And the timetable puts our common life under continuing pressure, exposes us to danger. Local churches thrive on commitment and relationships of loving service. Being committed to a local church though is often the product of conviction, concessions, and compromise, for we do not belong to a perfect church. So we have convictions, many – that we should meet together to encourage each other, for the Lord expects us and commands us to meet [Heb. 10:24-25]; about the need to hear God’s Word read and taught, for that is fundamental to our continuing life as disciples of Jesus, being taught to do all that He has commanded [Matt. 28:20, 2 Tim. 3:15-17]; about the need to bring our children up together as disciples of Jesus; about the need to love one another, and through that love show to the world what it is to be a disciple of Jesus; that we receive the gifts the Lord gives for His peoples continuing health and growth through our ministry to each other; that we do the Christian life and maintain our witness in the community better together. We have common convictions, but we come from many backgrounds and none of us are perfect in our life and ministry. There is always compromise and concession. Some of us, for example, would prefer more or less music, or music of a different style; some longer or shorter bible talks; some to have our children in through the service, and some out; some more creativity, some more routine. And at times we can find fault with the execution of anything that happens on a Sunday. None of us, and that includes me, has found the goldilocks church, or at least not every Sunday. But when we meet, the good of what we have together week by week, the wonder of knowing and being known by others as disciples, of ourselves or our children being served with a forebearing love, of hearing timely truth in the talk or conversation, even of finding what irritates us one week compensated for the next week, keeps us going on meeting together and stops us searching for the mirage of the perfect church. In fact in the context of committed love the differences and the discontents we have can help us all do better in the long run.


But not being able to meet puts that commitment under pressure, and that is the danger we face collectively. The medium of the live stream – the screen experienced in the isolation of your own home – is individualistic, consumer and entertainment oriented, and competitive. At home the need to make concessions and compromises is less. You can surf the world for the service that suits you perfectly – whether that is in teaching, or music, or time, or children’s program. The medium starts to determine the message and prioritise production values and media presence over content. And compulsory isolation can start to become voluntary withdrawal from others. Our danger is disconnection – disconnection from our brothers and sisters whom we are called to love, disconnection from a local community witness we are called to sustain, disconnection from relationships with those who teach in which we can test the truth and reality of what is taught. That is a real danger as restrictions continue, and seductive at first for it seems to conserve our low energy, make less demand on us, liberate us to live without compromise. Longer term such withdrawal, that loss of connection, is destructive to our Christian life individually and collectively, destructive to our witness and our discipling.


The effect of continuing sadness


Last Sunday I was saddened at the thought of this continuing pressure being applied to our common life and I speak to you of my sadness because I suspect many of you also feel sad. Acknowledging sadness helps us recognise its presence and its impact on our lives. Feeling sad, feeling grief at loss, tires us, it consumes energy. Many said the announcement was deflating, sucking energy out of their lives. That effect can continue even when we get over the initial disappointment. Where we feel we are struggling already that loss of energy can make us irritable and impatient, especially with those we feel are making it harder for us – whether that be those we live with, or the government, or with those who put demands on our attention on a Sunday morning. And continuing sadness is an uncomfortable state. We might feel we shouldn’t be sad. We might feel we can’t keep on feeling sad. Those feelings can then express themselves in all sorts of ways – whether it is looking for quick fixes in unhelpful places like alcohol or online porn, or a lack of motivation to stay in touch with others, or even withdrawing from those close to us, or anger which is just there waiting to focus on someone or something, anger which is often out of all proportion to the offence. Just the step of acknowledging our sadness can help us, helping us to begin to deal with the cause of other feelings and behaviours that trouble us. It will also help us resist the pressures that our continuing loss places us under individually and collectively.


What to do with continuing sadness


Seeing my sadness told me I needed to turn first of all to the Lord Jesus, for He is the only one in whom I can find lasting comfort and hope. He is ‘the shepherd and overseer of our souls’ [1 Pet. 2:25]. He knows us and knows what we are going through, He cares for us, and He has the power to keep us. He is gentle and lowly in Spirit and says He can give rest to our souls [Matt. 11:28-30]. And He loves His people, His bride [Eph. 5:25-27]. He will care for His church. Many seem to be putting their trust in politicians and their decisions, but we put our trust in the LORD, we wait for Him [Ps. 27:14] and take courage, for He is vigilant in His care for His people. There is a lot of comfort in reading Psalm 23 or Psalm 121, of knowing our help comes from the Lord who is the maker of heaven and earth.


Secondly recognising sadness tells me we must draw on our convictions, not our feelings, for guidance on how to live through this time. So we keep making the effort to stay connected –  we make calls, we pray for one another, we contribute where we can to our common life, and we hear together the word taught. Those who preach, including preaching on Ezekiel, preach with you in mind, and I will be talking on Sunday about why Ezekiel is the book for this moment even if it seems tough going. Depending on our circumstances that may mean listening to the service at a later time in the week, but we fight to counter disconnection. As restrictions are eased we think about how we can use what is permitted to encourage someone else. For example, from this Monday you can have two hours outdoors with another person, not exercising. Is there someone you could sit and talk with? But we will need to use these permissions wisely. At the third step, unless it is changed, we will be allowed to form a ‘household bubble’ with one other family but doing so could be divisive and exclusionary. Perhaps then it would be better to use the permission for outdoor gatherings of 10 more actively. And we must continue to be guided by our convictions in relating to those in authority, our conviction that our God instructs us in His word for our good. I have spoken before [August 7th] about Scriptures teaching on relating to government and I commend that talk to you. This is a time for showing our trust in Jesus and growing in our trust by doing what He says.


Thirdly, as we are embodied people recognising our sadness tells us to be disciplined, for the sake of others, to sleep, eat well and keep on doing healthy things we enjoy – whether that is exercise or playing games with the family.

One of the old Anglican prayerbook responsive prayers was from Psalm 28:9: “Save your people, and bless your inheritance.” The verse continues “Be their shepherd and carry them for ever.” This is a good prayer for us, and a comforting thought in our sadness – that our Good Shepherd will carry us for ever.          


 

Staying in Touch: How do you spot Team Jesus? (4 Sep 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

How to identify Team Jesus?


Well the lock down continues and next week I anticipate engaging in this talk with the contents of the Premier’s Sunday announcement and hopefully the ‘roadmap’ out of restrictions.

But not this week. This week it has been more of the same with one exception. The Tour de France has started and a little bit of French sunshine streams into my living room each day, and with it all the images of a highly sophisticated marketing strategy. There is the Tour marketing – the yellow banners, the little cyclist logo, the distinctive category jerseys, even the stuffed lion. And each team has its easily recognisable team colours and logo’s on jerseys, helmets, bicycles and buses. It is so easy to see which team a cyclist is on, and in which race they are competing. Instant recognition.


And it made me think - When you look at a crowd can you spot who is on team Jesus? With some faiths its easy. Sikhs with their turbans, Buddhist monks with their saffron robes, ultraorthodox Jews with their black coats and hats. But Christians? Jesus didn’t give His followers any instructions about distinctive dress or jewellry or even bumper stickers. But He did say there was a way people would be able to know who was on Team Jesus in the great race of life. On the night before He was crucified He said John 13: 34-35


"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.


Team Jesus are marked by love for one another


At first you might think from a marketing point of view – not great. It’s hard to spot love when surveying the crowd. To see love between Jesus’ followers takes time, relationship, a community. But as the distinctive mark of Jesus’ people it clearly conveys what it is to be a follower of Jesus. To be a follower of Jesus is to know that you are loved, for the love Jesus commands us to show is the love we have first experienced from Him - just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Jesus’ love is the love that lays down His life for His friends [Jn. 15:13], lays down His life to give us life.

In loving we are responding to and being sustained by Jesus’ love for us, and it is no small thing in this world to know that you are loved, loved by someone who is always true, always faithful, always there, thoroughly committed with His whole being to your good. And to be a follower of Jesus is to be willingly commanded by Him, to trust Him as the One who has the authority to direct our lives, to trust Him even when what He asks is difficult. And it does cost to love our brothers and sisters as Jesus has loved us. It will cost us time and resources, as we share with those in need. At the moment it costs us energy, the energy required to think beyond the confines of our own little bubble, to ring up, to discipline our selves to pray, to drop over a meal. For some of us that can require a lot of effort. And this love costs us in dying to our own self preoccupation so we are not taken up entirely with our plans, our needs, our hurts or joys, but we create space in our lives for others. As we come out of these restrictions to love will mean paying the cost of re-engaging with each other, helping each other start to address some of the wounds restrictions have left. And this sign of belonging to His followers also tells the world that to be a follower of Jesus is to be transformed, for we do not naturally love as Jesus has loved us. This love testifies to the power of Jesus’ Spirit to change us to become more and more like Jesus.


Better than any form of dress this team marker shows to people the substance of being a follower of Jesus. In doing this it is also attractive, showing how good the Jesus we follow is. He does not engage us in the selfish and lonely pursuit of our own spiritual perfection. Love for Him is not a love that excludes the love of others – rather it calls for it. Devotion to Him makes us other person centred, because He is other person centred, always acting in love. And for those thinking of following Him to see this love amongst His people tells them that even if they lose family in following Jesus, even if they come to experience the world’s hatred, they will not be alone, but embraced in love.


More, this marker is able to be universally practiced and universally recognised. Clothing is culture and climate specific. But there is never a time or place where love cannot be practiced, and where the watching world cannot recognise the care believers show for each other, cannot see the good of thoughtful love. Jesus has given a mark of recognition that all His followers throughout the world and throughout history can practice, and through its practice show to their community the reality of following Jesus.


And in choosing this as the mark of His followers Jesus was seeking to protect people from counterfeits and believers from self deception. It is easy to pull on a jersey. Easy even to get baptised, give a testimony, make a membership profession. But in making love of our brothers and sisters the mark of being His follower Jesus has chosen an attitude and practice that is ongoing, not once off, that flows from within, a transformed heart, not just an external change. Those outside have been given by Jesus a mark that distinguishes His genuine followers from empty talkers and believers now have a continual test of the reality of their profession of trust in Jesus – as John says 1 John 4: 19-21


"We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."


Those who follow the Tour de France know that in the race there are some pretty tough sections, either because of the gradient, or the cross winds, or the road surface. In our race there will always be tough sections, like the lockdown is for many. And coming out of lockdown will also be challenging – the challenges of uncertainty, continuing anxiety about infection, reconnecting, keeping a common mind on what to do and when. Let’s make sure people see we are in this race as Team Jesus in our dealing with these challenging times, can see the practice of a continuing thoughtful love, where no one is left alone and no one is left behind. Keep on thinking of others, speaking with others, giving of yourself to others. The Lord who commands us to love loves us, and He can sustain us by His Spirit in doing His will, in being His true followers even in weariness.




Staying in Touch: Disturbing passages in Ezekiel (28 Aug 2020)

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Grappling with the disturbing passages in Ezekiel


Ezekiel is a book different in many ways from the other prophets. In its location, its visionary experiences, its clear dating, and its language. The language is powerful as God tries to get across to a people who did not want to hear the reality of their sin and its consequences.

That language, as we heard last week in the description of what would happen when the people of Jerusalem experienced the covenant curses for their rebellion against God, can be disturbing. For example we read Ezekiel 5:9- 10Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again. Therefore in your midst parents will eat their children, and children will eat their parents. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds.”[NIV]


That language is disturbing for all of us, intentionally so. But it represents a particular challenge for those of you who are watching the livestream with your children now we have moved the reading to be heard before the children’s talk. As there are other passages in Ezekiel with confronting language I thought today I would talk about how parents might engage with those readings but what I have to say will be useful for you all.


In our normal church services this would not be an issue as children would have gone out to Sunday School before the reading. But in the livestream we moved the readings to before the children’s talk as a result of the feedback we received from parents who wanted the children’s talk to relate to the passages being preached on. That relationship is more clearly seen where the reading is heard first, and having the children’s talk on the same theme hopefully will make both conversation about what was learnt and, for older children, engagement in the sermon, easier.


Perhaps when you gave that feedback you were not thinking of Ezekiel, but the themes covered in Ezekiel of sin and judgement, the faithfulness of God to His word, His desire to save, His patience, the glory of His salvation, knowing the LORD in His declaration and then performance of both judgement and salvation, are all very important for our children and us all to grasp. There may well, however, be passages that young children don’t have the capacity to process and hearing them may disturb or puzzle them, and put you on the spot as you try and explain them. What to do?


Preparing your children for the content in Ezekiel


Firstly, read ahead so that you are prepared.

Cat has prepared a schedule of the coming readings and also the particular verses that the children’s talk will focus on. As you read try and anticipate the questions your child might ask as they hear the bible reading or might come up in the passage preached.

For example, this week we will cover in the talk, not the reading, Ezekiel 9:6 which is part of the LORD’s instruction to the ‘executioners of the city’. The LORD says “Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark.” That is confronting for us all, a prophecy of what the Babylonians will do when they conquer the city for the LORD will execute His judgment through them. The emphasis is on the totality of the destruction. Like the flood in genesis 6 all are carried away in this judgement, but Ezekiel 9 also mentions those who will be spared. All are caught up in God’s judgments, children included – remember the flood is a type of the judgment at the end [Matthew 24:36-39] - so it would be good to be prepared to talk of how we can be amongst those spared judgment.

If in your reading you anticipate questions that you will find hard to answer, then get in touch or even video the question and send it in for Andy or someone else to answer in the new Q and A segment of the livestream.


There may be some passages that even with preparation you would rather young children not hear.

The only one of our readings this would apply to is Ezekiel 16 which speaks of Israel’s sinning in terms of sexual promiscuity and unfaithfulness, and also includes mention of child sacrifice. Ezekiel 23 is even more graphic. When we come to it on the 6th September we will be thinking about why God has chosen to communicate in this way, for it is the word of the LORD, but you may decide that the language and the explanation is beyond your young children at the moment. The great thing is that you can press the mute button while that is being read, or for the parts you think particularly difficult, and then tune in again for the children’s talk. Of course if you do press the mute button be ready with an explanation of why you are doing that for it will prompt your children’s curiosity.

Many years ago I glued together the pages of the picture bible that covered the book of Revelation. It was not so much the scariness of the images that prompted that action. I was disturbed by the translation of verbal images and symbols that appealed to the verbal imagination into concrete two dimensional pictures that lost the point and the power of the text. I learnt some years later that the sole outcome of that act of censorship was to ensure that the children went and unglued the pages and had a good look at them. So be ready to deal with the curiosity your action will incite.


The importance of reading all of scripture


The rest of us though should listen attentively to those passages. It is the word of God and it is important we listen even if we are shocked, even if we think no polite person would ever talk that way. We should be asking why and what – why has the LORD had to give that word, and what does it say about us that we are so slow to see the offence of our idolatry that we must be confronted in this way. More, what does it say about the LORD that He is willing to humble Himself to communicate to us in ways that might embarrass many of us. And when you are thinking this through remember that at the heart of our faith is a great obscenity, something that should truly offend and shock, and that is that the eternal glorious Word become flesh, the Son of God, should come into the world and not only does the world made by Him not recognise Him but it kills Him. Our world, humanity in rebellion against its Maker, takes one who is good, who always acts in love, who always speaks the truth, who is kind to the weak and young, compassionate to the suffering, who brings wholeness and peace, and it crucifies Him, exposes Him to the shame of a criminal’s cruel execution, an execution designed to be painful and humiliating. Isn’t that an obscene and shameless action on the part of humanity, and aren’t we glad that our God humbled Himself to endure the cross, to confront in this obscenity our sin and through it to bring us purity and righteousness, a life that is holy and noble. We should not flinch from seeing our sin as it is, as God presents it in Ezekiel, so that we can be humbled in our pride for ‘God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble’ [James 4:6]. Ezekiel, all of it, is given for our good.

 

Staying in Touch: Promoting the presence of God (21 Aug 2020)

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The long road to recovery 


The numbers are thankfully slowly going down.

There is more talk of a vaccine, of vaccine candidates progressing to stage three trials, even of agreements to manufacture vaccines here in Australia.

As we come to the halfway point of the lockdown that is encouraging news. Although the next three weeks will continue to be tough and any realistic impact of a vaccine many months away, probably well into next year, we seem to be heading in the right direction.


But it is still a long road to recovery. I am longing to be able to see and talk with people face to face, to be able to meet together again in the building, to get back to what we have considered up till now to be normal, but things won’t just return to the way they were when, we hope, stage 4 restrictions are lifted in September. In the coming months we might be able to start having small groups in our homes. We might start to be able to have small numbers in our building, with facemasks. But getting back to normality will take many months and Staff and Session are continuing to engage with that. Already we are thinking about how to do our Christmas events on line and how to run GSF as a program delivered, not in the church, but in your home. To help us manage that long recovery, and also to free Andy up to produce more on line resources, especially evangelistic resources, the Board have voted to employ Cat Camilleri for extra hours. She will be using her administrative and IT skills to facilitate both our current on line services and our gradual return to the building. We are grateful for the extra help.

But planning is not a substitute for enjoying. To get back to some semblance of normal – to be able to travel freely, have family and friends over, to play games with others outside, or watch others playing games, to even to be able to visit people in hospital or to see weddings resuming, is something I, and I suspect many of you, long for.


The continued absence of God in our world


But if normal means returning to the public absence of God I don’t want to go back to that. Pre-covid our politicians and media promoted the plausibility of God’s absence from our world. They do not talk of God as if He is real or acts in the real world. In our society’s public conversation we are the sources of our own prosperity just as we are the sources of our own salvation from this pandemic. We look to our collective action, or to our medical professionals, or to science, to solve our problems but we do not look to God in public life. Talk of God, if we must talk of God, is confined to religion, and religion has a place as a private human activity or a pressure group to be either appeased or ignored depending on the circumstances. It is not a response to anything or anyone who does things in the world.

Prayer, and I have heard the Premier mention praying, is something to turn to after everything else, a kind of prayer of the gaps when all your own resources seem inadequate, a kind of wish without confidence that it will be heard, or that there is anyone to hear it.


The plausibility of the living God’s absence has affected our public response to the pandemic. God’s word says that pestilence is one of the weapons in God’s arsenal by which He can carry out His just sentence on sin [e.g. Ezk. 5:17, Rev. 6:7-9] and we see how easily God can bring a society to a halt and drive away its prosperity with a small virus. The experience of the pandemic, and of the drought and bushfires before them, should make us think how terrible it would be to live in defiance of the living God, to have Him against us, for this virus is just a fraction of His might. We should, and previous generations have publicly, turned to God for mercy. But God’s absence from the world has meant that in our public response there is no humbling ourselves before God. I suspect it has never occurred to our current leaders to do so. That is tragic. Disciplined collective action, medical knowledge and skills, science, are all good gifts of God, to be received with thankfulness, but they cannot substitute for the Giver. Nor can they reverse God’s judgments. As Proverbs 21:30 says "No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.” If the LORD in His justice is determined to take away a nation or a people’s prosperity, to humble their pride, nothing will stop Him. We should recognise that and turn to Him but having driven the Creator God from public life our leaders do not know how or where to turn to Him, or are afraid in a multifaith society of acknowledging the Christian God as the true God.


Promoting God's presence to our world


If God in His mercy, as we pray, does turn aside the pandemic, bring its effects to an end, restore to us some of our freedoms and prosperity, I do not think the promotion of God’s absence in public will change unless God turns the hearts of many to Him. So many have a vested interest in their own autonomy, in being able to pursue their sin without fear, to worship their idols without confrontation with the true God, that they do not want to hear of the living and true God. But believers must be different. We must promote, individually and collectively, in word and deed, the presence of God in our world, the plausibility of believing in the God of Christians, the God, as Paul said to the sophisticated Athenians, who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, and who gives to all people life and breath and everything [Acts 17:24-25]. How do we do that?


  • Give heartfelt thanks to God

We practice habits of thinking and speaking that always acknowledge our dependence on him. So we give heartfelt thanks to God for His gifts, including our prosperity and health. We acknowledge they come from Him, just as our life does. And when, Lord willing, the corona virus recedes from our lives, we give thanks to the LORD for that, publicly. In daily life, when our family are gathered, when our friends are in our homes enjoying life with us, we say grace for meals. When we welcome a new baby, we give thanks. In getting a job, or getting married, we give thanks.


  • Turn to God first for help

And we turn to God first for help. In 2 Chronicles 16 we read of the sad end of the reign of King Asa of Judah, an otherwise good king. Having turned to God in trouble earlier in his reign [2 Chronicles 14] when threatened with military invasion by the northern kingdom of Israel towards the end of his reign he entered into an alliance with the Syrians to defeat Israel without seeking God. God sent His prophet Hanani to rebuke him for not relying on the LORD which angered Asa and landed Hanani in the stocks. And then we read “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.” [ 2 Chron. 16:11] Prospered by the LORD Asa had become used to wealth and power, to relying on the means God had given him and not on the LORD who had given Him those means. Living in such a rich society we can become like Asa, like our society – relying on the means – our wealth and knowledge, turning to them first and not turning to the LORD. Yet the LORD is the giver of those means. From him comes knowledge and the skill to use it, and He determines their effectiveness [Isaiah 54:16-17]. We pray first, for the LORD is the one who kills and makes alive, who wounds and who heals [Deut. 32:39]. Our lives are in His hands.


  • Say "Lord willing" publically when making plans

More. We refuse to play by the conversational and linguistic rules that would exclude God and His rule. So when making plans, business or study or personal plans, we say in public 'Lord willing' [James 4:13-17]. That is reality. We talk of husbands and wives, not partners, for marriage is God’s gift and this is God’s world, and He gave marriage between a man and a woman. We don’t acquiesce to use pronouns that confuse humanity as created male and female. It is about more than politeness – it is about acknowledging us as created beings, sustaining a world view in which God is Creator. We speak of our God where we can, of His will as guiding our decisions and choices, of our trusting Him in our trials, of the comfort we receive from His promises in our grief. This should flow naturally from our lips because Christ is in our hearts.


  • Invite conversations about God with others

But if we want to speak of our God, then we must be willing to listen to others speak of their gods. We want freedom to speak, not control of what others say.

Inviting others to speak first of what they think and believe may open the door for further conversation about the true God, and if you are interested in how even as restrictions are slowly eased we can start having conversations with our neighbours about the Lord, about how together we can invite our non-Christian friends to leave the world where God is absent and enter the real world where Jesus is Lord, I would encourage you to read Sam Chan’s Evangelism in a Sceptical World. It has been promoted before, and if you want to get a taste of what you will find there Sam has a podcast on the TGC US website, and the link is in the transcript.​​​​​​​ 

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/podcasts/tgc-podcast/how-to-share-the-gospel-for-all-to-hear/


Keep praying that the Lord would be merciful and bring the virus and its effect to an end. Pray for each other to be sustained through this time. But pray for more. Pray that people would repent and come to acknowledge the LORD as God, to whom they owe life and everything.


Staying in Touch: Encouragements this week (14 Aug 2020)

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The encouragement of seeing others serve

 

As I was waiting at the food drop off on Tuesday, chatting to people as they brought in their donation, I wished all of you could enjoy the many encouragements I have received over these past weeks. One of the effects of this isolation is that you don’t get to see or enjoy the good that so many of you are persevering in. I don’t see it all, but I do see more than most. For example, even if you brought food to the drop off – and we will have the gate opening fixed by the next drop off - you might have only seen one or two people. But I got to see many more of you who had set aside time and groceries to show kindness to the La Trobe students, a pretty constant stream of vehicles and shopping bags. I went home giving thanks, as Paul does for the Thessalonians, for “your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus.” [1 Thess. 1:3]

 

But it is not just at foodbank drop off that I see your faith, love and hope. I have recently looked at the three meal trains that are running, discussed with the deacons support of the Iranians, hear as I speak with some of you of the other conversations you are having, the calls you are making.

I meet with the Elders and BOM who are labouring faithfully at serving the congregation, with the BOM I receive monthly financial updates and know your consistent generous financial support,  week by week.

I meet with the staff and learn of their own work and the work of others, whether that is in producing the services, sustaining growth groups, organising the women’s conference or just staying in touch.

I am thankful for these many encouragements, many reminders of the work of God’s Spirit in His people as He moves them to love and sustains them in service. I want you to know of these encouragements because we all need encouragement in the face of the discouragements of this time.

Let me share some more.

 

The encouragement of God's family

 

We can feel we are alone, but those phone calls and meal trains keep reminding us that we are together part of a larger family, a family God has called us into through the gospel of Jesus, a family our Lord has said is to be marked out by love. We may not be aware of all that the family is doing, may be conscious of what is happening only in the small circle of people left to you by the restrictions, but you and I are part of the Lord’s family and that family is continuing to serve in love.

Another encouraging example for you: many, well over one hundred, are praying diligently for you and other members of the congregation day by day using the names given in the daily devotion. When we feel alone it is encouraging to know we are part of a larger loving family, a family that can be called on in need.

 

The encouragement of Jesus' protection

 

We can become anxious about the church not being able to meet, and feel we are losing a sense of the whole. There is sadness in not meeting together but we don’t need to be anxious. The Lord Jesus has said the gates of hell will not prevail against His church so don’t think this interruption will do long term damage. We have learnt in Ephesians that the Lord Jesus, who is exalted over all rule and authority and power and dominion, exalted above every name that is named [Eph. 1:20-22], is the head of His church. We believers, His church, are joined to him and He can keep us safe and secure, collectively as well as individually. The church’s health and security, its present and future, depends on Him. Isn’t that encouraging? We just need to be faithful, to trust His promises and direction and do what He says, and when we know His love and power that trust is not difficult just as a child trusting a good parent is not difficult. It is the inclination of hearts convicted of His love in saving us by His death while we were sinners.

We can feel that we are just marking time, putting life on hold. But your persevering faith, love and hope is a sign that our heavenly Father is not marking time. He is through this time continuing to nurture the life He has planted in us, continuing to mature in us Christlikeness of character, and it is encouraging to know that.

 

The encouragment of God's committment to us

 

And God’s continuing work in us points us to its origin, God’s initiative to save us, His electing choice. After Paul had written to the Thessalonians of the thanks he gave to God for their faith, love and hope he continued: “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that He has chosen you.” Paul could give thanks to God for their faith, love and hope because he knew it was the fruit of God’s choice, God’s call, God’s work in them. That choice of the Thessalonian believers was first manifested in their reception of the gospel with full conviction and joy given by the Spirit even as they suffered for believing in Jesus. But it continued to be seen in their persevering faith, their loving service of their brothers and sisters, and their steadfast hope.

Election, the reality that our salvation in Christ through grace and faith on the basis of Christ’s death is the result of God’s choice, of His eternal will and purpose to save individuals, is often tiptoed around as if we ought to be embarrassed by God getting all the praise and glory for our salvation. Yet, as the Anglican Prayer Book says, ‘the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable comfort to godly persons.” [Article XVII]. That is true.

Isn’t it comforting to know in times of trial that, as Paul writes in Ephesians 1, we are believers because God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him? That it is His purpose that we be adopted as His children and that He has provided through the death of His Son all that is needed to bring this about? [Eph 1:3-10]. Isn’t it comforting to know as Paul says to the Thessalonians that ‘God has not destined us for wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” [1 Thess. 5:9-11]    

 God has committed Himself to saving us. He has done it freely, out of His own mercy and love, not because of any deserving on our part. Depending on His love that commitment is sure. In our struggles, under trial, we are not left to our own devices to do the best we can on our own. As Paul says in Philippians having begun a good work in us our God will ‘bring it to completion at the day of Christ” [Phil. 1:6].

 

We are frail people, often of little strength in ourselves to withstand the upsets and disappointments of life. But our hope does not rest on our abilities or our work for God, but on His love and almighty power, on His work for and in us, a work that is the outworking of His predestining will to save His people in Christ. God never fails in His purpose, and isn’t there encouragement in that, a reason for confidence in the present and the future.

Convicted of that eternal purpose of God Paul writes in Romans those words which have been a comfort to so many.

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." [Romans 8:28-30]

Take encouragement in these days where you can, but don’t neglect to meditate on our God, and His revelation of His eternal, sovereign and gracious purpose to save His people in Christ, a purpose He is continuing to work out for us through these times.

 

 

Staying in Touch: Thinking about authorities (7 Aug 2020)

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Thinking about governments and authorities


Having spent Wednesday evening filling out the Permitted Worker Permits for the staff and those involved in the live streaming of the service I spent some time on Thursday re-reading passages in the New Testament that speak about the believer’s relationship with governments and authorities. You see I am appalled at the thought that while going about my lawful business I could be pulled over by a police man or woman to see if I have the permission of the state to go about my work.

And as the week has unfolded my concern has grown about how quickly the State becomes totalitarian in thinking and reach, where it claims the authority to tell me how long I can spend outside, whether I can work or not, whether I can have people inside my own home, where I can go, claims the authority to control my movement and associations, and denies innocent activity to protect its power. For example, I normally drive Jayne to work at the Austin. It keeps her off the train in these times and as I never get out of the car it poses no risk to anyone. But it is now forbidden, not because there is any harm or wrong in it, but because the State must remove cars from the roads to protect its capacity to police its regulations. With that move to greater State control is a troubling disempowerment of individual responsibility, whether that is for our own health or for our own financial provision, a disempowerment that can pave the way for greater dependence on the State in the future.

And I am disturbed and distressed by the real harm the State’s directives are doing, whether it is to people’s mental health or their livelihoods and by the arrogance that says it can do harm because the state has it in its power to heal the harm. I am not convinced at all this is the case.

What am I to do with my upset and concern, with my distress? What am I to do with the disturbing demands of the State, enforced by threat of punishment, for conformity to a rule which overreaches its capacity? As some, perhaps many, may share some of these reactions to the State’s response to the Covid 19 outbreak and are struggling with complying cheerfully I thought I would share how I have worked through my response to our present circumstance.


The limitations of government and the wisdom of God's Word


Events make clear the State Government is not all wise nor all powerful. There is so much it cannot control, whether quarantine or nursing homes, so much of the impact of its decisions on individual lives that it cannot reckon with let alone compensate for. And the State is often in conflict with itself. For example, the expressive individualism it has nurtured in its ideological support of sexual diversity it must now suppress amongst those who oppose these regulations, with all the anger such inconsistency and unequal treatment of so-called ‘rights’ generates. There is no comfort in thinking the State has got it right, for I cannot be sure if the cost being paid is worth it. I do not submit to the State because I agree with its decisions and rulings, think they are the wisest and best responses that could be made, or trust it to be able to save my life.

Yet there is One who is all powerful and all wise, our God. More, unlike the State He knows me individually and He cares for me deeply, loves me so much that He has given His Son to save me. He calls me by name in the gospel of Jesus, and says even the hairs of my head are all numbered, and will most definitely save me for He has given His word in the gospel to keep me and all believers in Jesus in life and death. In my distress I can turn to His word for guidance and direction, and embrace it knowing He has given that word for my good. And so I turned again to Romans 13, Titus 3 and 1 Peter 2. Let me read these with you, starting at Romans 13.


Romans 13:17

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." 


Romans is very clear. I need to submit myself, despite my doubts about the state’s wisdom, to its authority. In particular I should avoid the bad behaviour the State by these rules is trying to prevent, in our case the congregation of people and the transmission of the virus.

And the governing authorities Paul is speaking about to the Romans were no better than our authorities. Roman rule was self interested, often arbitrary and inconsistent, changing with the changing of governors and other officials. Sometimes it was corrupt, and the rule of the empire was always verging on idolatrous claims from the time of Augustus who was proclaimed as the saviour of the world.

Yet believers were to submit as part of love of neighbour for as the ancient world knew, order was better than disorder, government better than chaos. And Romans says that if I have a problem with government I should take it up with God for the ruler is His servant. Concern with the direction our rulers are taking is a matter for prayer, not grumbling

In Titus Paul reiterates the point.


Titus 3:1-2

"Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people."


Here he also reminds us to speak evil of no-one. When we are anxious or angry our language can become inflammatory and we can think and say the worst of others, especially those who seem to be making our lives more difficult or who disagree with us. We should not speak in that way, especially of those who are labouring with a very difficult and for them unprecedented problem. None of us has a right to vent our anger and frustration in slandering others. And the ‘all people’ to whom we must show perfect courtesy includes the police who may pull us over, or the person on the end of the phone trying to answer our questions about regulations.

And it is not just Paul who tells us to submit. Listen to Peter.


1 Peter 2:13-17

"Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor."


We are, says Peter, free people, people who have been adopted into God’s family. But our freedom is found in serving God who calls us to be subject for the Lord’s sake to our rulers.


Applying God's Word


So what am I to do with my upset and my distress at the harm I see being inflicted on the alone and the vulnerable, the stress brought into the lives of those trying to both work and do school from home, the anger I occasionally feel at the restriction of innocent freedoms?

Although I may feel those things deeply, and have serious concerns about the effects of the government’s strategy, this too is an area where I must die to myself to do the will of God, to submit to authorities, to show courtesy, and not grumble. To die to myself because I trust Jesus who is able to keep and provide for His people who seek first His kingdom and righteousness, who conform their lives to His good teaching.

So for the Lord’s sake, as a free person serving my good God, I will fill out forms, pursue clarification of unclear directions, re-arrange meal trains, seek to find ways to mitigate the harms I see being done through isolation and fear, and endure trusting the Lord who rules over all things.


And I will pray for those in authority as I am commanded in 1 Timothy 2, pray that their decisions will give us that peaceful and quiet life where we can live godly lives that testify in word and deed to the Lord Jesus. I will pray that in the Lord’s will He prospers their efforts to control the spread of the virus. And I will pray for them as stressed humans, for who of us would want to have to make the decisions they are being called upon to make, pray that they would humble themselves to seek the King of kings who alone can bring plans for good to fruition, the one in whom they can also can find comfort and wisdom as they turn back to Him.


And I will dare to hope that this experience will prompt a re-think. That people will turn away from  locating all authority and hope in either the state or the individual, from the allure of both totalitarianism and expressive individualism, to confess that the authority to rule our lives lies with the living God, to see that His rule alone, a commitment to His righteousness and justice, in the end preserves both our freedoms and good order, and that He alone is our hope.

And brothers and sisters, the path of denying myself, dying to myself to do the Lord’s good will, is the path for us all at this time.


 

Staying in Touch: Preparing to die (31 July 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Preparing to die

 

Concerned for my well being in locked down Victoria, my out-of-state elder sister, rings me from time to time to check on me. The conversations are wide ranging and last time we spoke of how good it would be to see each other face to face, hopefully before the end of the year. But then I added – "Of course, I might be dead by then".

That was not morbid, just a statement of reality. The Lord knows the time of our death [Psalm 139:16] but none of us knows the time of our death and for mortal creatures dying is always a possibility at any time. Perhaps dying before the end of the year is even an increased probability in this time of Covid for those of us who are older. It is in the Lord’s hands.

How should I think about dying? How should you?

Is it a great personal disaster to be avoided at all costs?

Or is it something that I as a believer can look forward to, not dying in itself, but, in Paul’s words ‘departing to be with Christ’ which he goes on to say is ‘better by far’ [Phil. 1:23]. Better by far!

So today I want to talk about dying, about your dying. It is too late when you are dialling triple zero because of shortness of breath for you to get ready to die, to get ready for what has always been inevitable. Now is the time, and I would hate any of you to come to death unprepared, not at peace with God, to come to that time without the confident hope Christ died and rose to give believers.

 

Death is not the consolation prize

 

Believers in Christ do have a wonderful and sure hope, being with Christ when we die and then sharing in the resurrection to eternal life in the new heaven and earth. [1 Cor. 15:12-56]. That is the hope every believer confesses month by month in the Apostle’s creed. We believe, we say, in the resurrection of the dead.

Yet my impression is that for many believers this is not what they are longing and living for. Rather they see it as the consolation prize if somehow they are unlucky enough to die. You know the consolation prize. That’s the prize you weren’t in the competition to win. Many seem to have embraced the Christian faith for what they think it will deliver in this life – for those affected by false prosperity teaching that is health, wealth, success, but for many orthodox believers the focus is still on the present blessings of the gospel: a life with meaning, guidance, present forgiveness, a way of life, a family culture – and the Christian hope is a kind of afterthought, that part of the software suite that came with the computer that you don’t think you will ever use, an extra functionality for the real nerds.

Yet in the New Testament the Christian hope is front and centre of a believer’s vision. Consider Paul speaking in 2 Corinthians. Having spoken of his present sufferings Paul goes on to say:

 

'So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.' [2 Cor 4:16-5:8]

 

Paul is under no illusions about this present life. He knows it is marked by mortality, by wasting away, by affliction. The present is transient, and a place of burden, groaning and grief. He longs for his heavenly home, his eternal home; for death to be swallowed up by life. He would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. Being with Christ in the resurrection body is not the consolation; it is the goal. It is not something reluctantly accepted but looked forward to. It is his preference, not his fall back. And it is guaranteed to us now by God’s gift to us of His Spirit.

This sure and longed for hope is then something that gives direction and purpose to his present life.

 

'So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.' [2 Cor 5:9-10]

 

To see the Christian hope, being with the Lord and rising with Him, as the consolation prize betrays our worldliness, that our minds are fixed on and we are caught up with the things of this world – our plans, even our plans for the church or evangelism; our business affairs, our present loves, our present pleasures – and we are not living in all things with the single minded desire to please Jesus. If we were, we would see the world as He sees it, and we would be longing to be with Him, longing for the fulness of His promise.

More, to see the Christian hope as the consolation prize robs our neighbours of the opportunity to be challenged by our hope. Death confronts them, they live with the fear of death and there is no hope in saying ‘well then you just rot’. That is a statement of infinite loss, for life and death are infinitely separated. And there is no hope in the ‘maybe’s’. Maybe I will have a better rebirth. Maybe I will prove good enough when my behaviour is weighed in the scales of God’s justice. There is in the ‘maybe’ only fear of judgment, fear of the unknown outcome, fear of hell for those who know their own sinfulness.

 

Dying is not a disaster for the believer 

 

Dying for the believer is not a personal disaster. To depart and be with Christ is better by far. It is not a disaster for the believer’s family who share her faith, nor for their church which is loved by the sovereign Lord.

There will be grief, for death in this life is a horrible breaking of bonds, a permanent absence, loss without compensation. Death is an ugly oppressor of our race, and grief is the ever-present chorus to our lives, the constantly returning refrain to everyone’s tune.

There will be grief, but comfort for those who know your hope, that you were not just accepting but looking forward to being with the Lord, looking forward to enjoying the blessedness of those who die in the Lord and rest from their labours [Rev. 14:13]. More, others seeing the reality of your hope in the way you live now for Jesus might ask you of its source, and you can share the truth of Jesus with them so that your hope can become their hope.

 

In a world where all die make sure you are ready to die by having made peace with the living God through repentance and faith in His Son Jesus, by believing His gospel that He has died for our sins and risen to live forever, risen with authority to forgive and judge and then living to do His will. Turn away from worldliness to become someone who lives for Jesus now and longs to be with Jesus because you love Him and your heart, your will, is given to Him. Be someone who can say and genuinely believe with Paul that 'to live is Christ, and to die is gain' [Phil. 1:21], someone for whom death does not bring the consolation prize but ushers in the satisfaction of the longing of their soul and the fulfilment of their hope.

 


Staying in Touch: The livestream services (24 July 2020)

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Heading into the long haul

 

We are all wearing masks when we are outside now and with that development I guess we all know now that we are in for the long haul as a community in dealing with the virus and the disruption to our lives that brings.

There is a disappointment in that recognition. For some it compounds their grief and anxiety at the major disruption of losing work and the prospect of being out of work for many more months. For many of us the disappointment is in the myriad of ‘small’ disappointments and inconveniences the response to the virus brings – new mothers whose husbands will be restricted in their ability to be with them in hospital, birthdays whose celebrations will be muted, working from home while trying to manage schooling from home, grandchildren or grandparents who cannot be visited. While ‘small’ in the big scheme of things these can have a large impact on how we feel. Even the necessity of wearing masks outside works as a constant reminder of the loss of things we value, our openness and freedom as a society.

Dealing with those disappointments and inconveniences takes energy. We can’t park our lives like Qantas jets in the Mojave desert, idle until needed. We can’t hibernate. We, individually and collectively, must live through this energy depleting time, find a way to sustain our lives in such a way that we come out well on the other side. And there will be another side, an end to this – even if we feel that end slipping further and further into the distance.

 

Much of what we have talked about in the months before has been about sustaining our lives as believers. It means focusing, not on our lifestyle and compensating for lifestyle loss, but on our relationships – our relationship with our heavenly Father, our relationship with those we live with,  our relationships as a congregation. I hope that you have found seeking our Father in prayer and reading God’s word, remembering Who He is and what HE has done for us in Christ, to be refreshing, not burdensome, at this time, light in our gloom. And practicing what He commands in our homes – thoughtful love of others, speech that builds up and encourages, a habit of thankfulness, a humility that can say sorry and a grace that can forgive, self control – will leave our relationships stronger. And we must also sustain our relationships as a congregation.

 

Our livestream services - changes in light of the survey

 

A large part of sustaining our collective identity as a congregation is maintaining our livestream service. Many have let us know they are appreciating the service and we have been encouraged by the responses to the survey, especially by the numbers tuning in week by week and being disciplined in setting aside that time on a Sunday to meet, even if virtually. Knowing now that the Live stream will continue for many months to come we have been thinking about how we can both continue to improve what we do in light of the feedback received and also make the service sustainable for those who produce it. Those two goals – sustainability and improvement – will mean that you will see some changes in the livestream over the next few weeks, and the rest of this talk is about those changes.

Some changes have already been made.

  • The new log-in that allows us to know who is watching and who might need more encouragement.
  • Continuing incremental improvements in the technical aspects of recording and live streaming as we become more used to recording and talking to camera.
  •  The use of the time before and after the service for some of our more routine announcements.
  • Expect continuing changes to announcements as we seek to use the announcement time in the service to highlight one or two key announcements and move the rest, the reminders, to before or after the service. Those reminders will also all be able to be found on our web page at bpc.org.au/live.
  • We will also be seeking to have the bible reading text on the screen alongside the reader, and to be identifying participants in the service along with the congregation they come from.
  • We will be retaining the mix of live and pre-recorded elements, which may vary week by week depending on whether anyone is in quarantine.
  • In relation to the service leading expect to see the Pastors doing a little more of the leading. It is good to see many faces and all our leaders do a good job but we are keen for the connection and the opportunity service leading gives to pastor you.

 

Inteviews, Children's Talks & Music

 

The new elements of the service – e.g. interviews and children’s talks – have been appreciated. We will continue to work on those and some of the opportunities that the pre-recorded medium gives us. Sometimes you will see Psalms at the beginning of the service, and around the announcement time or elsewhere in the service there will be either interviews, testimonies, or a short answer to some questions either your children or others might ask. We will be trying to be conscious of the children’s presence in the lead up to the sermon and during the sermon as many have told us they are watching the service with their children.

 

In relation to the children’s talk from the start of the Ezekiel series – which starts on August 16th – we will be relating the talk to the content of the sermon, and it will follow the bible reading with a song now coming between the children’s talk and the sermon. Some of you have indicated that finding and using resources to help your children learn through the service can be a very mixed experience, so we will produce outlines and activity sheets that the children can use and that relate to sermon series. Nurturing our children through this time is something we have to do together, so if you have good ideas – share them with us and other parents, and keep giving feedback about what is working and what is not.

 

The whole music/singing experience is very varied on livestream. Some find it difficult to sing on their own, and some love it. Recording music is also very time consuming. To help the sustainability of the service we will be reducing the songs from five to three in both services. This will also help us manage the length of the service. We are aware that for many, especially if you have young children, sitting in front of a screen and trying to concentrate is not easy for any length of time, so we will be trying to keep the services to about seventy minutes except on the Sundays where we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Having said that you will recognise that we are not perfect people and there will, at times, be a gap between aspiration and achievement.

If I am honest that gap will probably be on display when I start preaching on Ezekiel. It is an important book that we will be trying to cover in 12-13 weeks by looking at key chapters.

 

Ezekiel sermon series


In Ezekiel we will meet the God who does the unthinkable, whether in judgment or salvation. It is at times shocking. I have always preached on the basis that if God has bothered to speak to us, we should listen to Him, and that listening to His word is so important that it should not be subject to artificial constraints that are largely culturally determined. God’s Word always has priority and so I have laboured more to be clear than to be brief, to say what is there in the text rather than select what I think people need to hear. But I am aware that listening to someone speaking on a screen is often harder, so you might pray that I can to some extent accommodate to the medium. I would encourage you, especially with Ezekiel, to prepare to listen by reading the passage and praying about it beforehand so you come ready to engage with the text, with what God in His kindness has been pleased to say to us. It is in many ways an unusual book so I am looking forward to having questions in the Zoom meeting afterwards.

 

We have put a summary of responses to the survey on the website. It also canvassed views on when we might return to meeting face to face. All that seems a little academic at the moment but your responses will help us when the time comes to revisit the question. A large majority were in favour of continuing the livestream in some form after we return to meeting in the building. Session has heard that and has committed itself to continuing the livestream. The details – whether subscription or public, from which service, privacy issues – are still being discussed, but we have months for that discussion.

 

Finally in relation to sustainability just a reminder that Clinton, Chris and I take Monday off, and Andy Thursday off.

Yesterday morning I read “The LORD takes delight in His people; He adorns the humble with salvation. Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.” Psalm 149:4-5. I have talked about sustaining our lives as believers, individually and collectively. But our hope is in the LORD who delights in His people. We can be confident He can sustain our life, sustain a joy that sings. He is our good shepherd who promises His flock will not want, who can restore our souls, who promises us goodness and mercy all our days. We trust Him for the days ahead and so despite disappointments are of good heart. May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with us all.

 


Staying in Touch: God's Word for our Prayers (17 July 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

The gift of God's word to give us words to pray


Have you been giving thanks over this period of Covid lockdown with its weariness and anxieties for the gift of words? The gift God gives us in His Word of words by which we can address Him, bring our hearts to Him? I have. When I am tired and weary I often find words to speak to God hard to find, or hard to give them any structure or flow. I want to pray but find it hard to start, hard to fashion the thoughts and words I need. When I am anxious and preoccupied I can easily find myself unable to see beyond the present concern, fixated on my troubles, almost imprisoned in them in my prayers. I can lose sight of God’s greatness, or of others and other concerns that are equally deserving of my prayers. At these times the words God has given us to pray to Him I have found so helpful in bringing my heart to my heavenly Father and in addressing my heart, so that my soul is encouraged and refreshed. Let me share some of this gift with you, so that these words can also serve you in your need.


The Lord's Prayer


Take the Lord’s prayer that I pray every day. ‘Hallowed be thy name’. First and before everything else I am praying that my Father would cause me to treat His name, His revelation of who He is, with all seriousness. I am asking God to move me in all that is happening to believe everything He has said about Himself – His might and His steadfast love, His holiness and mercy. More, that I would believe all His promises, heed all His warnings. And in this prayer, with its ‘our’s, I am praying that not just for me but for every believer I know. In this petition the Lord has given me words to ask for my greatest need at any time, but particularly at this time, the need to know my God and live as one who knows Him. And then my heart is turned away from the world to focus my longing on the coming of our Lord Jesus in glory – ‘Thy kingdom come’. God has a plan and that will climax in the exaltation of His Son when every knee bows to Him and the new heaven and earth is established. Longing for that time is so health giving, and to orient my heart to that great goal gives me perspective on what I experience now.

 In every line of this prayer Jesus gave His followers I can express my present need and concerns, not just for me but for my brothers and sisters. ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ – we can commit our concern about our livelihoods to Him and be assured He has heard us in our concern. And if you have been blessed as I have with more than sufficient provision, in this phrase we can ask for grace to use what He has entrusted to us well at this time, to share that daily bread with those in need. I won’t go through the other lines as I want to draw your attention to the other God given words of address, but if you are weary, or you are finding it hard to structure your longings and needs, try these words, the words of the Lord’s prayer, that can encompass all our relationships and needs.


The Prayers of Paul


But we do have other prayers. Take Paul’s thanksgivings and prayers, found at the beginning of so many of his letters [Romans 1:8-10, 15:30-33; 1 Cor. 1:4-9; Eph. 1:15-23, 3:14-21; Phil. 1:3-4, 9-11; Col. 1:3-4, 9-12; 1 Thess. 1:2-3, 3:11-13; 2 Thess. 1:3, 11-12]. We know this is a time to be praying for one another, but what to pray as you look at those names in the daily devotion or in the directory. What to pray is a challenge if you don’t know that brother or sister or their circumstances well. God gives us words in His word. I turn to Paul and am encouraged to give thanks for your faith and love. For me, that thanksgiving is a reassuring reminder even when I can’t see you of God’s work in you that will keep you and grow you.

Then, for example, taking Paul’s words in Philippians I pray that your love would abound in knowledge and discernment so that you will approve what is excellent and be kept pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness. And isn’t it good to seek this for each other from God. It is easy at this time for our love, like our engagement with others, to shrink, not abound. And it can be perplexing with all these restrictions to know how to love, and especially to know what is best – we need knowledge and discernment. And with the temptations of isolation to selfishness and indulgence we need to be kept pure and blameless. These words God gives us to pray bring us to pray for each other what we really need.

Or consider Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 that we would grow in knowledge of Christ’s love for us. When we are enduring trial as we are, isn’t this a wonderful thing, a most necessary work of God, to be able to seek from God for each other, for each of your brothers and sisters. Knowing the love of Jesus is the source of joyful endurance and thankful perseverance in following Jesus, a driver of transforming growth to be like Jesus. To pray that our brother or sister would know more of that love is timely, loving, service of them.


The Psalms


But the biggest collection of words that God gives us by which we can address Him is found in the Psalms. Here we find words that match all our circumstances. There may be times when you are longing for relief. God teaches you to pray “How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” Psalm 13. You may be facing trouble, the hostility of others, and you are conscious of your own weakness and frailty. “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses” the Psalmist prays in Psalm 25:16-17. Or perhaps you are conscious of the distance that has entered into your relationship with God because of your sin, and you fear that, fear being cut off forever – God has given you Psalm 51.

This is just a small sample of the great treasure the Christian heart has in the Psalms. One more example. I am often full of needs, my own and others, and forget praise and thanksgiving, or find it hard. The Psalms help and correct me. This morning I read/prayed Psalm 147 out loud – “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God.” It was good, good to praise my God and in the process be reminded of the greatness of His might and love, that He is the God who rules over nature – sending the rain and snow, and the God who heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds [Ps. 147:3].

We are a society that loves novelty and that suggests that if the words are not your own your prayer or praise is not genuine. That is not true where our heart is in the words we have borrowed from others. Yet that is a belief that can frustrate our praying, burden us further when we are already weary. God has given us a great gift in giving us in His word words by which we can pray to Him. Use them so that your prayer life can be enabled and enriched at what is a testing time for so many of us. Use them so that you too can be thankful to our gracious God for the words He has given us to come to Him and receive from Him His mercy and grace in our need.


And as a postscript. Thank you again to all those who have filled out the survey. The staff and session have been discussing the responses and how they inform the development of our livestream over the coming months. We hope to publish the survey responses and the conclusions of our discussion next week, Lord willing.


Staying in Touch: Sustaining our Hope (10 July 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Disappointment and weariness


Like you I have spent the week digesting the Premier’s announcement on Tuesday of the re-imposition of Stage 3 restrictions in Melbourne. That re-imposition makes a tangible difference to our services which you will witness this Sunday, with only five allowed in the building for the production of the livestream. In the coming weeks we will go back to having more elements pre-recorded and less live from the building, with all the work that involves. Stage 3 restrictions also means that sadly we are unable to have visitors in our homes.


But it has been the emotional impact of the announcement that has struck me, articulated by many in terms of disappointment and weariness. Disappointment, not in the premier for making the call to re-impose restrictions, but in the growth of transmission that made the call sadly necessary. We were enjoying the easing up of restrictions, starting to hope that we would escape the more severe health and economic impacts of the virus, becoming more confident of a future we could plan and prosper in. But the Premier’s announcement reminded us that the threat to our lives and livelihood posed by the virus is real, it remains, and it will be a long time before we return to pre-covid normality. Confidence has again been replaced by doubt and uncertainty about our futures, and with the disappointment of our hopes many are feeling very weary, weary at the thought of again being restricted, again living with disrupted lives, and possibly, for those with children, again dealing with their schooling. That weariness, that loss of energy, can in turn make daily tasks more burdensome, daily relating more strained.


In this time of disappointment and weariness I want to encourage you to three things that will sustain you and renew hope.

Firstly, to continue to humble yourself under God’s mighty hand.

Secondly, to continue to look to Jesus

And thirdly to see your Father lovingly at work in your life for your good in these events.


Humbling ourselves under God's mighty hand


When encouraged by his wife to vent his anger and disappointment at the loss of all his property and children by cursing God, Job says to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” [Job. 2:10]. For Job, God was in control, He knew what He was doing, and He had a right to do what He was doing, because He is God, the Creator, just, all knowing, almighty. Job humbled himself before a God who is not accountable to us and whose thoughts are above our thoughts more than the heavens are above the earth – that is they exceed our grasp. That is the perspective of the faithful in Scripture.

The author of Lamentations, again confronting a loss far greater than ours in the destruction of Jerusalem says

"Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that good and bad come?
Why should a living man complain,
    a man, about the punishment of his sins? 
[Lam 3:38-39]

The Lord is in control, and He has a right to do what He has done.

In fact he sees in what has happened a call and an opportunity for a sinful generation to return to the Lord

"Let us test and examine our ways,
    and return to the Lord!"
 [Lam 3:40]

And don’t we pray that our generation also sees this reminder of their mortality and frailty as an opportunity to turn back to the true God.

Firstly, In the face of this disappointment we humble ourselves under the sovereign God’s rule over all things.


Continue to look to Jesus


Secondly, we continue to look to Jesus. As the author of Hebrews says

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." [Heb 12:1-3]

The author points us to Jesus’ example of persevering trust in God. So confident was He of His Father’s love and promise that He endured the cross and came to what the Father had promised Him [Ps. 110:1], exaltation to rule over all. Jesus’ example tells us God is faithful and His purpose for us is good. It is worth persevering in obedience to His will – trusting Jesus, obeying His command to love, giving thanks. But when we ‘consider Him’ we need to consider not only His example, but also our Lord’s promises and achievement.

He has promised rest to the weary.

"Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." [Matt 11:28]

A rest found in taking on His yoke, that is trusting Him and obeying His teaching instead of man made Pharisaical rules. He has in John 7 promised us His Spirit, the Spirit who is an ever renewed spring of life.

"Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive," [John 7:38-39a]

We should look to Jesus in our weariness for the rest and life He promises. And we should look to His achievement. In enduring the cross He has atoned for our sins. We are forgiven, reconciled, at peace, with God.


Know that your Father is lovingly at work for your good


And that means, thirdly, that in these events you can know that your Father is lovingly at work for your good. We have thought of what the author of Hebrews says about God’s discipline before, but it is worth reminding ourselves of it again.

"Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.'"
[Heb 12:5-6]

Discipline, while involving correction and reproof, is in the main training. It is shaping habits and character by constant work.

"It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 

If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." [Heb 12:7-8]

All God’s children participate in discipline. We should, if we are God’s true children, expect Him to use the circumstances of our life to turn us away from sin and nurture in us godly habits and character. We should not expect a trial or trouble free life. And he reminds us that we should welcome this discipline for our heavenly Father disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. Even though

"For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, we can be sure that later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." [Heb 12:11]


Hearing this it is worth reflecting on what sin your Father may be helping you confront by the trials of these times, and what habits He is trying to nurture in you. Is He training you not to see life through your feelings but through the promises in His Word? Is He helping you not to put your confidence in earthly treasure but in Him? Is He cultivating in you the health giving habit of daily thankfulness? Is He teaching you not to be self reliant in your planning but to truly submit your plans to His will, to truly say “Lord willing”? In your felt weakness is He teaching you to rely on His grace? Is He challenging you, even when all you feel like doing is withdrawing, to love your brothers and sisters, and so to find the joy of faithful service?


A lot more could be said about how we think through and live through our current circumstances, and I will be saying a little more, particularly the children, in the service on Sunday morning. But for now I would encourage you to reflect on the Scriptures mentioned and in your disappointment and weariness find encouragement and strength by continuing to humble yourself under God’s mighty hand continuing to look to Jesus and in these events continuing to see your Father, your Heavenly Father, lovingly at work in your life for your good.

 

Staying in Touch: Confidence in the Cross (3 July 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Thinking about ourselves in the current Covid crisis...

 

I have signed up to get the Corona Virus daily updates issued by the Chief Health Officer and they start by giving the number of new cases diagnosed in the previous day – 64 Tuesday, 73 Wednesday, 77 Thursday. I am sure these are numbers you are well aware of, numbers that concentrate the mind, numbers that have prompted the ‘lockdown’ of ten postcodes. Daily updates, hourly news bulletins, constant talk of the virus on the radio can have a kind of mesmerising effect where your thinking is full of the virus, your anxiety increased and your fears refreshed. Even the way we think of ourselves can become distorted. Who are we? We are the people threatened by/isolated by/ infected with/being tested for/in combat with – the virus!

But that is not who we are as believers in Jesus. We are people who, with the apostle Paul, boast of nothing other than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ [Gal. 6:14]. That may not be how you are thinking of yourself right now and that language may sound a little abstract. But learning to think of yourself as you are in Christ will be a source of strength, comfort and hope – it is health giving in a sick world. Let me show you.

 

What does it mean to boast in the cross?

 

First of all, what did Paul mean when he spoke in Galatians 6 of boasting in the cross? In Galatians 6:14-15 Paul writes

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”

Paul is contrasting himself with those who were trying to make the Galatian believers become circumcised and keep the law of Moses. These people wanted to avoid persecution for the cross and wanted the Galatians circumcised so that they could ‘boast in [the Galatians’] flesh.’ That is the Galatians being circumcised would both show the success of their mission and zeal for the law [helping them escape persecution by their fellow Jews] and reinforce their privilege as Jews and reliance on law keeping to be right with God. They were committed fundamentally to being proud of their human achievements, of their works to keep themselves as God’s people. Not so for Paul. He was committed to having only one boast, being proud of only one thing, and that is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ here refers not just to the event but to Jesus’ crucifixion as the way of salvation for sinners. Paul’s pride is in what empties him of pride, his boast is in what removes all boasting in human achievement. The cross itself is shameful and offensive, confronting to our sensibilities. To boast in the cross is to say that you are a sinner unable to save yourself, rightly condemned by God’s law to hell, and only Jesus dying in your place on that shameful cross can justify you – cause you to be declared right with God in the judgement [Gal. 3:13-14]. More, it is to say we come to be saved by Jesus’ death only by faith in God’s promise, in God’s gospel. It is a gracious gift to those who will repent and believe, who have done nothing and can do nothing to earn that gift. They can only receive what Christ has done for them.

 

And the cross changes everything. Paul, boasting in the cross, is done forever with the world, this present unredeemed creation, this place of reliance on ourselves and boasting in our own achievements. The world is crucified to him, exposed as weak and shameful, just as the world thinks Paul is weak and shameful in rejecting it for reliance on Jesus. But Paul does not mind for trusting Jesus crucified means he is qualified to share in the new creation as God’s child [1:4, 4:1-6] and the old distinctions have no relevance.

Now you might be thinking – that was a few minutes of solid theology, but how is it helpful? How does boasting in the cross inform our present experience? In four ways.

 

The helpfulness of boasting in the cross

 

Firstly, boasting in the cross reminds us of the character of the world we live in. It is a world populated by sinners under judgment. It will never be heaven on earth. We should not be surprised when people live selfishly and our lives are impacted by that selfishness. We should not be surprised that God is still active in the world in judgment, judgments that are deserved and which should humble our pride. The cross reminds us of the reality and seriousness of sin, of how out of order a world is that hates and wants to murder, its Maker. It helps us understand our times, and that our world is passing away.

 

Secondly, boasting in the cross reminds us that we can be confident of our relationship with our heavenly Father. Trusting in Jesus crucified, joined to Him in His death and resurrection by faith, we are justified – forgiven, reckoned as those who have no debt to His law. We are adopted as God’s children who call out to Him Abba, Father [Gal. 4:4-6]. In all that happens we are not experiencing His anger but are being treated with Fatherly love. That doesn’t mean my life won’t be disrupted by Covid. It does mean that in that disruption I can be confident my Father is working His good Fatherly purpose for me, disciplining me in love so that I come to all that He has promised me. When you are lying awake at night thinking about your finances or your health or your child’s disrupted education it makes a difference to be confident that you are the almighty God’s loved child – not because you have earned it, but because of Jesus and His death.

 

Thirdly boasting in the cross reminds us that what matters now, in these present trying circumstances, is living as we now are as those saved through faith in Christ’s death. We are to live as God’s children, living lives of faith active in love as we keep in step with God’s Spirit in us [Gal. 5:6, 22-25]. So boasting in the cross orients me away from myself and a preoccupation with my own concerns to considering others, to practice the one anothers in the power of God’s Spirit. Free – freed from earning salvation, and freed from fear of death and condemnation, we are, in Paul’s word, to ‘serve one another in love’ [Gal. 5:13-14].

 

Fourthly and finally, boasting in the cross means we are confident of the future. The cross of Christ has gained us entry into the new creation. Forgiven, we have a sure hope, a hope guaranteed to us now by the gift of the Holy Spirit. What happens to us now is not final, and we do not invest anything here with permanence. Our home is in heaven now, and we are journeying through life to the heavenly city and will have a sure welcome there because of the cross of Jesus.

 

So believer, be someone who every day boasts in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is proud to confess themselves saved by the death of Jesus, justified by faith, by grace, on the grounds of Christ’s death for our sin. Such boasting will give perspective on your current circumstances, assure you of your Almighty Father’s love, focus you on living a life of love now and sustain you with a confident hope. It will sustain the health of your soul in an ailing world.

 

Staying in Touch: Dealing with dissappointment (25 June 2020)

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WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Dealing with dissappointment 


Were you disappointed and a little disheartened this week by the increase in community transmission and the consequent re-imposition of stricter limits on gatherings in your own home and the failure to further ease restrictions on public gatherings? I was. It wasn’t a particularly conscious reaction. I just felt deflated, felt the return of that nagging uncertainty about what will happen. Intellectually I know Australia has embraced a suppression strategy and that means there is always the possibility of local outbreaks requiring vigorous response from the health authorities and the need for continuing vigilance by us all. But what I had allowed myself to hope for was that we were past the danger and were on the steady, smooth, predictable path to normality – that the economy would re-open, people would start to return to work, and we could plan for more face to face contact. And we were planning – talking with growth group leaders about changes possible with the permission to have twenty persons in your home, starting to think about a term 3 with Kid’s Club and Youth Group and daytime ministries in the building. All that is now shrouded in Covid uncertainty, the smooth path looking more like saw’s teeth, and the dark cloud of economic damage growing larger on the near horizon. Disappointment of our expectations, even of unarticulated hopes, and the return of uncertainty and anxiety about an unknown future, can drain us of energy and motivation, get us down even if there is little external change in our lives. How do we deal with it as believers?


Dissappointment in the bible


If there was ever a person who was entitled to feel let down and disappointed it was Joseph in the prison in Egypt. The story is there in Genesis 37-50, and especially chapters 40-41. Joseph, having been sold into slavery by his brothers and transported to Egypt, was now in prison after being falsely accused of attempting to take advantage of his master Potiphar’s wife. While in prison, after ‘some time’, he meets Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and baker who one morning are troubled by dreams they have had. When interpreting the chief cupbearer’s dream as showing that the he will be restored to Pharaoh’s service in three days Joseph says “When all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness: mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.” Joseph had done nothing to deserve being in prison, and now he had a hope of getting out. You can almost feel Joseph’s expectation of release from this unjust, unfair, and miserable prison existence growing. And it would be easy for him to see the hand of God in it. It was a God given opportunity, for God had sent the butler, given the dream, and given the interpretation of the dream. Wasn’t this God hearing his prayers and releasing him?


But it was not to be. Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams was proved true but Genesis 40 ends with these words: “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” And Genesis 41 starts with these words “After two whole years ….” Two whole years. Two whole years of being confined to the guard house, of being engaged with menial service, of being unable to experience freedom. That is a good length of time to let disappointment grow into anger and hatred of the person who forgot him and all the others – his brothers and Potiphar – who had landed him in goal. Plenty of time to let disappointed expectation grow into doubt about God’s interest or care, or doubt about whether it is worth living His way because doing the right thing hadn’t got Joseph anywhere but into difficulty.


We don’t know the inner workings of Joseph’s mind. But we do know Joseph in his disappointment gave in to none of those temptations. When after two years the chief cupbearer finally remembers Joseph and commends him to Pharaoh as an interpreter of dreams Joseph is still confident in God’s power and in his relationship with God. He responds to Pharaoh’s request for interpretation of his dream by saying “I cannot do it but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires [41:16].” For Joseph God gives dreams, God is in charge of the climate – what the coming years will bring, God determines the outcome of history, and God in His goodness gives an opportunity to prepare for what is to come. Then after nine years, when Joseph’s brothers are in his power, he does not seek vengeance but to do good because he can see the Lord’s hand in all that has happened. When he reveals himself to them as the brother they knew they had sold into slavery he says to them “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. …… God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. [Gen. 45:5-7 ESV]”


What prevented Joseph from being overwhelmed with disappointment and growing distant from God in those two years? What prevented Joseph when he had great power from exercising it in vengeance? Promise, Presence, and a grasp of providential rule. For Joseph the dreams that earned him the anger of his brothers were God making a promise about his future [Gen. 37:1-11]. His confidence that God spoke through dreams is a prominent and consistent feature of his whole life. He had a promise from God, and he believed God would keep His word. Secondly, the LORD was with Him, and ‘showed him steadfast love’ [Gen. 39:21]. Just as He was faithful to God so the LORD was faithful to him, and never abandoned him [39:2, 9, 23]. Joseph’s responses to requests for interpretation of dreams shows that Joseph’s was a conscious dependence on God. He knew the LORD was with Him, and he knew the LORD who was with Him. And thirdly, he knew he was not God but the LORD who was God ruled over all things. There was no reason why things should work out the way Joseph wanted. He was not in charge. But the LORD was in charge, and what we see in Joseph’s story is that the LORD being in charge is good. If Joseph had been released on Joseph’s desired timetable, the day or the month after the chief cupbearer had been released because the cupbearer had been the reliable and grateful friend he should have been, Joseph would not have been there to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Two more years in prison meant he was in the right place at the right time not only to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, but to be elevated to be in charge of Egypt over the coming years so that Egypt would be able to survive and prosper through the coming seven lean years. Two more years in prison therefore meant that Joseph was in a position to be the Saviour of his family when those famine years drove them to Egypt to find grain. Joseph trusted the LORD’s rule over history, over the events of human life, and his life showed that the LORD ruled over history to fulfill his good promises and purposes for His people. That rule encompassed even the thoughtless, incompetent, and sinful actions of people. On Jacob’s death he could say to his fearful brothers, terrified that Joseph had only been delaying vengeance for the sake of their father, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear .. . [Gen. 50:19-21]."


Joseph dealt with disappointment because he had faith in the faithfulness of God to His promises, he knew the presence of God, that God was with him, and because he had confidence in the rule of the almighty God to govern human affairs to achieve His good purposes, purposes bigger and better than his own plans and desires.


When dissappointment comes...


For us this is an up and down time, and the coming months might see more reversals of the progress to normality we hope for, more times when we will feel a little deflated and down. But we should deal with them like Joseph. We should remember the good promises of God to us, that we are His children and that He will work all things now for our good, our conformity to His Son Jesus [Rom. 8:28-29] and will bring us to reign with Jesus [Rom. 8:16-25]. We should know and be confident that God is with us, for He has given us His Spirit to dwell in us and the Lord Jesus has said He is with us always. And we should trust our almighty Father’s providential rule over all things, including over who gets the virus and when. His purposes are bigger and better than our plans and desires, and we will be released from restrictions, return to meeting, at the time that is best for His people and the gospel mission, best for the fulfilment of His purposes in Christ.


And knowing God’ promise, purpose and providential rule we should walk by faith and not be driven by our feelings. So let’s not give in to frustration but keep on submitting to government and their directives to slow the spread, let’s not give in to fear about health or finances but keep on loving our neighbours as we have opportunity, and let’s not give in to anxiety but keep on rejoicing in the Lord as we commit our cares to Him with thanksgiving that our heavenly Father, who rules over all things, hears us, loves us, and will only give us good things [Matt. 7:7-11].


Staying in Touch: Praying Big Prayers (19 June 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

Neil has also breifly written about resuming use of the building and a survey about the livestream which are NOT included in the audio transcript. To read these updates please click here

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Pray big prayers to our great God.

 

Someone said to me after the prayer meeting that it had changed a little from our first meeting. They weren’t referring to the fact that we were on Zoom, but to the content of our prayers. From the outset our monthly prayer meeting was to pray for big things – for the salvation of our neighbours, for the repentance of our nation, for the Lord to raise up many gospel labourers who would speak the gospel clearly and boldly amongst us and throughout the world, for the holiness and purity of His church as we live in the world, for the return of our Lord. But with Covid 19 and the isolation and disruption it has brought more of our prayers have been understandably directed towards sustaining the life of our scattered congregation and for mercy on our nation. This is quite proper – that we should approach the throne of grace for mercy and grace to help us in this time of need – and the observation wasn’t a criticism.

 

But I want to encourage you to keep praying those big prayers. One of the effects of the pandemic and the government response to it has been to restrict our engagement with others, and with that has come a narrowing of our focus – to ourselves and those with whom we are in close contact – and a limiting of our horizon – to the next few weeks, or the next few months, with all that follows enveloped in a cloud of uncertainty. Our subjective world has shrunk, and that can be reflected in our prayers. Yet our God has not shrunk. What challenges us is no challenge to Him. What exhausts us does not tire Him [Psalm 121]. What perplexes us, disorients us, does not perplex Him. It is good to remember how big our God is. He is, as He said to Abraham, God Almighty. Nothing is too hard for Him, whether it is giving a child to the barren Sarah [Ge. 18:14], rescuing the remnant of Judah from captivity in Babylon [Jer. 32:17, 26], bringing us a Saviour born of a virgin [Lk. 1:37] or saving into His kingdom men and women like the rich young ruler enslaved to their love of wealth and self [Mk. 10:27]. Nothing stops our God from doing what He wills to do. As the Psalmist says “Our God is in heaven, He does all that He pleases [Ps. 115:3],” for He is the only God, the Creator, and He has no rivals who can challenge Him or overthrow His rule [Is. 42:5-9, 43:13, 45:5-7, 18-23]. We can keep asking for big things for saving people in and through a pandemic, working good for His people in and through a pandemic, is no problem for Him.

 

And nothing takes Him by surprise. Our plans might have been disrupted, but not His. He knows the end from the beginning [Is. 46:9-10] for it is His purpose that is established. He knows us through and through, even knowing our words before they are spoken [Ps. 139:1-6]. He is not overwhelmed with detail. As our Lord says ‘Not one of these [sparrows] will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Even the hairs of your head are all numbered [Matt. 10:29-30]’. He does not make mistakes in ordering the circumstances of our individual lives to achieve His good purposes for us, turning us to Christ and transforming us to become more and more like Christ in our character as His children.

Our God is great, and He has revealed a great purpose which He is bringing about in Christ. We know that purpose – to bless all the nations in Abraham [Gen. 12:3], to bring people from every nation and tongue to praise Him for saving them through Christ [Matt. 28:18-20, Rev. 5:9-14], to bring the day when all see that it is through the crucified Lord Jesus that He fulfills His plan for the fullness of time [Eph. 1:10], the day when every knee bows to the one who humbled Himself to die on the cross [Phil. 2:9-10]. This is a big purpose, one that encompasses all people, all time, all creation. It is for the fulfilment of this purpose that we pray our big prayers, trusting not only in God’s great power and wisdom but also in His great love and rich mercy. Like His power and wisdom that love and mercy exceeds the limits of our understanding. It exceeds our own small love of others and can encompass a world living in determined rebellion [John 3:16, Eph. 2:3-5], encompass those we find difficult to love.

 

So because our God is the LORD, Father, Son and Spirit, the only God, we should be praying big prayers for the salvation of others, big prayers for the repentance of our nation, big prayers for the exaltation of Jesus as Lord amongst us and His revealing at the last day. And we mustn’t be discouraged when we can’t see how God can answer them, can’t see how it is possible to undo the tangle of lies that has trapped many of our neighbours or break their slavery to sin, can’t see how we can even gain their attention. Our God can bring water from the rock, give sight to the blind, make the deaf hear, raise the dead. He achieves His big purpose in surprising ways, ways we would never think of. The cross of Jesus has taught us that. So don’t be discouraged if our programs for evangelism and discipleship have been paused or thrown into disarray and relationships disrupted. Don’t be discouraged if you think you can’t answer all the questions family and friends might have. Don’t even be discouraged by your awareness of the painful inconsistencies in your own life that you fear will turn others away. Speak of the Jesus you know in the gospel, scatter that gospel word around you, and be asking God who can do all things, who has said His power is made perfect in weakness [2 Cor. 12:9-10], to do the big things, to do what is impossible for us, and to give life to those dead in sin we know and long to see saved.

 

A prescription for refreshment in wearying times and a correction for small views of God – Read Isaiah 40 out loud.

 

Resuming Building Use.

 

The BOM has been making plans for the resumption of use of the building by ministries and growth groups as restrictions are further eased. We anticipate groups e.g. youth group or Explorers, will be able to start using the building when term 3 starts. In conjunction with the office staff they have developed guidelines for building use, for using the kitchen, and for cleaning. If you visit the building you will see signs displayed giving the allowed number of people in each room and what you have to do to clean that room, as well as a log to record your presence.

Building users will need to apply through the office for use of the building. Even if you were regularly using the building before the shutdown you will need to contact the office before you resume using the building.

 

The ministries resuming using the building will have an increased cleaning load both before and after their ministry time. We are hoping to recruit teams of volunteers to relieve them of some of that burden by coming in and cleaning after the ministry has finished. For example, a team of people to come into the building in the middle of the day after Explorers has finished so the already tired leaders don’t have to clean while also supervising their children. Or a team to come in after Kid’s Club and before Youth Group on a Friday evening. Being on a cleaning team is a simple but very encouraging way of loving your brothers and sisters who are giving of their time and energy to run these ministries of evangelism and discipleship. It is also a way of getting out and meeting others as you serve. Think and pray about whether this is a service you can perform and click here if you'd like to volunteer.

Survey of use of Livestream.

 

Next Monday regulars will receive a separate email inviting you to participate in a survey of your experience of our live streamed services and also asking some questions about when you might feel comfortable in returning to the building. It will help us in planning those live-streamed services, and also in thinking about resuming face to face services. If you could open the email, click on the link, and complete the survey it would be much appreciated. 


Staying in Touch: Encouragement (12 June 2020)

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WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

I often feel that in these communications I am either sharing our responses as a congregation to changing government regulations or exhorting you to perseverance in the face of the restrictions and anxieties we are living with. Both are necessary but as I look out the window at God’s beautiful winter sunshine, the light highlighting the colours in Jayne’s geraniums, I thought I would talk about what has encouraged me this week, besides the sunshine, in the hope that it might also encourage you to keep on living the thankful life of a follower of Jesus.

The Service of Others.

I have been encouraged throughout the week by the service of others. By the faithfulness of Paul, Andrew and Jeremy as they show up every Sunday to livestream the service at 10 and 5, and by all those who participate in the service, often showing thought and making a great effort [think recorded children’s talks] to teach and edify us. But it is not just the service of those who bring us the Sunday Services that has encouraged me. This week I have had the great pleasure of meeting [on Zoom] with our Growth Group leaders and the leaders of Explorers and Mainly Music. It is their efforts that have kept so many of us connected with each other and engaged in living through this time as disciples of Jesus. It is their preparation, planning, prayers and persistence in staying in touch that many of us benefit from each week, and I find their love of Jesus’ people because they love Jesus a great encouragement.

Many of you will know their work, but there are also brothers and sisters labouring away that you do not see. Last night I met with our Board of Management to discuss the steps involved in opening up the building. Their service and their different skills are a reminder to me that the Lord provides us in each other all the gifts we need for sustaining our life together as we use our gifts in love. The outcome of their work and the work of the office is that we will have guidelines for cleaning the building, guidelines for recording attendance, and guidelines for the use of the kitchen and food that will allow even now some growth groups to start using the building for face to face meetings, and allow other larger groups [e.g. youth group] to commence activities again in the building in term 3 if restrictions are further eased to allow groups of up to 100 to meet indoors. The BOM also manages our finances, and that brings me to my second encouragement – your generosity.

Generosity.

As part of meeting with the BOM I learnt that in May you have given $15,080 for the hardship fund, and this was extra to your continuing generous support of the ministry of the church. Your trusting generosity [2 Cor. 9:6-11] at a time when it is easy to be anxious about the country’s and our own economic position is very encouraging to the BOM, the staff and the deacons who are dealing with those in need. What is particularly encouraging for me is knowing that you have been listening to Jesus and trusting Him as He calls us to store up treasure in heaven, serve God only, and seek His kingdom first [Matthew 6:19-34]. Such trusting obedience is encouraging for I know that you will have the joy of finding Him faithful.

Constant Encouragement

In addition to these encouragements I have also known encouragement from that permanent reservoir of life-giving refreshment, the Scriptures. Listening to Clinton preach on Ephesians 2:11-22 last Sunday morning and Chris on Psalm 51 on Sunday evening was a reminder of the great gifts we have in Christ – peace with the living, holy, righteous God and inclusion in His people, and the wonder of being forgiven through the death of Jesus. It is so good to be lifted out of present concerns and anxieties and remember that the living God is gracious and for us. Knowing this I can be confident that He is working out His good purpose for me, and for you, in these events, whether that is turning us away from trusting in worldly wealth, teaching us patience, refining and teaching us to value our hope in Christ, or giving us the experience of trusting Jesus in trial and finding Him faithful to keep us.

And it is not just the Scriptures preached but the Scriptures read and meditated on. It was balm to my soul to be reminded from 2 Timothy 2:9 that the word of God is not bound, that no restrictions restrict the word of God from doing its work in saving the Lord’s people. And as some of you know I have been reading Galatians where the Lord has encouraged me to remember that I should not grow weary of doing good [and isn’t that a temptation where all our contact with others must be so intentional] “for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up [Gal. 6:9].”

More, in Galatians are Paul’s extraordinary words, all the more extraordinary because every believer can share them, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me [Gal. 2:20].” To unpack those words would require another, much longer, communication, but let your mind linger on the last sentence. You may be weary, anxious about the future, burdened with loneliness, troubled by a sense of failure, or just down like many are at this time – but if you are a believer, who believes and confesses the truth of the gospel that Christ has died for your sins and been raised from the dead to reign forever, these words are equally true for you, as they are amazingly true for me. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, the one through whom and for whom all things were made, the glorious King with all authority, not only knows me – and that in itself is extraordinary – but He loves me, though my love for Him is so small, and my service so meagre. He loves me and has secured me for Himself for ever by giving Himself for me, so that I am now justified before the holy God and will share in the new creation. For encouragement turn that sentence around in your head, wonder at it as you consider the loveliness and the greatness of Jesus, and the reality of your own smallness and sin. Know it to be true, not because of anything you could ever expect or do, but because God has said it, and God has given His Son to save you.

God has given me a lot of encouragement this week – in His people, and in His word. And the encouragement of His word is there for you as well. I hope in these thirsty times you are drinking deeply of the refreshing water of His truth.

Staying in Touch: Endurance (5 June 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT


“You have heard of the steadfastness of Job" (James 5:11)

I hope so because steadfastness, or endurance, or perseverance – the Greek noun can have this range of senses – is one of the virtues that the Lord has been helping some of us develop in this time of disruption and isolation. I say some of us because we have amongst us those who are outstanding models of endurance, those who have persevered in trusting Jesus for many years under the trial of chronic illness and pain. But for many of us this time where we have lived under circumstances that we do not like, even resent, but cannot change has called for an unfamiliar endurance.

For most of our lives we have been able to live the life we more or less wanted to live – to go where we wanted, to do what we wanted, to change our circumstances where they became unpleasant, to purposefully pursue improvement. But for these few months we have been stuck, living under restrictions we did not choose for ourselves, living with fears and anxieties that we are not familiar with, living separated from people and activities that have refreshed us and brought us pleasure. And we have just had to endure, for it was not within our power to change those circumstances. So even as restrictions start to ease I want to talk with you about the necessity and value of endurance so that you can be thankful, amongst the many things we have to be thankful for, for the Lord helping you to learn or grow in endurance through this time.


Endurance is necessary.

Our Lord, speaking of the trials His followers will face in a world that has rejected his rule – war, earthquake, famine, pestilence as well as betrayal and hatred, even from those close to us [Luke 21:10-17]- says “By your endurance you will gain your souls." [Luke 21:19] [cf. Matt. 10:22, 24:13] It is only as we endure, as we  keep on holding fast to Jesus, trusting Him by believing His promises and doing what He commands in all the circumstances of our lives, that we will be saved in the end. Paul writes “If we endure with Him, we will reign with Him." [2 Tim. 2:12] There is no other way to be saved than by persevering in faith in Jesus even as we endure trial for faithfulness to Jesus. But endurance is not only necessary for salvation, it is necessary for fruitfulness. In Luke’s telling of the parable of the four soils Jesus says that the good soil are those “who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." [Lk. 8:15 NIV] It is only as we keep on keeping on in the Christian life that we bear fruit, both the fruit of growth in Christlikeness and the fruit of a consistent witness to Christ in others turning to Him. As the author of Hebrews writes “You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised". [Heb. 10:36]


Endurance is Purposeful.

But sometimes, perhaps often, when our suffering in trial is great we can wonder why God our Father doesn’t just end it all now, or at least our time on this earth. Why can’t we just skip the need for perseverance by going to be with the Lord straight away. In those times we need to remind ourselves that endurance is modelled by Jesus and one of the means by which God furthers His good purpose in our lives, His purpose to help us grow in Christlikeness. In Hebrews we are called to look to Jesus ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross’ and to ‘consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself’ so that we may not grow weary or fainthearted [Heb. 12:2-3]. The author goes on to describe the hardship and trial we might face as followers of Jesus as discipline and says “It is for discipline that you have to endure”. The need for endurance is a sign that God is treating us as sons and through endurance disciplining us, that is training us, so that we have the character of His sons, training that ‘yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness’ [Heb. 12:5-11]. There is an enduring good being worked in us through our endurance. Paul takes up the same theme. “Suffering” he writes “produces endurance, and endurance character, and character produces hope". [Romans 5:3-5] We cannot develop that tested life that has found God faithful to His word and so grows strong in hope without enduring trial. Our heavenly Father trains us in godliness of character and nurtures in us a confident hope, a hope that in its turn is lifegiving in the darkest times, through endurance. But the good our God works through endurance does not just end with us. The comfort we receive from God as we endure trial equips us to comfort others [2 Cor. 1:3-7] and just as it was for Paul our endurance, our perseverance, can commend our ministry to others so that they will receive the word of grace [2 Cor. 6:4].


Endurance needs to keep good company.

Endurance, however, is not to stand alone, a grim, isolated tenacity. In 2 Peter 1 it stands amongst a list of qualities that a believer is to pursue – knowledge, self-control, godliness, love and more [2 Peter 1:5-8]. And in Romans 12 Paul sandwiches endurance between joy and prayerfulness – "Rejoicing in hope, enduring [‘patient in’ ESV, NIV] trial, faithful or constant in prayer" [Rom. 12:12] Both hope and prayer turn us away from ourselves to look to our God, and that is the stance of our endurance. We endure because we look to our God, we are confident in His faithfulness to His promises, and we trust His good and loving purpose in our lives. James, after drawing our attention to the perseverance of Job continued “and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful" [James 5:11]. Just as endurance produces hope, hope in God, "the God of endurance and encouragement" [Rom. 15:5], produces endurance. It is the hope that has its foundation in the truth of the gospel that Christ has died for our sins, so we are sure both of His love and of our forgiveness and peace with God, sure that He who did not spare us His own but gave Him up for us all will graciously give us with Him all things [Rom. 8:32]. He will bring us to all that He has promised, so we eagerly look forward to that hope through ‘perseverance’ [Rom. 8:25].


What is for most of us a small hardship is a time to welcome and be thankful for our heavenly Father nurturing endurance in us as we practice faithful obedience in circumstances we don’t like but cannot change. As we each day decide to ‘rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything’ [1 Thess. 5:16-18] even if being isolated makes us feel flat and down, as we each day decide to make the effort to love others because our Lord commands us to even when we just want to withdraw, as we confess we are loved, no matter our loss of work or of company, because Christ has died for us, we are learning perseverance by practicing perseverance. Remember, that perseverance has a great outcome, the salvation of our souls. So like Paul pray for each other that we might “be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light" [Col. 1:11-12]. 


Pastors Update: As restrictions ease (29 May 2020)

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Hello Brothers and Sisters


Change is afoot. Children are going back to school, and from this Monday we can have 20 people in church and you can have 20 people in your home. And more change is mooted to follow this first easing of restrictions. The government is speaking of opening up concert venues and theatres by June 21st and allowing up to 50 people to gather in them, and in restaurants and café’s. It has even suggested that all being well café’s and restaurants may be able to have 100 people in them by mid-July if all goes well, and we assume there will be a similar easing of restrictions around gatherings in churches.


The long road out of Covid-19

We should be very grateful for the low rate of transmission that has made this relaxation possible. But what do these changes mean for us and our activities? Is there now a pathway we can see to a return to ‘normal’ activities? Should we anticipate a quick return to face to face meetings, a resumption of our normal Sunday gatherings?

I, like you, long for things to return to normal. I miss gathering on a Sunday. I miss the opportunity to see you all, to catch up on how you are going, to be encouraged by our being together. I am over having to worry about how close I am to someone or whether this or that innocent activity will breach the regulations.

But we must recognise that the road out of Covid 19 restrictions will be quite different from the road in to Covid 19 restrictions. Back in March we moved in to Covid 19 restrictions abruptly, and we were all in together. It was a complete shutdown of face to face meetings in the space of a week.

But the road out will involve many stages, it will extend over months if not years, its progress may be interrupted by an increase in Covid transmission, and we will travel along that road at different speeds as all our circumstances are different. Some of us have health conditions, some have elderly parents, some of us will be more confident, some more anxious. And at no stage along the road will things be normal until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment. All the way along we will have to practice hand hygiene and social distancing, continue to be aware of the risk of transmission.


Knowing the road will be long and involve various stages I want to encourage you to two things.

Firstly I want to encourage you to think about the opportunities this staged pathway of easing restrictions might bring, opportunities for service, opportunities to do what Jesus calls us to do, to make disciples – to help our neighbours hear the gospel and to help each other grow in maturity as believers in Jesus.

Secondly I want to encourage you to continue to show grace and patience to each other in our differences, and particularly the difference amongst us about how comfortable we may feel about meeting face to face in groups. Given that encouragement is the main goal of this talk.


What will lifted restrictions mean for church on Sundays?

The question that is on the minds of many – does this relaxation of restrictions mean we are planning to return to ‘normal’ Sunday services as soon as possible, say when gatherings of 100 are permitted. Sadly no – and it is sad because as I have said like many of you I miss the encouragement of gathering, that opportunity to catch up – Session does not think that even if gatherings of up to 100 are allowed we should be planning to resume face to face Sunday services in the building.

As this will disappoint many of you let me explain why.

The main reason is that the gathering would not be ‘normal’. At the moment we have to continue to observe the ‘density quotient’, that is to make sure not only that there is 1.5 metres between people but that there is four square metres per person. That will mean that the people present would have to be spread out and some would have to be located in the hall [the auditorium can only take 73 people under this rule]. For the purposes of the density quotient children, including babies, count as one. Your children would also be staying with you throughout the service. With the density quotient it would be very hard to run Sunday school or creche, maintaining social distancing for the teachers would be difficult, and repeated cleaning, especially of toys, will be needed. There would be no staying afterwards and no morning tea or supper, at least at the beginning. The government has suggested that there should be an hour between one event finishing and one event starting in the same space, and finishing means leaving the building so that it can be cleaned between services. There are also concerns about singing with well known cases of massive transmission in choirs. Singing seems to put more infected droplets in the air for longer, and also increases the amount of air inhaled. We think church with one hundred would be a far from normal experience, and a not particularly satisfactory one.

In addition the numbers don’t work for us. All our services had over 100 people attending in February, and our morning services are well over that number. The average for 2019 for 9:00 am was about 115 adults and 80 children, and for 11:00 am 103 adults and 64 children, and numbers had increased in February of this year. If you all wanted to attend a face to face service we would have to multiply services. If we did not multiply services how would we decide who would attend? And would we turn away visitors when the 100 was reached? More, we know from conversations there are different levels of keenness to attend at the moment. Some do not have the confidence yet to be in a gathering of 100, and some advised that they should not attend.

What starting services when we are allowed to have only 100 in the building would do is divide us, not unite us. It would also run the risk of exhausting us as we tried to replicate the service multiple times and diverting energy from other ways of encouraging and edifying each other.

In restarting face to face services we also run the risk of losing people who have been tuning in to our online service, some of whom are people you have been inviting to watch the service with you and for whom the thought of being in our building holds no attraction, especially in the circumstances that prevail. While we could stream services with 100 present in the building they would have quite a different feel to our present streamed service, and quite a different focus – not on our shared experience of being at home but on the people present in the building.

For all these reasons we will continue to focus our efforts on producing the two live streamed services and trying to improve what we do. As by this Sunday they will have been running for about ten weeks at some time in the next month we will be in touch to ask you about your experience of these services, how you are watching them e.g. straight through, or interrupted; with others or alone, and whether they are encouraging you to persevere at this time.


As it will be a long road back to pre-Covid confidence in meeting we will be continuing to monitor developments and will have time, when the time is right, to prepare for a return to Sunday face to face services. Over that time the community will also be able to observe the impact of the relaxation of restrictions and if all goes well there may be a growing confidence across the board in meeting together. But like everyone we will have to wait and see.


Embracing the opportunities

This time has made us more aware of the online opportunities for evangelism and encouragement of believers. It has been a joy to see some of our overseas friends join us, and to see some who have difficulty attending because of distance or frailty being able to more easily share with us in this time. So even when, Lord willing, we are back in our face to face Sunday gatherings we will be seeking to continue that online encouragement in some form.

When gatherings of up to 100 are allowed we will also consider ways in which those who are really keen to be back in the building can join us, but it will be far from a ‘normal’ experience. We know there will be varying views on returning to face to face services, so we are happy to hear your thoughts or answer your questions about it.

But as said before the main purpose of this talk is to encourage you to focus on the opportunities this staged relaxation of restrictions gives you and to make use of them. When Paul was in prison  we learn from his letter to the Philippians that his main goal was that Christ would be magnified, seen by all to have the greatness that He has as the one who all will confess as Lord Phil. 1:20. He did not spend his time talking about his plans for when imprisonment was over, or lamenting the loss of opportunity for ministry imprisonment had caused. Being content in Christ [4:11-13] he was able to focus on his present and advancing the gospel in his present circumstances so that even those who were watching over him knew his imprisonment was for Christ 1:12-13.

This should be our attitude. The Lord reigns, and we are in these circumstances because He has willed it for us for now. We are to make it our aim, as always, to please Him [2 Cor. 5:9-10] and that includes seeking to make disciples. Many of you have been doing that. You have been discipling your children, using the time to teach them what it is to be a follower of Jesus. You have been inviting people around as you can, sharing with neighbours, encouraging each other in conversation over the phone.


Relaxing restrictions gives more opportunities and there are also continuing on line opportunities at this time. You can have another family around to your home, or have your growth group around. You can invite your neighbours to play dates, or invite them to an online Christianity explored course. If the restrictions are relaxed to fifty then one or two growth groups could join together for events, overcoming the isolation and giving those who desire it an opportunity to be with others. There are opportunities now to read the bible with others. Relaxing restrictions gives many personal opportunities to get together with others and show hospitality. Many are longing for that human company that encourages, and with the return of children to school some may have more time in the day to meet and talk. But we need to seize these opportunities now before we and our neighbours are again engulfed in busy schedules.

Opportunities will also develop for growth groups.

Leaders will need to think about what they want to continue, and what they might want to change. There is time to think changes for term 3. Clinton will be engaging with leaders about the issues involved in whether or not they return to face to face meetings, and what other opportunities there are for growth groups. But while that thinking is going on I would again urge you to think about gathering to watch the live stream with members of your growth group, and sharing in a meal afterwards.


The great thing about this time is its reinforcing the message that ministry – loving one another, encouraging one another, speaking to others about the Lord Jesus – is something that we are all engaged in, not something that can be left to paid staff. That making disciples is something that is to happen everywhere, in our homes, at our workplace, and not something that happens is a church building. So look for the opportunities in the present.


Finally, as restrictions relax let us keep showing grace and patience to each other. Our circumstances differ, our personalities differ, but every believer is precious to Jesus. We do not want our words and actions to discourage or alienate any of our brothers and sisters. We do want to emerge from this time together, stronger in our unity in Christ, and so we will need to practice thoughtful love to each other. Persevere in prayer for each other, and especially that Session will have wisdom to make decisions that will honour Jesus and build up His people.

There is lots going on. The Deacons are working hard and using the money entrusted to them to bring relief to those in need. People are exploring the Christian faith. The Lord is continuing to sustain us and provide for us. We have so much to be thankful for. But this talk has been long enough and having referenced Paul in Philippians I will end with some words from Philippians 4: 4 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


Staying in touch: Clinton Le Page (23 May 2020)

Dear Brothers and Sisters


Updates & Coming Events

The Bundy Prayer Meeting on Wednesday evening was such a great encouragement for many of us. To have over 100 people joining together in prayer, as we brought to God our praise and requests, seeking particular his mercy in the saving of those we care about, the extension of Christ’s kingdom, and our growth as his disciples, was moving and a blessing. I do encourage you to join us next month if you’re able, on the third Wednesday of each month.


This Sunday, Neil remains on leave and will return on Tuesday of next week, please continue in prayer for he and Jayne – for good rest, encouragement, and to know God’s strength to keep trusting and serving the Lord.


At the 10am service  I’ll be preaching on Ephesians 2.1-10, and I trust that considering God’s great grace that has saved us in Christ will fill our hearts with thanks and inspire us to live to serve him. At 5pm Chris Shaw will be preaching on Psalm 139, loved by many, and on the glory of God’s presence for the lonely. We hope you’ll tune in to hear God speak to you through his word.


With the easing of restrictions Andy helpfully encouraged you all to consider meeting with or inviting others to watch the livestream together, or to share a meal or have someone over to be part of your growth group on zoom. And meeting people physically has been a great encouragement to many already, and we’re thankful for these opportunities.

We do also want to acknowledge and encourage us all to be conscious of other’s different levels of comfort at this time. Let’s be sensitive to others, who for various reasons, will not be comfortable to meet physically with others yet. Please continue to pray for wisdom in this and for us to love one another genuinely, even as that is expressed in different ways.


Bundy Plugged-In is taking place next Saturday May 30 at 7pm (there was an error in the date given last week).  Please make a point of putting this date in your calendar and organise with a few people to watch this enjoyable event together.  Our annual event of creative arts gives us an opportunity to celebrate the creative gifts of different people in our congregation.  You can watch the live-stream by clicking here.


Encouragement

Brothers and sisters I am aware that the COVID-19 restrictions continue to affect us all in various ways, not least keeping us from meeting with our church family and other loved ones. COVID-19 is a trial that challenges our faith.

I know that some of you are financially struggling, others live with pain every day. Others are just tired – tired from home schooling, tired because of chronic illness, tired from the stress and business at work, tired from zoom fatigue/ staring at screens, or tired as we struggle to relate to others in love and kindness and patience. Others continue to struggle with loneliness or isolation, and others who face or are recovering from, surgery. In all of these things and more they are opportunities to trust the Lord, or to give in to faithlessness.


I am greatly encouraged by these words in 1 Peter chapter 1:3-8, and I pray a brief reflection on them will encourage you.


Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

As we suffer grief in all kinds of trials (v6) we can still greatly rejoice. Why? For in God’s great mercy (v3) he’s given us new birth and we have a real hope. Hope of what? Like we considered in Ephesians 1.13-14, an inheritance in heaven that is kept for us, and which will never perish spoil or fade. This has come about because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Our sure hope of heaven is based on the reality that Christ rose, conquering sin and death for us.


As we wait for Christ to return, and endure all kinds of trials, God’s power can sustain our faith, and in fact verse 7 says, the trials prove our faith in real and genuine.  As gold is refined in the fire and the dross is removed, fiery trials like so many of you are enduring, are testing your faith, proving it is real, and growing your faith and trust in the Lord. It’s hard I know, but trials are what God often uses to stretch and grow our trust in him.  Why would God allow do this, and ordain such trials to come into our lives? For the the ‘praise, glory and honour’ of Jesus.


So even though we can’t see Jesus with our eyes or touch him, know that he died for you, and rose again to give you life; and continue to love him. Then as you and I reflect on his death and resurrection, and the glorious heaven in God’s presence that waits for us, the salvation of our souls, we can experience true joy. For when we’ve been in heaven 10,000 years, we’ll be able to look back and know the trials we’re enduring now were but for a ‘little while’. So continue to trust your God and Father in what you’re enduring now, and may God, by His Spirit, fill you with inexpressible and glorious joy; even now, even today.


While restrictions begin easing, we are still unable to meet with our church family (maybe for months still), and many things are hard. So pray for the inexpressible joy which God is able to give you through Jesus.


Love to you in Christ,


Clinton LePage 

Associate Pastor


Staying in Touch: Andy May (16 May 2020)

Dear Brothers and Sisters


As Neil is on annual leave, I (Andy May), will be writing the weekly email and our associate pastor Clinton will be writing next week’s email.  Please pray for Neil’s break that he would be refreshed by God in body and spirit.


This coming Sunday (tomorrow) in the morning I will be preaching on the first of the apostle Paul’s prayers in Ephesians (1:15-23).  It has been a good reminder for me that amidst change, it is important to keep praying for big things – important things – lasting things.  It has also reminded me of my frailty and how much I need hope and power from God.  It has challenged me not to be satisfied with how much I know God but to desire to know Him better.  In the evening, Andrew Wort will be preaching on Psalm 4 and how we can find peace in times of distress - a timely reminder for the times we live in.  I hope you will be encouraged as you participate in the live-stream services tomorrow.


Upcoming Events

Prayer Meeting – Wed May 20

The Congregational Prayer Meeting will take place this Wednesday - 20th May (7.30pm) through Zoom. As with last month, we have asked a number of people from our congregation to pray on our behalf.  Join us in praying together, and say Amen as your brothers and sisters bring our common requests to our God.  Let us take this God-given opportunity to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  To join the prayer meeting on Zoom, please email us at office@bpc.org.au.


Bundy Plugged-In – Sat May 31

We hope you have taken this opportunity to organize your contributions for our annual event of creative arts.  As registrations close on May 20, this is your last week to register your performance herePlease set aside the evening of Sat May 31 to join us as we watch the performances together through our livestream.


Hardship Fund and General Offering

A number of people from our church are out of work at present and some are unable to receive government benefits.  The Deacons have a hardship fund that supports people financially with their urgent needs.  If you have the means and would like to give to the Hardship Fund you can transfer money to the church account and use the reference ‘Hardship’.  Apart from the hardship fund, there is also the General Offering, of which the majority is spent on paying the staff at the church.  As you are able and willing to support the staff who have been working hard to serve the congregation please transfer money to the church account and use the reference ‘Offering’.  To find the church’s bank account details please click here.


COVID-19 Updates

Return to School

As infection rates of COVID-19 have reduced, the Victorian government has given us clear dates on which our children will return to school.  Learning from home has been a blessing for some families as time to slow down and spend together has been a joy.  And for other families it has been exhausting and challenging.  For most families, it has been a mixture of both.  Please pray for our teachers especially as they have been working hard since the end of term 1 to adapt their teaching to the challenges of remote learning only to have to adjust again to this new change.  Pray also for students and their families as they face a new change to their routine.


Easing of household restrictions

We are thankful to God for the provision to be able to visit friends and family (up to 5 guests other than those who belong to the household).  This is a welcome relief for many of us and I want to encourage you to embrace this opportunity to reach out to each other in love.  But we should continue to love one another by good precautions - 1.5m distancing, disinfecting our hands and surfaces).  For example, if we comply with the 5-person restriction, this allows for you to do the following:


·      Have others visit your home as you participate in the live stream together on Sundays. 

·      Meet with a few people from your Growth Group to pray with each other

·      Set aside one evening to have another household over for a meal each week.

·      As up to 10 people can meet outdoors in an open space, you could invite another household or members of your growth group to come for a walk with you instead of doing this on your own.


We would encourage to be wise as you apply this new provision as COVID-19 is still present in our community.  Although it is a good opportunity to increase the number of people you currently see, you should be cautious in not making this network too broad should a person in your network become infected with COVID-19.


Easing of church building restrictions

It has also been announced that places of worship are able to have 10 people present apart from the team of people involved in presenting a service and for the purpose of hosting a support group, wedding or funeral.


Moving forward, the Staff, Elders and the Board of Management will consider how best to make use of this provision.  With any increased use of the building, there are a number of things to consider including the disinfection of surfaces after groups of people come into the church building.  This is already occurring after each livestream and would only increase if we have more people using the building.  We would also have to be diligent with keeping a register of who and when there has been use of the building for the purpose of contact tracing should someone be present who has been infected with COVID-19.  Any increased use of the building will also mean that we have to determine how best to maintain social distancing inside including the placement of seating.  Please pray for the Board of Management as there is much to consider in increased building use.


We expect that there will be months ahead of us before there is any resumption in anything involving a large number of people gathered in the church building (up to 100 people).  We should also be mindful that it will be even longer after that with regards to any gatherings larger than 100 people, of which each of our three congregations were before COVID-19.   So we will need to get used to this new “normal” which means adapting to change as it occurs.  This may also mean that our “normal” will be different to what we were used to before COVID-19.  We will communicate any changes to the use of the building with our ministry leaders and also with you through this weekly email. We would value your prayers for wisdom as we continue to navigate how best to keep encouraging one another towards Christ as well as seeking to invite others to call on Jesus. 


In the meantime, the livestream will continue as it has been, with a mixture of pre-recorded elements as well as live elements.  With the easing of restrictions, you may also see more people being involved in the various elements but the livestream will continue to reflect the life that we currently find ourselves in.


Constant change is hard and unsettling for many.  Amidst this change, it is comforting to know what doesn’t change.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 1:8).  What we have in Jesus doesn’t change either – eternal life, forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit guaranteeing the sure hope that we have in being in God’s presence.  Cling to Jesus in prayer when the waves of change unsettle you.


Andy May

Assistant Pastor


Staying in Touch: Engaging with God (8 May 2020)

Dear Brothers and Sisters


Staying in Touch

Even as I write our nation’s leaders are discussing what, if any, relaxation of restrictions they will permit. We can be thankful for their vigorous response to the virus, for the low death rate thus far in our country, and for the economic support the government has offered to many. Any relaxation they decide on will be greeted with joy by many, even if some are still committed to maintaining full restrictions. Yet self-congratulatory joy will be premature if we have not engaged with God in our response to the virus. In fact it will mean we have missed the opportunity the virus gives to get right with God by repentance and faith.


In Isaiah 22 Isaiah recounts a vision of judgement on Jerusalem in the context of a succession of prophecies dealing with God’s judgements on the surrounding nations, those to whom Judah may have been tempted to turn for security alliances. It starts with Isaiah challenging what he regards as inappropriate rejoicing by the inhabitants of Jerusalem v. 1-2a. The specific cause of their present rejoicing is not specified. It may have been some success by their allies, some defeat of a national enemy, or some increase in their own security capacity. But Isaiah cannot share in that joy because Isaiah sees something else in store for Jerusalem v. 2b-9, the ultimate destruction wrought by the Babylonians. What makes that judgement certain, and it is about 140 years in the future, is their present response to the Assyrian threat. Isaiah describes that in vv. 8-11.


In that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest, and you saw that the breaches of the city of David were many. You collected the waters of the lower pool, and you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall.  You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool. But you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago.

(Isaiah 22:8-11)


They had thrown themselves into the response to the threat of Assyrian invasion. They had strengthened their walls, taken an inventory of their military hardware, and crucially secured their water supply. That last was a great achievement, the building of a tunnel from the Gihon springs to Jerusalem by Hezekiah. It was a vigorous and appropriate response, as far as it went. But it was woefully inadequate for they did not turn to the LORD. The LORD is clear that He is the one who is ultimately sovereign in all these events, that the movements of the Assyrians was subject to His control and served His purposes [compare Isaiah 10:5-19]. The LORD’s people should have turned first to him, and not been content in a faithless self-sufficiency. In verses 12-13 the LORD contrasts the response He looked for with their actual response, and how that attitude v. 14 sealed their faith, made certain the ultimate judgement Isaiah described in vv. 2b-8a.


In that day the Lord God of hosts
    called for weeping and mourning,
    for baldness and wearing sackcloth;
and behold, joy and gladness,
    killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
    eating flesh and drinking wine.
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

(Isaiah 22:12-13)


In that day rather than a faithless self sufficiency the LORD called for repentance, a confession of sin and a humbling of themselves before His judgment. But the attitude of their hearts was expressed in a determination to enjoy life as much as they could before it was taken from them. It is the attitude that says this life is all there is, if we can’t save ourselves no-one can, and life can be lived and ended without reference to God who is irrelevant, not an active player in our world. In the crisis their eyes remained steadfastly fixed on this life only, on a trust in themselves, and a determination to live as they pleased.


And this unbelief, this refusal to embrace faith and repentance, was unforgiveable. Unforgiveable for no sin was acknowledged, and no forgiveness sought.


The Lord of hosts has revealed himself in my ears:
“Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you until you die,”
    says the Lord God of hosts.

(Isaiah 22:14)


Where Isaiah’s contemporaries had joy at present relief, Isaiah had grief v. 4 at the judgement their attitude in the crisis made certain.


This is a sobering prophecy, and it is easy to apply it to our secular society. Shutting down society, increasing ICU capacity, strenuous efforts to find an immunisation – all appropriate, and all woefully inadequate for there is no turning to the almighty Creator who has done it and who planned it long ago. That is right – our God is the God “who works all things according to the counsel of His will” [Eph. 1:11], who brings life and death, who wounds and heals, and from whose hand none can deliver themselves [Deut. 32:39]. Not a sparrow falls to the ground, nor a virus crosses species, apart from our Father [Matt. 11:29-30]. We should fear what further judgment the secular mindset that is committed to its self-sufficiency and self-direction in defiance of the Creator will bring upon our society, and be praying earnestly that the LORD would turn the hearts of our neighbours in repentance and faith to the Lord Jesus.


It is easy to make that application to others, and that would miss the point. This prophecy was addressed to the LORD’s people, those who confessed the LORD was their God. Isaiah 22 is asking us, believers in Jesus, how we have responded to this threat to our lives and livelihoods. We should be saying the LORD has done this, and the response He looks for from His people is to turn to Him in repentance and faith. There is much in our society that provokes the LORD’s judgment, and much that we may share in, and for which we should mourn. In our society we see disrespect of women in abuse and the rampant indulgence in porn, sexual immorality, lack of concern for the poor and the isolating of our lives from the needy, the elevation of the pursuit of experiences and the focus on self [think of the selfies from all kinds of exotic locations] and not on service, trust in money and the accumulation of wealth as a controlling ambition, the self-sufficiency that makes plans without saying ‘Lord willing’, a demanding sense of entitlement and a lack of thankfulness, the substitution of spin for truth, the loss of even the idea of truth that has authority to shape our thinking and acting. This is not an exhaustive list. But these attitudes can seep into a believer’s thinking with the result that we are increasingly conformed to the world in which we live and not transformed to live the life of followers of Jesus. COVID-19 is the LORD reminding us that He rules the world, that life and prosperity come from Him, and that our security and hope is found only in Him, and not in ourselves or our social structures or national resources. He is calling us to turn to Him first and above all, and as part of that turning to Him to examine our lives and turn away from anything that displeases Him.


In that day the Lord God of hosts
    called for weeping and mourning,
    for baldness and wearing sackcloth;

(Isaiah 22:12)


It is as we turn to Him knowing He alone can save, genuinely, earnestly, seeking His mercy and help for all, that we should also ask God to show us and turn us from our sin.


Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

(Psalm 139:23,24)


I for one will be very glad if restrictions are begun to be eased in our state. But if we have not used this time and do not use the continuing disruption the threat of this virus brings to our lives to re-affirm that the LORD reigns and that our trust and hope is in Him and not ourselves, and that because the LORD reigns we should be mourning for sin in our lives and turning to Him in repentance and faith in Jesus, rejoicing will be empty and premature. It will be the rejoicing in our own self-sufficiency and self-rule that will only provoke more judgment. So let’s consider our lives – how much have we come to share in the sinful attitudes of our society, especially that faithless self-sufficiency? Your prayers will tell you. And think - if believers do not lead the way in turning to the LORD and turning from sin, how will our neighbours know that the LORD is calling them to turn away from their proud trust in themselves to believe in and follow His Son?



Neil Chambers
Senior Pastor


Staying in Touch: Encouragement in Nehemiah (1 May 2020)

Dear Brothers and Sisters


Staying in Touch 

There is encouragement to be found in all the Scriptures. Nehemiah 3 at first reading might be an exception. It is a list of names of the inhabitants of Jerusalem with a description of the portion of the wall of Jerusalem that they were rebuilding. Let me give you a sample:


Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel.  The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zakkur son of Imri built next to them.…Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs. … Beyond them, Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and next to them, Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs beside his house. (Nehemiah 3:1-3,23)


All the thirty two verses of the chapter are like that, and I found it incredibly encouraging. Each one, known and named, working in their own place, working at a task unfamiliar to them, often unaware of what others were doing because, as Nehemiah said, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall.” 4:19, each one contributed to the protection and preservation of the people of Judah, the maintenance of their distinctive identity as the LORD’s people who worshipped the LORD alone. That is what the wall was about – allowing the people to dwell securely as a distinctive people amongst pagan and syncretistic neighbours, allowing them to develop and sustain their distinct identity as people in covenant relationship with the LORD who would live according to the word of the LORD.


I was encouraged because I see in it a picture of our church at the moment. Each one of us, known and named by the Lord, often unaware of what most of the rest are doing, in unfamiliar circumstances working in our own space on the common project of maintaining our distinctive identity by living distinctive lives because we trust and follow Jesus. Each one of us persevering in that task where we are each day contributes to the protection and preservation, the ongoing identity and existence, of our church as a church of the Lord Jesus, distinct from those we live amongst because we live according to the word of Jesus.


The work in Nehemiah’s day on the wall met with serious opposition – at first just mocking, then the threat of violence, then political scheming – whose goal was to stop that wall from being built and so facilitate the absorption of the Jews into the existing structures and pattern of life of the surrounding nations [Nehemiah 4-6]. In the face of these threats Nehemiah reminded the people of the “Lord who is great and awesome” and who would fight for them vv. 14, 20, and trusting the Lord they put in place practical plans to defend themselves. Nehemiah and the people were able to keep building by being aware of the danger and always ready to resist, the builders wearing their swords and the carriers holding a weapon in one hand [4:16-18] as they worked, and then staying in Jerusalem overnight to keep watch.


As each of us labours in our place on the work God has given us to be His distinctive people, salt and light in our world, we also face opposition that would try and make us cease the work. Not, for most of us, aggressive and hostile neighbours, but discouragement, loneliness, fear and anxiety – about our health or our economic future or our elderly family. These things can make us doubt God’s promises, make us preoccupied with ourselves and our present woes, rob us of joy and thankfulness, tempt us to seek comfort in relationships and pleasures that lead us away from Christ. Nehemiah encourages us to persevere by remembering our God and His commitment to His people, and to work in place always ready to meet and resist that opposition.


Our God is committed to His people, committed to us who believe in Jesus. Remember when you are discouraged that our Lord said in John 10:28,19: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.


He can keep you even when you are so conscious of your weakness you think you cannot keep yourself. Believers in Jesus are the church of God which He has purchased with the blood of His own [Acts 20:28], precious to Him, His beloved bride [Eph. 5:25-27]. By God’s unimaginably generous grace in Christ we can say the living God is for us [Romans 8:31]. We can always be confident of His help when we call on Him.


And our God has given us the weapons, the resources, to meet those forces that oppose us, as we remembered two weeks ago when we looked at Ephesians 6. We should put on all the armour of God each day, but let me encourage you to keep especially close the word of God and prayer. Knowing God in His word – His almighty power, His steadfast love, His never failing faithfulness; knowing His promises; knowing His Saviour and how gracious and complete a Saviour the Lord Jesus is – this keeps you and I safe. Being confident and constant in prayer, where we cast all our cares on Him – this can replace anxiety with thankfulness, over and over again.


It was a pretty intense fifty-two days [Neh. 6:15], the days they were building the wall. But they finished it, each one working in his or her own place. Despite the difficulties and tension, and I suspect weariness, by being faithful in the common task as a people, a community, they were better off at the end. More secure in their identity, more confident in pursuing common purpose, more committed to living God’s way as the way of life for them – as their response to the reading of the law demonstrated [Neh. 8-10]. These days can be pretty intense for us but if each of us in our own space sticks to our common task of being Jesus’ distinctive people by trusting Him and doing what He says, especially loving one another, we also will be better off in the end, whenever that may be. We will be renewed in our confidence in Jesus’ commitment to His people and His ability to keep us, for we will find Him faithful. With other supports stripped away we will have come by using them to rely more on the means He has given us to sustain our life – the word and prayer. And while apart acting together in truth and love we will know the good of being part of a common minded community of Jesus’ people and want to continue to strengthen it by our presence and service.


The Lord’s Supper

We will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper this Sunday. Your attention was drawn last week to the letter from Session issued before the April Lord’s Supper that spoke of the why, the who and the how of participating in the Supper, and that this is the church’s common meal to be celebrated together, not a private family meal. But I would encourage parents to make use of this opportunity, perhaps as you prepare the bread and wine/grape juice, to teach your children about the death of our Lord Jesus by explaining why He gave us this meal. Help them understand what the elements are signs of. Teach them of the response of faith Jesus’ words call for. Speak to them of how the Supper is time limited, only for use ‘until He comes’. All this will prepare them for the time when they can share in the Supper on the basis of their understanding of what is happening in the Supper, and nurture in them that faith in Jesus which alone brings us benefit from the Supper.  The explanation of why we have decided to share in the supper together even while we are apart is available on our website


Bundy Plugged In

Please put in your calendars, the date of Saturday May 30 when we will be sharing in the creative gifts of those in our congregation at Bundy Plugged In. We hope that the event will provide households with an opportunity to work together in their creativity and that on the night we can share together in the rich gifts that God gives His people. If you would like to submit a video of your performance or a photo of your artwork, please go to the website to register.


Neil Chambers
Senior Pastor


Staying in touch: Waiting & Longing (24 April 2020)

Dear Brothers and Sisters


Another week has passed but I do not sense an increasing acceptance of our changed circumstances. If anything I sense an increasing longing for our lives to go back to the way they were. For children to be in school, to be able to sit down and have a cuppa on your neighbour’s verandah, to give someone a hug in the street, to have work to look forward to, or a workplace in which to exchange conversation and jokes with colleagues. And that longing is right, for this is not the way things ought to be. Many will feel that acutely tomorrow on Anzac Day. Some have already experienced the personal grief of being unable to gather and mourn and remember a friend or family member who has died during this time. Tomorrow as a nation, together, we will know that grief, and how unsatisfactory it is to be isolated from one another, to be denied the comfort of each other’s presence in our common loss and remembering. Waiting for and longing for things to be put back the way they ought to be – and many of us know the underlying restlessness it gives even as we accommodate ourselves to our present circumstances, circumstances we know will pass.


Feeling that longing, longing for things to be put right, and knowing that waiting we can start to understand and share the attitude the New Testament says should characterise us in relation to the return of Jesus. Believers are those who ‘wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ (1 Cor. 1:7), “await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Phil. 3:20,21), the one who “having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Heb. 9:28)


Longing, an eager waiting, for things to be put right by the return of our Lord Jesus and the destruction of death in the resurrection is a feature of the normal, healthy Christian life. If that longing is not there we have normalised the abnormal. Life as created and given by God is not meant to be marked by death and grief – constant companions of humanity. We should not live in fear of violence, endure loneliness, hear mocking of God, need to prepare for pandemics and drought, grow anxious with the passing years about the failure of our bodies. In almost every minute of our day we have an experience that should turn our hearts with longing to Jesus’ return – when we lock our cars, or check what the children are watching on TV or computer, when we come away from a conversation feeling that we have not been told the truth, or when we confront our own failure to have been fair and kind. All should make us long for the day when sin, our own and others, is finished.


But this longing doesn’t arise from our wanting things to be better or imagining a better world. It is hard for us to imagine how good that day will be for all of us have only known this life marked by sin and death. We long for that day not because we have good imaginations but because of God’s Spirit incites us to long for that day of resurrection. Paul says in Romans 8:23-25:


"And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."


We have already received in the Spirit the first part of all that God has promised will be on that day, the Spirit who assures us of God’s love, who leads us in the life pleasing to God, who teaches our hearts to cry Abba Father to the living God. It is what we have already received in the Spirit, not what we are lacking, that makes us long for the rest of God’s promises to be fulfilled, that day when our bodies are redeemed, the day of resurrection and the new heaven and earth.


That longing is healthy for us. It can stop us investing with permanence what is only passing. It can function like true north in our hearts, keeping us oriented towards our hope and stopping us from being content with lesser visions of human destiny. It works to remind us of the greatness of the salvation Jesus died and rose to bring – not just forgiveness, and not just my personal salvation, but the defeat of death and the new creation. This is a longing that honours both the faithfulness and greatness of our Saviour.


And it highlights endurance and patience as vital Christian virtues. We know that in this life we will continue to suffer opposition for our faith and share in the trials and griefs of a creation subjected to futility (Rom. 8:18-21). But we have a good hope and a sure hope, one underwritten by Jesus’ resurrection and the present reception of the Spirit. And so we wait eagerly, but patiently. We trust the love of our Father and are confident in His almighty power and His eternal purpose to glorify His Son, so we endure the not rightness of the world for now. In God’s providence this small time of lockdown is also a practical exercise in patience and endurance, not complaining but continuing to do what is right in love, one day at a time.


Longing and patience. I long for things to return to normal. How much I look forward to seeing you, being able to gather with you and give thanks to God together, to receive the comfort of His word and promises together, to drop by, to shake a hand, to engage in conversation in a person’s presence. That day will come, whether it is in a month or twelve. But when it comes, don’t stop longing. Don’t accept that ‘normal life’ as we experience it, full as it is in Australia of many things for which we can thank God, is the way life ought to be. It will still be marked by sin and selfishness, death and grief, decay and pain. Having felt what it is to long for a day when things are put right and having experienced the necessity of patience, long for the day when all things will be put right, the day the Lord Jesus returns in glory, when death is defeated forever, when all rebellion against our good God ceases as every knee bows to the Saviour. It is hard to imagine how good that day will be, but we wait for it patiently.


Lord's Supper

The Lord’s Supper will be celebrated again on May 5th. The explanation of why we have decided to share in the supper together even while we are apart is available on our website.  Meditate on what Jesus has done for you this coming week and take some time to examine your life. Are you acting in love to others? Are you holding grudges, nursing resentments, or forgiving where you can? These kinds of questions focus on whether the love and forgiveness you say are yours in eating the supper have come to characterise your relationships with others, on whether the Jesus from whose hands you receive that forgiveness is the Lord whose way you follow.


Upcoming Events

Anzac Day

As tomorrow is Anzac Day, this week Andy conducted an interview with Peter Blackman, the father of Jenni Evans from our 9am congregation.  Peter is a returned serviceman from the Vietnam war and shares with us about the significance of Anzac Day being a day of remembrance and thankfulness.  Watch Peter's interview here and tomorrow, take the time to remember those who served us.


Bundy Plugged In

For many years, our annual Bundy Unplugged Event has been an opportunity for us to celebrate the creative gifts that God has given His people as well as raising support and awareness of our missionaries.  We have decided to have this event this year even though we will be confined to our homes.  This year, we will be calling it "Bundy Plugged In" and it will take place on Saturday May 30.  We hope that the event will provide households with an opportunity to work together in their creativity and that on the night we can share together in the rich gifts that God gives His people.  We look forward to sharing with those who will encourage, engage and entertain us.  If you would like to perform, please go to the website.


Neil Chambers
Senior Pastor


Staying in touch: The same and not the same (17 April 2020)

Dear Brothers and Sisters

 

The Same and not the same

The Government announced last Sunday that the restrictions already in place on movement and gatherings would continue for another four weeks. While there are no promises an air of cautious optimism is starting to be expressed in their updates for which we should be thankful to God. But for now, it is more of the same.

 

Yet for many of us it is not the same and increasingly our experience of the pandemic is diverging. Having children at home from school for school will be a big change for some, and have no impact on others. The emotional and financial cost of the restrictions are increasing and being felt variably. Some still have work and have the social interaction of work; some have work but are working from home, the only contact with others via social media; some have lost work, or had their hours reduced significantly, isolation compounded by financial stress. Some are enjoying being less busy and the ability to have an ordered home life, while others increasingly feel the loss of their normal activities and interactions.

 

I mention this so that we are aware that there are those who are experiencing this pandemic differently from us and we don’t assume that what is working for us is working for them. There will be those who need more contact and more encouragement and more support than we might feel the need for, for whom what worked two weeks ago is no longer working as well. We will only know this if we persevere in staying in touch, in keeping up contact, in not growing weary in relating. We are experiencing the same pandemic, but our experiences of the pandemic are not the same.

 

But there is something that is the same for every believer. This is not a struggle just with a virus and the human response to it. Our current experience is part of the spiritual battle in which all believers are always engaged.

 

Holding our Ground

I think sometimes, especially when we are working hard to process lots of information and adapt to a changing situation, that it is easy to forget that our lives are lived in a context of spiritual struggle [Eph. 6:10-20]. But remembering that is helpful for it focuses our minds on what always matters and it reminds us that our God has equipped us to not only survive but be victors who ‘having done all, stand firm’ v. 13. What matters is that we persevere in trusting Jesus and living as His disciples, for this is to live in God’s grace in the present and to come to possess our eternal inheritance in the future. And God has given us the means to persevere, what Paul in Ephesians 6:13-20 calls the armour of God. Putting on that armours means every day our lives should be characterised by:

                 

Truth: The truth of the gospel of our salvation [Eph. 1:13, 4:15, 21], what the gospel teaches us about God, about ourselves, about the Lord Jesus and the salvation He brings, should be the foundation of our lives and the way we interpret what we are experiencing. To see if you are putting on truth ask yourself: Am I refreshing myself in that truth each day? Am I processing what I hear through the framework of reality the gospel gives? Am I relying on the truth of the gospel promises?

 

Righteousness: In Ephesians the righteousness Paul speaks of here is the righteous life, the new life in Christ [4:24, 5:9]. Living righteously, doing what is right and good [4:25-5:21], protects us. It is so much easier to live with a good conscience, to not have our lives and relationships made more difficult by our sin – whether that is lies, or lust, or anger. Now is the time to give yourself to living God’s way. So ask yourself – would the Lord be pleased with what I let my eyes look at, with the words that come out of my mouth, with what I set my hand to, with what I let my mind think on?

 

The Readiness given by the gospel of peace (6:15): Stability under pressure, in the heat of conflict, comes from grasping the gospel promises that bring us peace [2:17]. And that stability equips us to push back, engage with the world. Like our Lord Jesus we can preach peace to the world, knowing this is a gospel for all, a gospel that can bring hope to those who have no hope and free from bondage to lies. Am I looking to engage with the world with the gospel that brings hope?

 

The shield of faith: Faith protects us. Knowing that Jesus has reconciled us to God by His death, and that this comes to us from God’s free grace and mercy, so that we are always being dealt with in love by our heavenly Father and can always draw near to Him for help, can banish those troubling thoughts that God has forgotten us, or is punishing us. Believing those gospel promises can counter our fears of abandonment or death. We have been loved with a great love, come to know a mercy that is inexhaustible [2:4]. And faith in the gospel can counter those seductive lies that tell us satisfaction and security can be found in ungodly, self-indulgent living [5:3-12] for Jesus is Lord and all will be exposed. Now is the time to preach the gospel to ourselves each day and remind ourselves of the faithfulness of our God.

 

The Helmet of Salvation: Confidence in being saved, which is confidence in Jesus and the effectiveness of His death, and awareness of the richness of salvation [1:15-19] help us to look up and keep our eyes on what it is to come. Such a sure hope is health giving in these days. Do you daily give thanks for being saved? Do you let yourself meditate on what it is to be saved, on the inheritance God has promised us?

                 

The sword of the Spirit and prayer (6:17-29): Knowledge of God’s word and prayer, persistent prayer, mark the life that perseveres in faith. Those of you who have a habit of daily bible reading and prayer know its benefits, and if you don’t yet have that habit now is a time to acquire it, to use the means our God has given you in sustaining your Christian life. A small start would be our daily email devotion and prayer points, but there are many other helps.

 

We are in a spiritual battle – that battle continues whether we are at home alone, or still at work. Make use now of your Lord’s provision for you to be the victor in the end.

 

Thanks for the Prayer Meeting

It was very encouraging to gather for prayer together on Wednesday night, to pray together for our nation and the spread of the gospel, and for each other in these current circumstances. Keep praying together in your households. With no school this is an opportunity to get a rhythm to our home life that has a place for prayer at the table after meals as a family, a great time to listen to concerns and teach about the promises of God.

 

Sunday Services

This week will continue as a combination of live stream from church and pre-recorded segments at home, but with a little more coming from church. Despite the extra work involved we are persevering with two services at 10 and 5 because it is important for the identity of the 5:00 pm congregation to be maintained to make resumption of congregational life easier when restrictions are lifted. The distinction between the two services will increase from next week as Clinton starts to preach in the morning and Chris in the evening, and then in a fortnight we will have finished John’s gospel and there will be a different preaching series in the morning and evening.

 

Upcoming Events

This weekend we would have enjoyed sharing time together at our annual church picnic which we had planned if not for the Covid-19 situation.  We grieve the loss of these opportunities and the staff and the elders have been actively engaging with what events we can postpone until later in the year or leave until next year and what events we can still have even during self-isolation.  As such, we have decided that we can still have our annual Bundy Unplugged Event, an enjoyable night where we celebrate the creative gifts that God has given His people.  But this year we will be doing Bundy Unplugged a bit differently and we will hear more about this in the coming week.

 

Neil Chambers
Senior Pastor

 

Pastors update: Changes to our gatherings (10 April 2020)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,


1 John 4: 9 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.


I hope each of you today knows for yourself the love of God in sending His Son to be, by His death, the sacrifice that turns away God’s just anger at our sin from us. Each of us knows what was involved in our not having loved God, the sins of which we are now ashamed, the hurt and harm we have done to others, the proud choice to disregard what God has said. I am very conscious of how much I was and am fully deserving of judgment. But God loved us – so easy to type, so wonderful to know, so hard to fully grasp. He loved us freely, of Himself, His choice. He loved us with a love we cannot measure, cannot comprehend, for the Son who dies for our sin is beloved in eternity, and thoroughly lovely – fully worthy of the love of the Father. He has loved us effectively, fitting us for and drawing us into relationship with Himself, forgiven through the death of the Son. And in that relationship, though we know we cannot understand fully this love, each believer does know that he or she is loved.


Loved by the almighty, holy God. We would not dare to say it unless our God had first said it. But He has, and to know it is our security, our peace, our confidence, our hope. Our security, for His love is powerful and effective, the love that is stronger than death. Our peace, for this love is freely given and the source of our reconciliation. Our confidence, for the love that has called us to the Son will persevere until it has brought us to the goal of His love, conformity to Christ and rejoicing with Christ in His presence. Our hope, for as Paul says “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).


Ephesians 3: 14 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.


Prayer Meeting

The Congregational Prayer Meeting this coming Wednesday 15th April will go ahead, but by Zoom. This means it will be a more controlled meeting than usual with various people having been asked to pray and the meeting organizer unmuting their microphones in order. We don’t just pray when we ourselves are saying the prayer. We pray our common prayers in the words of another when we say Amen to their prayer. So join us to pray together, and say Amen as your brothers and sisters express the desires of all our hearts and make our common requests to our God. Prayer honours our God and pleases Him, our prayers, in the picture of Revelation, ascending like incense before His throne. [Rev. 5:7, 8:3-4].  Details will be given about joining the Zoom meeting through email or contact office@bpc.org.au if you would like to participate in this meeting.


Preaching Arrangements

The 19th April would have been the last Sunday before I commenced Long Service Leave. The preaching program had been developed with that in mind, with me doing much of the preaching in Term 1 to give Clinton and Chris an opportunity to prepare before they take on the bulk of the preaching in Term 2. I will not be going away on Long Service Leave as the pandemic and the disruption it has brought has made us busier, there is the risk of one of the Pastors getting sick with the virus or having to be quarantined, and there is a continuing need for adaptation to changing circumstances. I may, Lord willing, take a week or two of ‘home holiday’ in May. The preaching program, however, will go ahead as planned.


In the morning, after finishing John 21, Clinton will commence preaching through the book of Ephesians. In the evening, after again finishing John 21, Chris will be preaching from the Psalms addressing various trials believers face and then the next section of Acts as the evening congregation works through Acts, chapters 13-16. Please pray for them and their preparation, that the Lord would give them understanding of His word, the capacity to teach it clearly, and grace to apply it boldly to our hearts. Pray also that the word they teach would do God’s work in our hearts.


Sunday Services

We have been greatly encouraged by the bible readings, prayers, songs and kids talks prepared by many people at home that contribute to our Sunday Services.  We have also been thankful for the technical team behind the live stream and the videos each week working hard to serve us.  It is truly the body of Christ growing and building itself up in love as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16).


Moving forward as of next Sunday, we are hoping to increase slightly the number of people providing the live stream each Sunday.  This is due to the recent statement of our Prime Minister allowing a small team to work to provide the live stream.  Bible readings, kids talks, prayers and songs will be recorded from home with songs, service leading and preaching expected to come live from the auditorium.


Sunday School

With the commencement of term 2 Clarissa will be mailing out to the parents of children in the Sunday School the lesson and associated materials each week. Copyright does not allow us to put the material on the web and we would ask you not to forward it to people outside the congregation. We are grateful to Kidswise for allowing us to circulate it to each of you. The children’s talk in the 10:00 am livestream will also be related to the Sunday School lesson. You might like to think about how you can creatively connect your child with other children in their class.


Daily prayer and devotion email

This will be commencing from this Monday 13th April, with some thoughts on a small portion of Philippians and prayer points for that day, and a link to submit prayer points. If you would like to participate in this and have not already subscribed, please click here.


Neil Chambers
Senior Pastor


Pastors update: Greif and Loss (3 April 2020)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,


Stage 3 is now upon us, with its discouragement of all unnecessary leaving of our homes and restrictions on those with whom we can meet. This stage will bring with it its own peculiar difficulties and griefs over the coming weeks, and small as they are they are real and in continuity with larger griefs, those of loneliness and loss. When this week I had to cancel a birthday meal with the family, to see them at a distance and not be able to embrace them, I realised that the grief I felt was a small foretaste of the grief we must all face, the grief of death. Then we will lose the company of all those we love, carried away from their embrace on the tide of time, our years having reached their allotted number. There are other small griefs. Those who are single have already lost the comfort of human touch. Some have lost the purposeful engagement with the world and others that comes with work. Some cannot travel to family in the country, and some are unable to see and care for elderly family and friends. Loss and grief – what can we do with them?


On an immediate level we must recognise that loss and grief are there. They are part of our present experience. Even if we recognise that while of an unknown duration our losses are temporary and  they are imposed for a good purpose, the purpose of trying to save life and spare some from much greater grief, the loss we have and the grief we feel are real. They will be experienced, felt, with greater or lesser intensity at times, but they are real.


And like all griefs as believers we should seek and give the comfort of gospel truth and gospel relationship as we experience them. The gospel brings wonderful comfort in our greatest grief. When I lost my parents, and now when current circumstances prompt me to think of losing all I love, Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 bring comfort and encouragement: “we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (v. 17). That little word ‘we’ is wonderful. We will wake from the sleep of death, that temporary interruption to our fellowship, to join our brothers and sisters in Christ in resurrection life. Loss is not the last word, not the eternal experience of believers. The same gospel that assures us of resurrection also assures us of the love of our God, and His commitment to use our current circumstances for our good. This is a time for knowing for yourself and giving to others the comfort of gospel truth. A time even in small griefs to give thanks for a great and loving Saviour.


To gospel truth must also be added gospel relationship. Jesus said the mark of being His follower is to love our brothers and sisters as He has loved us. We must not allow spatial distancing to become loneliness or lack. Stay in touch and encourage in your contact. Who have you rung or texted or skyped this week? Some are finding imaginative ways of staying in touch, like walking as a family in the same direction as a family on the other side of the road. Share those creative ideas.

While one can walk in the company of another we mustn’t allow single people to be restricted only to the company of other single people. Those who enjoy the privilege of family at this time must keep including as they can their single brothers and sisters. Pray for each other, and for those who are helped by structure there is a suggestion for prayer below. And if at times you are struggling, ring someone. It is human, not weakness, to struggle with loneliness, and there are brothers and sisters who are there to talk with.


Make this time purposeful. Use what for many of us will be ‘slight and momentary afflictions’ (2 Cor. 4:17) to correct your relationship with the world and refocus yourself on our Lord and His will. 1 John reminds us not to love the world or the things in the world. The world is this present age, and particularly human society in this present age living in rebellion against God, seeking to deny and exclude His reign. John goes on to say “IF anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him or her. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 3:15-17). This is an opportunity to remember that all we have in this world will be lost, but relationship with our Father in Christ abides. So take the time to think about what you are giving yourself to, what you are pursuing, what you are seeking to find satisfaction in – and ask ”is it the will of my Father, is it pleasing my Lord?” If the answer to that question is not ‘yes’ use the time to repent and think how your life will change so that you are giving yourself to His will.


Developments in the Sunday Service

We continue to work at the service and the technology that brings it to you. There is no change in how you log-in to the service. Go to the website (bpc.org.au/live), click on the livestream services, and follow the directions. But Lord willing this week you will see a combination of pre-recorded segments from various homes, and a live stream of the bible talk and Lord’s supper.  If you haven't already, please read our watch the elders' statement regarding the Lord's Supper during this time of self-quarantining.  Keep praying for those using their technical gifts to bring the service to you and give thanks that we have this option.


Catching up with others after the service

Last week there was a button under the livestream service that said something like ‘speak with a pastor after the service’. We realised that this gave the wrong impression – that it was just for speaking with a pastor. That has been changed to ‘Connect with others on Zoom after the service.” If you click that button you will join a Zoom meeting with members of your congregation and the pastors. For those of us who joined the meeting last week it was encouraging to see each other and chat.


Prayer and Bible Reading

Some of us are very diligent in our personal discipline of prayer and bible reading, and some of us need a little bit of external structure. To help all of us be regular and disciplined in prayer and bible reading, and to help us pray for each other over this time, the pastors are writing a devotion on a small portion of scripture and attaching to it some prayer points for each week day. The plan is to email this to those who want it each weekday, starting with the week after Easter. For the first four weeks we will be reflecting on Philippians with its note of joy in trial. We will include in the prayer points the names of people in your congregation, so that you can pray through your congregation as well. Each prayer email will also contain a link you can use to submit prayer points for the coming weeks.


If you are interested in receiving that daily devotion and prayer email, click on this link.  That will take you to a form in Bundy Connect where you can register your interest, and you will start to receive emails from Monday April 13th.


Good Friday

There will be a good Friday livestream at 9:30 am. We will be singing familiar songs and hymns as we read through together the account of Jesus’ last hours in John. It is a solemn but joyful remembrance and there is no better time to think on the death that means we no longer need fear death, that allows us to face pestilence with the conviction that the Father, having given His Son for us, will also give us with Him all that He has promised and never let us be separated from His love. So plan to join in that remembrance on Friday.


Neil Chambers
Senior Pastor


Responding to Covid 19 (27 March 2020)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,


I have delayed my update in the hope that whatever further restrictions are to be imposed would have been announced by Friday morning, but we are still waiting. They might be clear by this evening.


Thank you to all those who have responded to the request to let us know how you are doing, and whether you need or can offer help. Many of you have offered help and when the time comes we will be in touch. If you haven’t yet been to the Love’ page on the website [under Covid 19] let me encourage you to have a look, and also to visit a new page created by Andy called ‘Looking’ to which you can direct friends who are seeking truth and relationship with God at this time of uncertainty.  Andrew Wort is also continuing to develop a new resources section with useful reviews and links.  Here are the relevant pages:


www.bpc.org.au/love


www.bpc.org.au/looking

www.bpc.org.au/resources


Services

This Sunday the 29th we will have a very slimmed down live stream. When the Government announced restrictions on the numbers allowed at weddings and funerals, and with the repeated message to reduce contact with others, we decided we would go to pre-recorded services for the foreseeable future. This will allow us to continue to be blessed by a number of our gifted brothers and sisters contributing elements of the service from their homes. But we are not quite ready to do that yet – it takes quite a bit of organising and technology – so this week it will be a transitional live streamed service with minimum participants. This will also be the only week where the same service will serve all congregations. From next week, 5:00 pm will again be different from the 10 a.m. service and it is planned, Lord willing, that 10 and 5 will have different preaching from April 26th. You can connect to the livestream here:


www.bpc.org.au/live


After each service tomorrow, the pastors will also be available for you to meet online using Zoom.  This will be an opportunity also for you to meet with some others in the congregation "face to face" if you would like to.  This will be for 20 mins and there will be links provided that you can click on to enter the Zoom meeting.  If you would like to become more familiar with Zoom, please click on this link to YouTube.


Session has decided we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the 5th April. There will be further communication about this next week – the why and the how – but I would encourage you to plan to participate all together at either your morning or evening service.


We will also be having our normal Good Friday service – on line, at 9:30 on Good Friday, reading the account in John’s gospel of Jesus’ last hours, and singing of His death for our sins. The world lurches from one crisis to another, but the gospel is unchanging, and the victory of Christ over sin and death, the victory that gives believers eternal life, is once and for all.


The Building

The building is now officially closed. Individual staff will access the building for work purposes [e.g. to use the internet, record a part of the service], but there will be, again for the foreseeable future, no organised or group activities in the building until restrictions are lifted. The BOM has arranged for regular cleaning of the building during the closure so that we are ready to start immediately the restrictions are lifted. Permission can be given for individuals to use the building on their own under certain circumstances, but it must be applied for through the office.


Growth Groups

Many have successfully kicked off their on-line meetings, although with a little frustration for some. While not as good as being in each other’s presence, I was encouraged to see everyone in the growth group I attend and to hear how they are getting on. If you are not part of a Growth Group, but feel that you would be encouraged through this time by joining one and having regular contact with other believers, please contact Clinton.


Youth Group

Youth Group, like all groups other than our Sunday services and growth groups, has stopped meeting for now but Andrew Wort is investigating ways of staying in contact in a time when many of our youth are prevented from engaging in their normal activities and can share the general anxiety and concern for the future infecting in our society. In addition, if parents want resources to help them disciple their young people at this time, please contact Andrew who has been gathering these resources together.


Holidays

Clinton, Chris, Cat and Maxine had all planned holidays during this Easter break and I have encouraged them to take them. While unable to get away it is important they have time with their families to be refreshed together. Chris and Clinton will be away from the 30/3 to the 6/4.


More

Remember there will be more to come – more changes, and more resources to sustain you and encourage you while we are apart. Stay in touch, and if like me you are concerned about the impact of separation and isolation on the faith of your brothers and sisters, be encouraged by Paul’s experience and learn to pray


Paul’s prayers

Paul was often spatially separated from his beloved fellow believers. It is mentioned in 1 and 2 Corinthians and Philippians, Colossians and 1 Thessalonians. Even though it grieved him and he longed for them [e.g. 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5], longed to be able to encourage them in person in their various trials, he had confidence in God. In Philippians he writes of his confidence that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Phil. 1:6 ESV]. That confidence was the basis of the bold prayers he prayed for them – e.g. Phil. 1:9-11, Col. 1:9-14, 1 Thess. 3:11-13. He knew that the Lord’s work in their lives was not dependent on his physical presence, but on His powerful Spirit. Let us share his confidence in our saving God, and pray those same prayers [and others e.g. Eph. 1:15-22, 3:14-19; 2 Thess. 1:11-12] for each other.


Remember, our God is the one “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” as He brings glory to Himself as the mighty Saviour of His people through His Son [Eph. 3:20-21]


Neil Chambers
Senior Pastor


Responding to Covid 19 (19 March 2020)

Monday – 500. Wednesday – 100. Friday - ?
Adapting to the ever changing world of Covid 19 response


Some of you may remember that it was only last Friday that the Government announced that it would allow no indoor gathering of greater than 500, a regulation that was to come into force on this last Monday. Then yesterday, Wednesday 18th, it announced that it would allow no ‘non-essential’ indoor gathering of greater than 100, effective from 5:00 pm that day. What you see below is our response to that change. But it is still a provisional response because in the Wednesday announcement the PM also said that State Governments were working on regulations that would govern the implementation of that restriction for groups, including churches. We have yet to see what those state regulations will be, but we felt it necessary to communicate the changes that will happen to our Sunday gathering as early as possible.


Sundays
From this Sunday, Lord willing, the way the most of us will participate in our Sunday gathering is through live streaming of the service. I say most, because we will need some – those involved in AV, PA and music as well as those speaking, reading and praying, in the building. We hope this will be possible. We are in the process of communicating with our brothers and sisters on those rosters, and their participation will be voluntary.


We will live stream a morning service at 10:00 am and an evening service at 5:00 pm.


There will be no Sunday School. We intend to have a children’s talk as part of the service, and Clarissa is working on resources to help you keep instructing your children at home.


We also hope to make available with the live stream - outlines, transcripts and questions you might like to discuss with others.


We would encourage you to watch the live stream with others if that is permitted, whether with another family or some members of your growth group. In meeting, observe the precautions to prevent transmission of the virus – the handwashing, the covering of the face, staying away if you are ill, appropriate distance. But recognise that the PM is suggesting these restrictions will be in place for up to six months and so our response must be sustainable. Complete isolation will not be sustainable for most over that time, so think about how you can encourage each other as you ought.


If we are allowed more in the building than the bare minimum to run the livestreamed service then we would invite another 30-40 to be present. There is sufficient space in the building to allow the required distancing and it would enhance the live stream experience. But we do not know if that will be permissible until after we see the Victorian Governments regulations on Friday, and it will be by invitation only.


Therefore, plan to livestream the service to your home on Sunday.


If you are unsure of how to do that, or unsure if you have the technology to do that, please get in touch by sending an email to the office asap (office@bpc.org.au).


Moving to livestreaming will mean that we will not be able to pass around the blue offering bags, so if you don’t yet give by electronic means could you prayerfully consider doing so.


Staying in touch.
Being unable to catch up with each other on Sunday increases the risk that some of us may become isolated and unable to receive encouragement and help when we need it.


So plan to stay in touch. Take the initiative. Ring those in your growth group if you do not see them that week. Ring those with whom you sit on a Sunday to see how they are going. Ring or visit those in your mainly music or explorers group. Ring or message one of the Pastors if you are aware of a need – yours or someone else’s, or you want to talk.


We will be trying to stay in touch with you, whether through your Growth Group leader, or regular email communication, or a daily prayer update that we will seek to develop, or a phone call. It may take a week or two to get all those processes working smoothly because school holidays will be starting soon, but we will be aiming for some form of weekly contact.


Three key website links will be helpful for you:


www.bpc.org.au/coronavirus

Will contain all the updates that we have sent through to members and regular attenders of the church.


www.bpc.org.au/live

Will be the place that you access the live stream on Sundays.  These will be kept for 24 hours after which they will not be able to be downloaded.


www.bpc.org.au/love

This will be the place that you can communicate to us and and will be the way that you can be encouraged in loving others at a time when people need it.


If you are looking to offer help there is a place to make that known.  If you would like to receive help if you are self-isolating, you can also make that known.


There is also a place that you can update us weekly on your status by saying "hi" – e.g. ‘at home but well’, ‘in quarantine’, ‘awaiting test results’, ‘tired by two small children but enjoying my husband/wife working from home’.


Growth Groups
We are hoping Growth Groups can continue to meet, even if in modified form. Again, when you meet it will be necessary to observe all the precautions to prevent transmission of the virus. You may need to change the way you share food. But as stated above, six months is a long time, and we need to sustain ourselves over that time. Scripture urges us to meet together to encourage each other to love and good works, and we should not think we are wiser that Scripture. In addition to the dangers of illness, isolation and loneliness the virus has brought, we face all the usual temptations to discouragement, distraction and disobedience. Be active encouragers of one another.


Clinton is already working on supporting our growth group leaders in what will be an increasingly important role in sustaining our life together over this time.


Meetings

Many of you have already moved to on-line meetings at work. We anticipate that this will be the case at church, and are actively investigating the technology and software options.


The Pastors also will be seeking to avoid having to be quarantined all at once and will move our meetings to online, and we will also move to only have two pastors at a time at the streamed services. We are still thinking about the details of this for the preaching program, but the in principle decision has been made. Even if not seen, all the pastors will be working both in staying in touch and generating content for on line communication.


Resources
We will be seeking to communicate a range of resources to help you not only endure but grow over this time. Work has just started on this, but there are already a number of useful articles on the Gospel Coalition website, and we will also be looking to generate relevant material.


Sadly this will not be the last email from me about our response as a church to our society’s ever evolving response to the Covid 19 threat. There may be more details when we know how the Victorian government will enforce the ‘social distancing’ measures. But at this time we think fuller communication is better than too little communication.


Finally, let me encourage you not to judge others for their response. Some will only feel safe with total isolation, others may feel that continuing contact with others is needed. Each of us will have to make those decisions for ourselves and our families with the wisdom we are given. But make them out of faith and love, not fear. And draw near to Jesus. I was reading this morning Matthew 14:13-33, one of my favourite passages. As I look at the months ahead I am reassured by Jesus’ feeding the 5,000 that He is always able to supply His followers with the resources needed to do what He commands. I have often thought of this in terms of material resources, but now I am comforted by the thought that in my lack and your lack, whether that is lack of wisdom or courage or energy, Jesus is able to use the little we have to more than supply our need as we do what He says. And even when we think we are going under, overwhelmed by what we see around us, Jesus hears our cry [14:30] ‘Lord, save me’, and His strong hand is more than able to pull us out and make us safe.


As the Psalmist says “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” Ps. 34:4


Neil Chambers
Senior Pastor


Responding to Covid 19 (18 March 2020)

Recent Developments

Many of you will have heard the Prime Minister this morning restrict indoor gatherings to 100 or less. This clearly has implications for our gatherings, especially our Sunday gathering. You will also have heard the PM and the chief medical officer saying that these measures are not a short sharp shock, but measures that may well continue for six months. Our response therefore needs to be carefully considered. We have been anticipating that this further restriction would come, but it will need some time over the next few days to work out the details for Sundays remembering that what we put in place will last for months.


In the immediate prayer meeting will be going ahead tonight, but we will close the doors at 80. There is sufficient space in the auditorium to practice the social distancing being recommended. We will not be using mics, so those who pray will have to speak up. We will also be keeping a record of those who attend to allow tracing of contacts should it be required. All who come should be diligently practicing those personal measures recommended to prevent the spread of the virus, and please stay away if you have had any contact with someone you think might be infected or have any symptoms of the flu or other upper respiratory tract infection.


Suspension of mid-week Activities

We had decided yesterday but not yet communicated that all groups that use the building during the week will finish this Friday. For example, Youth Group and Kid’s Club will have their last meeting this Friday and the Iranian congregation’s meeting will continue to be suspended. This will also be the last week for daytime church groups – Mainly Music, Explorers, Friday women’s bible study. All these groups, except the Iranian congregation, would have been ceasing for the school holidays starting on the 28th March but they will not automatically resume at the commencement of Term 2. The situation will be reviewed in the first week of term 2, but the indications are that the situation will not have improved by them and so we should probably anticipate their continuing suspension for term 2.


Growth Group and Church continue

At the moment we want our growth groups to keep meeting. In fact their role will take on even greater importance. Meeting is important. We are embodied people and it is encouraging not just to know there are other believers out there but to be, where we can, in their presence. It is good to sing and pray together. Meeting is good for other aspects of a community’s health as well – for its psychological health and morale, for sustaining communal bonds, and for giving a little taste of the normal when the world is being shaken. So while we may, in groups of 100 or less, we will meet.


Please pray for the staff and Session as they think through the arrangements needed to keep on encouraging each other to perseverance in trusting Jesus and to live that life of love and good works He calls us to. There will be further communication later in the week especially regarding our Sunday Services.

Responding to Covid 19 (13 March 2020)

As you know, the government has declared the Covid 19 spread to be a pandemic. That means it is not a question of if, but when, many Australians become infected. The Government is encouraging us all to take steps to slow the spread of the virus within our community for the good of the whole community. Slowing the spread, even if it does not stop new people becoming infected, prevents the health system from becoming overwhelmed. There are finite numbers of health personnel, and finite physical resources like hospital beds and ventilators, the latter having a key role in the treatment of those with serious respiratory illness. If the spread of the virus is slowed and the peak of infections is thereby reduced there remains capacity in the system to treat the most seriously ill. But if the virus is allowed to spread quickly the number of infections, and therefore the number of seriously ill people, rises very rapidly. The demand for ventilators may then exceed the number available and hard choices must be made about who is offered what treatment. Rapid spread may also mean that large numbers of health workers are sick simultaneously and so staffing our hospitals and providing care to those who need it, not just those infected with Covid 19 but those with other and pre-existing serious diseases, becomes difficult. So while some of us may remain uninfected, and some of us get a mild infection, it is important for all of us to do what we can to prevent infection. This is love of neighbour.


It is especially important for those groups, like churches, that meet regularly to work to prevent the spread of infection. Meeting together to praise our Lord, pray together and hear His word is a source of great encouragement for us, but meeting also can facilitate the spread of the virus where appropriate steps are not taken. We are therefore making changes to the way we do things, changes that we hope will prevent the spread of the virus amongst us. You will notice those changes from the time you enter the building on Sunday.


Changes to Sunday

Coming into the building you will notice posters reminding you of the steps you can take to prevent the spread of the virus – washing hands with soap or sanitiser, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, not touching your face with your hands. These are all important things you can do.


You will notice that the door is open. Covid 19 can survive on hard surfaces and so we want to decrease the number of times you need to touch a hard surface with your hand. We will have disinfected the door handles and other surfaces, but it also helps to minimise contact with them. The doors into the auditorium will also be open, or opened for you.


You won’t get a hug or a handshake from the welcomer, again in an attempt to minimise contact transfer of the virus, and we would be grateful if you made your own policy ‘no hug, no handshake’ for the time being. There are alternative ways of greeting, so be creative.


When you come to the sign in desk one of the welcome team will sign you in and hand you your name tag to prevent the screen from becoming a source of transmission.


If you haven’t sanitised your hands in the car we would encourage you to use hand sanitiser before you enter the auditorium, again to prevent spread on hard surfaces like the backs of seats.


In the service it will be much the same as before, although the handles of the blue bags will have been disinfected, and the AV team will be live streaming the service. We have tested this once before, and this Sunday we will be live streaming so that it can be a regular and reliable feature of our service when some have to start to self-isolate or are put in quarantine.


You will also notice changes when you leave the service for morning tea or supper. Food on open platters can be a source of transmission, especially if hands are reaching into bowls or they are contaminated with infected aerosol droplets. So from this Sunday until this pandemic phase ceases there will be no food put out on tables. This Sunday [15/3] only there will be commercial biscuits in individual packets available at the serveries, but from the 22nd we will not be offering food. If you anticipate your child being hungry we would encourage you to bring food from home for him or her, and to supervise your child eating it and not sharing it, in case of allergies.


Drinks will all be served from the servery. The morning tea team will add milk and sugar as you request. This is again an attempt to prevent spread from many people handling jug handles, or having open food sources like sugar bowls. We have asked the team to serve only adults [which for this purpose is year 7 and up] so if you are a parent you will need to get the drinks and the biscuits for your children. This is to prevent children being scalded with hot drinks, which has happened before. We would also ask you to restrict your child to one serve of biscuits, as these are limited.


When you have finished your drink it will be helpful if you can return your cup or glass to the servery, where a team member will put them through the dishwasher.

Children will have had their hands sanitised before they come down from Sunday School.


We will continue serving morning tea in creche. The team will fill the children’s bowls and supervise them eating as this gives us a little more control over the allergy risk. We also ask you to wash the children’s hands before they come into creche. If your child is unwell it is important that they are not placed in creche. Children with coughs, colds and runny noses should for the time being be cared for at home.


Other

All the mid-week meetings of the church are also engaging in how they can prevent spread and will be informing their members of what needs to be done. It is however in our Sunday gathering that we will need to be the most careful as the larger the group the greater the possibility of a number being infected, and the greater difficulty in tracing contacts.


All toys put out will be cleaned at the end of every session, and we are giving continuing thought to how to disinfect areas of the church. Door handles are easy, but the slide in the play area is more challenging. We will be asking for volunteers to help disinfect areas, and particularly on Sunday morning before the 9:00 am service.


There will be changes in the distribution of the Lord’s Supper but we have not yet finalised these. It may be that on Communion Sundays you are asked after the children go out to sit in alternate rows so that the servers can carry the tray and plate to you to prevent multiple people handling them. We are giving particular thought to the bread.


What do I do if I suspect I have come in contact with someone with Covid 19 or suspect I might be infected?

Contact your doctor, or ring the Covid 19 hotline 03 9496 6606.

Follow all medical instructions.

Self-isolate until you know you are not infected, or until you have recovered.

Let us know so that we can stay in touch with you and provide pastoral care and support to you.

If you have come recently from overseas follow the government’s instruction to self-isolate for fourteen days, and let us know you have returned.


What do I do if I just feel ill?

If you or your child is ill love your brothers and sisters by staying at home until you are well, and let us love you by letting us know you are unable to attend because of ill health.


The following websites are helpful sources of information:


WHO Website 

Comm Dept Health 

Vic Health 


What will we do when we learn someone in the congregation has been diagnosed with Covid 19?


1.     Contact DHSS for advice and follow their instructions

2.     Investigate: when were they last in contact with others at church? When were they last in the building, or in growth group?  To allow adequate time for this we may need to not meet on the following Sunday.

3.     Disinfect areas they were present in. Here again we will need to follow advice.

4.     Communicate clearly with the congregation what has happened and what has been done.

5.     Make sure all those the person was in direct contact with self-isolate while being tested.

6.      Communicate clearly how those in self isolation can live stream services

7.     Welfare checks on those self isolated. Daily phone call by pastoral team

8.     Seek to provide other support needed for those affected e.g. help with Shopping or help with their children.

9.     Welcome back after recovery or at the end of quarantine.


This is new to us all, and our response may continue to evolve as the virus spreads and its impact becomes more apparent, or the government issues further advice. We do not know but it is highly likely some of us may get sick, and while most of us may only have mild symptoms some of us may get very sick, and a few of us may even die. That is the nature of pandemics with new infectious agents and we need to face that. We do not think Christians are spared the ills of living in a fallen world that is in rebellion to its creator. Paul speaks in Romans of the sufferings of this present time in a creation that groans. But he speaks of them in the context of saying such sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed when we receive our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies [Romans 8:18-25]. That has always been our hope as believers – the resurrection to the new heaven and earth. Paul is also confident, as we should be, that our heavenly Father works all things for the good of those who love Him. We can be confident that He will be helping us to grow in Christlikeness as we deal with this infection, and as we deal with our fears and anxieties around it. It is a good time to bring them to the Lord and let Him test our hearts, to see whether we are trusting Him as He deserves to be trusted. It is also a good time to teach your children about the power, faithfulness and love of Jesus that gives us confidence in Him, even when we are afraid. And Paul assures us in Romans 8 that neither death nor life, nor anything, can separate us from the love of God.


The changes we are making are not prompted by fear, but love. It is love of our neighbours to seek individually and together to limit the spread of the virus, particularly our neighbours whose health is compromised by pre-existing illnesses. It is love of those who serve us in the health care system to seek to limit the spread of the disease. The slower the spread the more adequate will be the resources available to treat the seriously ill. And it is love of Jesus and his reputation that will make us active in seeking to limit the spread of the disease. We want people to know that Jesus’ followers are thoughtful for the good of others. So, even though the changes above may have an impact on your Sunday experience, embrace them cheerfully, and let’s seek to encourage each other and help each other in making them work.


We must make sure that we continue to walk in love in the days ahead, a love that comes from faith, and accompanies a confident hope in our Lord Jesus. If people need to isolate, we have to stay in touch with them and make sure they have all they need. If someone is not at church because they are wisely keeping an off-colour child at home, be in touch to find out how they are. It might be a long winter and so we have to be active to encourage each other and not let anyone drop through the cracks. If some have their income reduced because work has dried up, share with them what you have.


And as an expression of our love – pray and offer hope to a suffering world. Pray for our leaders, that they would make wise decisions about controlling the virus and minimising its impact. Pray for our health care workers, for wisdom and safety. Pray that the Lord would be merciful, both in limiting the spread and severity of the virus, and in using it to turn people back to him as they know again their frailty. Pray for each other, that in the Lord’s mercy He would protect and heal, and above all sustain our trust in His love and His promises, and that we would honour our Lord Jesus through this.


And offer hope. The risen Jesus can raise the dead, and only He can. The risen Jesus can forgive our sins and spare us judgement. You see around you fear and anxiety, and sometimes the selfishness it gives rise to as people seek to save their own lives. As people are forced to see that they are not in charge and not in control, direct them to the gracious Lord who can heal with a word, raise the dead with a word, to whom all created things are subject, and in whom they can find mercy.


Paul says that knowing peace with God through Christ we can rejoice in our sufferings, because suffering produces endurance, endurance character, and character hope – and this hope will never disappoint us because the Spirit floods our hearts with God’s love because He convicts us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. [Romans 5:1-11] It is an incomparable privilege to live this life with all its challenges and uncertainties as a believer in Jesus. Yet Christ is the Saviour of all sinners who turn to him – so share the hope and privilege that transforms our present trials by sharing Him.

COVID 19 Prevention (11 March 2020)

The elders, like many of you, are closely following the news about the spread of Covid 19 and monitoring the government advice. While there have now been cases of acquisition of the infection in Australia there is, as yet, no suggestion by the government of any need to stop meeting.  The elders are, however, considering contingency plans to continue to encourage and care for each other should the government advise that we should stop meeting for a time.


In the meantime, knowing that it is love of neighbour to seek to prevent the spread of the virus, we draw your attention to the following advice given on the VicHealth website:


Ten ways to reduce your risk of coronavirus

·       Wash hands often with soap and running water, for at least 20 seconds. Dry with paper towel or hand dryer.

·       Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

·       Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow.

·       Isolate yourself at home if you feel sick. If you take medication ensure you have adequate supplies.

·       Phone your GP first if you need medical attention. They will tell you what to do.

·       Continue healthy habits: exercise, drink water, get plenty of sleep, and now is the time to quit smoking. Call the Quitline 137 848.

·       Don't wear a face mask if you are well.

·       Buy an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with over 60 per cent alcohol.

·       Get the flu shot (available April).

·       Shaking hands is optional!


This is sound advice.


We will continue to provide hand sanitiser around the building, and have purchased some bins with lids for the disposal of tissues. If you develop ‘flu like’ symptoms - cough, sore throat, headache, or fever – we would encourage you to stay at home and let one of the pastoral staff know so that we can stay in touch with you.


The following websites are helpful sources of information:


WHO Website 

Comm Dept Health 

Vic Health 


While we should seek to be good neighbours we should also not give way to fear. This is a time to remember what we believe, and to live lives marked by faith, hope and love. As we saw in Deut 32:39 our lives are in the Lord’s hands. All our days are already written in His book before one of them came to be [Ps. 139:16] so none of us will live a day more or less than our heavenly Father has determined, and as Jesus said being anxious will not extend our lives [Matt. 6:27]. Our God has promised to work all things for our good, including new viruses, so we should be confident He will use this to help us grow in Christlikeness [Romans 8:28-30]. And if He wills that this should be the cause of our death [and we are all going to die sometime and from something unless Jesus returns first] we know we will not be separated from His love [Romans 8:35-39]. In fact Paul says those who depart to be with Christ are better off [Phil. 1:21, 23] and Revelation tells us that those who die in the Lord are blessed, for they rest from their labours [Rev. 14:13]. Christ has promised eternal life to His people, and His promise is sure [Jn. 11:25-26]. Knowing our heavenly Father’s love and knowing our Saviour’s faithfulness, hard as it may seem, we also have to be able to entrust those we love into His hands. Their lives have always been in His hands, and He is able to keep them even when we are not present. It can be hard, but we can cast our cares for them, our anxiety about their future, onto our heavenly Father [1 Pet. 5:6-7].


Having this faith and hope, which is the faith and hope of every believer, we are freed to live lives of love. Loving others, whether it is staying at our job if it exposes us to risk, sharing resources, caring for sick family and friends, takes courage in these circumstances. But we must not give way to a fearful self concern. The safe way in any circumstance is to keep trusting Jesus in doing what He says, and He says we should love our neighbours as ourselves. If and when our brothers and sisters get ill and have to self isolate we will have opportunity to show we are really Jesus’ disciples by our love, whether that is seen in dropping of groceries, or the daily phone call, or transport, in any number of practical ways.


See the virus as an opportunity to live the life we are all called to, the life of faith, hope and love, and in living that life enhance the reputation of Jesus our Saviour and Lord.