BUNDOORA PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

BPC Pastors Updates

Staying in touch - 30th July 2021

Confidence in Coming Back

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Part 1 - Confidence in Coming Back


A Melbourne restauranteur was quoted in Tuesday’s Australian as saying “What happens is consumer confidence takes two, three, four, five weeks to build. We struggle to get that momentum going again [after lockdowns]. There are impacts for many months.”


As we look at a cautious relaxation of our fifth lockdown his words resonated with me. We feel the tentativeness to re-engage, the struggle to regain momentum in our ministries and Sunday gathering. Just thinking about getting going again can sometimes feel like a burden. But I am far more confident about the future. I am confident because this week I have had the encouragement of seeing the determination of so many in restarting their ministries – thank you Mainly Music, Explorers, Cleaners, Kids Club and Youth Group teams. And I am confident because we are different from a business, with a different source of direction, a different source of strength, and a different source of confidence about the future.


"We feel the tentativeness to re-engage, the struggle to regain momentum in our ministries and Sunday gathering. Just thinking about getting going again can sometimes feel like a burden."


We are different


All the businesses that have been shut down, all community sporting clubs, are reporting a difficulty in getting going again – in getting people through the door or volunteering to serve. But we are not a business or a community club. The church does not consist of a core of people offering services for others to consume. We are Christ’s church, the household of God [1 Tim. 3:15-16], together, every one of us, the body of Christ that has its life from the head and which grows as each part does its work [Eph. 4:15-16]. We are called together by our Lord Jesus, called to serve one another in love, and brought into being by Him for a purpose – to be salt and light in the world, not just individually but collectively [Matt. 5:13-16]. In our life together, in our dealings with each other, we are to model and show to the world the goodness of trusting and obeying Jesus. Our coming together is not a preference or a pastime, but an expression of our being as people joined to Jesus by faith and to each other in love as the family of Christ.


"The church does not consist of a core of people offering services for others to consume. We are Christ’s church, the household of God... Our coming together is not a preference or a pastime, but an expression of our being as people joined to Jesus by faith and to each other in love as the family of Christ."


Directed by faith


And we have a different source to direct our behaviour. As believers our guide in life is not our feelings, appetites or desires, or even our own weariness. Our guide is the Word of God, the word that tells us for our good not to neglect meeting together. In dealing with the ups and downs of the pandemic and our own ups and downs in it we know that the safe path is to keep on walking by faith, not by sight. That means we will continue as believers to be directed by love, not fear, for love is what our Lord commands. And love seeks to encourage and sustain, to overcome isolation, to keep our children learning the faith together, to relieve need, even if it involves some risk. There was risk as well as cost and inconvenience in the Good Samaritan stopping to help on the bandit infested road to Jericho. There is risk in getting back together again or getting the vaccine which we hope will allow us to end this cycle of lockdowns, but trusting our God who commands us to love and rules all things, love takes the risk – again and again.


"As believers our guide in life is not our feelings, appetites or desires, or even our own weariness. Our guide is the Word of God"


Sustained by grace


And we have a different source of strength. This pandemic has brought times of great weariness of soul to nearly all of us, and sometimes it can seem too hard to walk by faith and love. But we can rely on our gracious Lord who delights to show His strength in our weakness [2 Cor. 12:7-10]. Paul’s thorn in his flesh must have been so wearying and distracting to him, getting him down. But rather than remove it the Lord said to Him “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This is a time to know again that where we rely on Jesus’ grace we have strength even in our weakness to live as His followers.


"This pandemic has brought times of great weariness of soul to nearly all of us, and sometimes it can seem too hard to walk by faith and love. But we can rely on our gracious Lord who delights to show His strength in our weakness"


Confidence in God, not people


And we have a different source of confidence about the future. Our trust is not in people, that they will make all the right decisions to keep us open and restore prosperity. As believers our confidence is in the steadfast love of the Lord. Our hope for the success of our obedient efforts, the prospering of our life together as His people, whether in or out of lockdown is in our faithful God, and so we are confident that in His good time He will restore and strengthen us.

So directed by His word, relying on His grace for strength, confident in His steadfast love let’s get going again and show to the world our difference in our life together, to the glory of our Saviour.


"So directed by His word, relying on His grace for strength, confident in His steadfast love let’s get going again and show to the world our difference in our life together, to the glory of our Saviour."


Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His steadfast love endures for ever.



Part 2 - Church with the 100 Cap


It is another cautious relaxation so let me run through what, Lord willing, this will look like for us. I will focus on our Sundays services for, praise God, a cap of 100 in the building means that Mainly Music, Explorers, Friday Women’s Bible Study, Kid’s Club and Youth Group can all restart more or less normally – with a covid check in marshal, masks on inside, and food only where people are appropriately seated. But the one hundred cap does require as before some adaptation to our Sunday gatherings.


Services


We will return to three services this Sunday, 9, 11 and 5, but only livestreaming at 9 and 5 unless there is an event at 11 to give some small relief to our PA and AV teams. For those who normally attend 11 the 9 am service will be waiting for you on youtube. Pre-registration is needed to come to church so that we can keep track of numbers. We don’t want to have to turn people away at the door. If your service is full consider going to another. We do want as many as possible to be able to attend services over these two weeks so those who are seeking to attend but can’t fit in this week will automatically be registered for next Sunday.

When you arrive scan the QR code and smile at the check in marshal behind your masks which we will have to wear inside throughout the service. Consider using the myChurch app to print your name tag to decrease touch.


Children and Youth


To maintain consistency over what we anticipate will be a staged relaxation children in little Sunday School and Sunday School will start upstairs. Please keep sending them with their labelled water bottle and snack. This will continue until we have a cap of 300 or more in the building. Creche will start after the Kid’s Song. Due to the limit on numbers and the inconsistency in attendance that creates Sunday youth will be waiting to restart till all can be present.


Morning Tea


We won’t be starting Morning Tea or Supper at present. With only 100 max in the building we can’t afford overlap in the morning congregations. Further, restaurants are only allowed to serve people who are seated with a cap on group size of 10 and so it would seem imprudent at any service to create a situation where people are moving around with masks off talking to each other while they sip a tea or coffee. We hope this will only be for two weeks.


The Lord’s Supper


We have also decided not to have the Lord’s Supper this Sunday but instead wait to celebrate the Supper in September. We had a couple of reasons for this. I and others are very uncomfortable with celebrating the Supper where some can attend in person and some cannot. This seems to me to express separation and even exclusion, not the unity Christ’s people have in the Supper. I know we can all hear the promises and all eat and drink, in the building and on line, but where some can be together and not all reinforces the not rightness of our situation, especially to those who want to be with us but cannot be because of the number cap. Better to wait. And in the current circumstances as we are just emerging from lockdown it probably goes against the spirit of the regulations for a large number of people to all have their masks off inside at the same time, even if briefly, as would happen in our celebration of the Supper. Again, better to wait for the anticipated further relaxation of restrictions.


Growth Groups


Growth Groups, sadly, are the ministry who gain little from these relaxations. No one can be in our homes and only ten in public areas like parks. The encouragement, edification and connection that comes from meeting in growth groups has been, and continues to be, vital for sustaining us at this time. So pray for them and their leaders as they resume on Zoom and many start the generosity project.


We do hope for a further relaxation in two weeks, Lord willing. So while giving thanks for what we now enjoy continue to pray for that relaxation. 100 is just a start for us, but a difficult and unsatisfying number for our Sunday gatherings and it is so good for all of us to be able to be together. So ask the Lord that in His mercy we continue to see low case numbers and can come back to all being able to meet, and as you do remember to ask for the same mercy for our brothers and sisters in NSW who are struggling now with what we have experienced so often.


Staying in touch - 23rd July 2021

Do not fear bad news

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Part 1 - Recieving bad news with confidence as believers

 

In my daily bible reading this week, as I was digesting the news of the continuing lockdown and the reality that our services would be online again this week, I came across Psalm 112 verses 7 and 8. Speaking of the person who fears the Lord and delights in His commandments it says

He will not fear bad news;
his heart is confident [firm], trusting in the Lord.
His heart is assured [steady]; he will not fear.
In the end he will look in triumph on his foes.

(Psalm 112:7-8 CSB)

 

These verses got my attention as I have found myself sometimes reacting to the bad news of the continuing case numbers and accompanying restrictions with dismay. Such news can unsettle me, sometimes even generate what I call a brown funk – that mixture of anxiety about all the uncertainty around what is happening, frustration, even anger, about the actions or inaction of others, and a growing sense of powerlessness that can cloud the mind and temporarily obscure the light of truth and hope. It is an uncomfortable feeling and an unhelpful reaction, but I don’t think it is uncommon in these days. You may know your own particular version, however fleeting, of it yourself.

 

 

"I have found myself sometimes reacting to the bad news of the continuing case numbers and accompanying restrictions with dismay." 

 

So I wanted to understand why the righteous person of Psalm 112 can receive bad news with confidence, with a steady heart that is not unsettled and fearful.

It would be good to be that person in our world, for there is no shortage of bad news – whether about the climate or economy, about politics or pandemic, it just keeps coming. And there is no shortage of those who peddle and magnify the bad news.

 

"I wanted to understand why the righteous person of Psalm 112 can receive bad news with confidence, with a steady heart that is not unsettled and fearful."

 

And sometimes the bad news is not just out there, in general. Sometimes the bad news we receive is very personal – when we are told that it is our job that will be lost, our parent who is ill, our tests that show cancer. Personal, and real – our income is lost, our parent does die, and we do face months of gruelling treatment with an uncertain outcome.

 

How does trusting the LORD mean we can receive this bad news without fear, with steady hearts?

 

To know the truth of that we must see that this Psalm is first true of Jesus. He was the Israelite who lived all His life in fear of the LORD, delighting to do the Father’s will, the genuinely righteous person. And He was often the recipient of bad news, bad news that concerned him directly – whether that was news of many disciples abandoning Him, or of Herod’s plot to kill Him, or of His own people’s rejection of Him [John 6:66, Luke 13:31; John 18:35]. He lived with the bad news that rejection, humiliation and shameful death on the cross awaited Him in Jerusalem, that this was His Father’s will [Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34]. Yet even in the garden as He brought to the Father His desire that it be not so, His heart was steady, set to do the Father’s will. And when He heard the bad news of Pilate’s verdict He was not afraid, His heart so settled that on the way to the cross He could give prophetic warning to the people who followed Him [Luke 23:28-31], that as He was crucified he could pray for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him [Lk 23:34], and on the cross itself provide for His mother [John 19:26-27], open paradise to the thief dying next to Him [Luke 23:39-43].

 

And His confidence in His Father’s wisdom, might and love was right. He was raised from the dead, exalted to the Father’s right hand through that painful death. He looks in triumph on His enemies.

 

Psalm 112:7-8 is first true of our Lord Jesus. He was not afraid when He received bad news; His heart was firm, trusting in the LORD. And it is in Jesus, trusting Him, that we can know for ourselves that same confidence and assurance in the face of the constant bad news we receive in a world still in rebellion against its Creator and Lord.

 

"[Jesus] was not afraid when He received bad news; His heart was firm, trusting in the LORD. And it is in Jesus, trusting Him, that we can know for ourselves that same confidence and assurance in the face of the constant bad news"

 

It is in trusting Jesus that we are righteous, justified in God’s sight by Jesus’ death for our sin. We are at peace with God and need not fear this bad news as news of His judgment on us, as an expression of His just anger at our sin. That anger is deserved, but the Lord Jesus has taken it upon Himself. He has received the bad news of being sentenced to death for sin in our place, so that we can receive the good news of forgiveness. Justified by faith we stand now in grace. Grace is God’s settled attitude towards us and we can rely on it. [Romans 3:18-26, 5:1-11].

 

And it is in trusting Jesus that we know the LORD is our loving heavenly Father. The ruler of the universe, the one who has life in Himself, has committed Himself to us in covenant relationship. His promises to us are sure, promises of life, of peace, of being able to see His face. And He has said nothing will separate us from His love.

 

Remember those words

 

Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

As it is written:

Because of you
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

 

How are you responding to the bad news you receive, whether it is bad news about what is going on around you, or bad news that affects you directly? I was a little rebuked by those verses in Psalm 112 and challenged to repent of my little faith that gives way so easily to dismay, that allows me to be so quickly unsettled. Our God is almighty, His wisdom never at a loss to know how to further His good purpose for His people, and His love never falters. It is not for the best of all possible lives in this world, a world still subject to sin and death, that we have trusted Him, but for the resurrection to a new heaven and earth, glory beyond our imagining. Nothing we experience here changes that, or its certainty. So let’s receive bad news as those who know they are justified by Jesus’ blood and honour our God, the God who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead, by trusting Him as He deserves, showing that trust by not being afraid and unsettled by the news we hear. Let’s honour Him by hearts that are firm and steady in keeping on doing His will by loving others and giving our Saving God the praise and thanks He deserves, now and forever.

 

"Let’s honour [God] by hearts that are firm and steady in keeping on doing His will by loving others and giving our Saving God the praise and thanks He deserves, now and forever."

 

 

Part 2 - A brief review of Tim Kellers book "On death"

 

Some of the worst news we can receive is news of our own coming death or news of the death of those we love.

 

Tim Keller has written a book “On death” to help us receive this news as believers. It is two short chapters and a helpful appendix.

  • In the first chapter he looks at the fear of death, both its reality and how Jesus took on flesh and blood so that through His own death He could free us from that fear, focusing on Heb. 2:14-15.
  • In the second chapter he looks at the disruption death brings to our relationships, and the comfort of the gospel hope of resurrection, that personal, embodied, beatific and certain hope, focusing on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
  • Then in the appendix he gives seven days of readings for someone facing death, and seven days of readings for someone grieving the death of one they love.

 

I found it a book full of encouragement and comfort. It is also a timely and practical book in a society that has a renewed consciousness of death, one that you could give away to someone seeking hope and comfort. Read it yourself first, but for anyone who has any background in Christianity, or is curious, it would be a suitable book.

 

Timothy Keller On Death Hodder and Stoughton, 2020

 

Staying in touch - 16th July 2021

Walking by Faith in Covid Times

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

 

Lockdown 5. Some of us thought it inevitable, some of us hoped it would never be – but whatever we thought, it has arrived with its further disruption of our lives, its reminder that life is not what it was and may never be again.

 

What does it mean to walk by faith, not just in the current lockdown, but in these Covid times?

Paul uses that phrase “We walk by faith, not by sight” in 2 Corinthians 5:7. It expresses there the reality that we do not yet have all we are promised in Christ for we are still in these mortal bodies and away from the Lord. But because we walk by faith we are confident, whatever ‘slight and momentary afflictions’ [2 Cor. 4:17] we experience, that the day will come when we are at home with the Lord and so now we make it our aim to live lives pleasing to Him, knowing we will appear before Him [2 Cor. 5:8-10].

 

So what is it to walk by faith now, to go through Covid times knowing that what we see, how things appear, our surface experience, is not the full picture because the full picture is given by the word of God, the gospel of Christ? Let me suggest four things that are true where we walk by faith.

 

Firstly, in the experience of uncertainty, believers know certainty.

This is an experience of uncertainty. There is an air of provisionality around whatever plans we make. Yet believers know certainty. We know, as Daniel has taught us, that the LORD rules – as Daniel said to Belshazzar, it is the LORD who holds our life breath in His hand and who controls the whole course of our lives [Daniel 5:23]. Not a sparrow falls to the ground, said our Lord, without our Father’s consent [Matt. 10:29]. Our God rules, and He has said He will work all things, even difficult things, for the good of those who love Him [Rom. 8:28]. His word tells us what that good is, helping us to be conformed to the image of His Son, and in that work trial has a vital role, working in us endurance, character and hope [Romans 5:1-5]. Walking by faith in Jesus in the experience of uncertainty we know certainty.

 

Secondly, walking by faith in Jesus in the experience of frustration we know thankfulness.

It is frustrating to be looking forward to that holiday or even just a day’s outing, and then have to cancel. To think you are just getting on top of things, and have to start schooling from home again. To be longing for the release of playing sport with others, and to have leave the boots in the cupboard. And yet believers are always giving thanks, for we always have cause for thanks. In a world newly aware of its mortality, we have a hope of eternal life. In a society that deserves God’s judgment for its pride and rebellion, believing in Jesus we have peace with the just and holy God. Our sins are forgiven – what a burden lifted. We have a Saviour who has said He will be with us always, God’s Spirit in our hearts assuring us or our relationship with God our Father crying Abba Father. We always have cause to give thanks

 

Thirdly, where we have to recognise our insignificance, to walk by faith is to recognise that we are loved children who can always draw near to our heavenly Father who knows us individually.

I don’t know about you but I wasn’t rung up by the authorities to get my opinion before they made the decision to lock us down again. No one consulted me about its impact on my individual plans or well being. In the face of Covid we have had to recognise that individually we are not particularly important, our lives just a component in the statistics – how many tested, how many ill, how many vaccinated, how many getting support. Yet by faith we are known by the Almighty God, individually. Our Lord calls us by name. Even the hairs of our heads are numbered. We can come with confidence to the throne of grace, the throne of the Almighty God, for mercy and grace to help in time of our individual need [Heb. 4:14-16]. This should not make us proud, for it is all by God’s grace, and all because of who He is, eternal, almighty, without any limit in His knowing, the God of love. Yet it is comforting.

 

Fourthly, to walk by faith is to know that in an experience of weakness we need not despair for our Lord has said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” 2 Cor. 12:9

As this time exposes our weaknesses – emotional, spiritual, physical – we know we can rely on the strength of our good Saviour to live lives as His follower.

 

The Lord Jesus is a great Saviour. All this wonderful, comforting, unseen reality comes from Him, and He has promised to be with us always.

 

So keep walking by faith, not anxious but confident in Him, and every day giving thanks, drawing near for the mercy and help you need, relying on His rich and generous grace, freely given us in our Saviour.

 

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

Staying in touch - 9th July 2021

Thinking Through the Cross

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Before I talk about the welcome relaxation in the density quotient I want to reflect briefly on what we do when some part of Scripture troubles us. Over the last few months I have had conversations myself or have had reported to me conversations about the concerns some have or the disquiet they feel about the teaching of Scripture on a broad range of topics - election, hell, sexuality, government, marriage, judgment.


Thankful for conversation


I am thankful for those conversations. It is good for me and the other pastors to be made to think about whether we have understood correctly and taught clearly those parts of Scripture. None of us want to cause unnecessary offence but more than that, I am very conscious that at the last day I will be judged [James 3:1] for what I have taught. We are stewards of God’s word and safety is only found in teaching that word faithfully. It would be awful to unthinkingly be teaching some cultural or ecclesiastical tradition as if it were the word of God. That is why I am grateful for conversation that give me an opportunity to look again at the Scriptures, to make sure they say what I am teaching they say, and also grateful to know you are praying that we would teach the word clearly, and  grateful through your support for being given time to read and think about it.


"I am grateful for conversations that give me an opportunity to look again at the Scriptures, to make sure they say what I am teaching they say"


Delight in God’s Word


But sometimes those conversations sadden me where what is expressed is not a desire to understand what is in Scripture better but a sense that Scripture in its teaching is a bit of an embarrassment and God should really have expressed Himself better. That saddens me because a core Christian conviction is that all Scripture is God breathed, the word of God, and that God’s word is good. The blessed person is the one who delights in and meditates on God’s Word, who confesses it to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path [Ps. 1, Ps. 119:105], more desirable than gold [Ps. 19]. Jesus in His life showed He was that person, knowing and living by the Scriptures. But we live in an age where many are convinced of their own goodness and wisdom, think they are more insightful than all the generations that have gone before, and think they know better than God what He should have done and said, and feel free to express their judgment of God. We should be conscious of how easily the spirit of the age can seep into our own interaction with Scripture, how easy it becomes to judge Scripture against the assumed self evident truths of our age.


"We should be conscious of ... how easy it becomes to judge Scripture against the assumed self evident truths of our age."


God says the one to whom HE looks, the one He regards, is the one who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at His word. Growth in understanding of God’s will can only happen where we listen to God in exactly those contexts where He is telling us what we don’t want to hear and where we are willing to change our minds to conform our thinking to His word. Yes – we must make sure we have understood the Word correctly, and that may be work. Yes – it may take time to work through why we might find a teaching so difficult, to come to conviction that our good God has told us this for our good. But that is the path of wisdom, that trusts in the LORD with all our heart and does not lean on our own understanding [Prov. 3:5].


"Growth in understanding of God’s will can only happen where we listen to God in exactly those contexts where He is telling us what we don’t want to hear"


Focus on the real cause of offence


But what most troubles me is that a focus on these issues can obscure what is really offensive and confronting in the Christian message, and that is the cross of our Lord Jesus and the lifestyle our crucified Lord calls for from His followers. The cross is not just the source of our salvation. It is the foundation of all our knowing and the content of all our living. To say the cross of our Lord is the wisdom and power of God [1 Cor. 1:18ff] is immediately to doubt my own goodness and wisdom, and to say God is incomparably better and wiser than I could imagine. It is to confess the rightness of His judgment on me, that I am a helpless sinner, incapable by my reason alone of discerning God’s will and of holding God to account. In fact to confess the cross as the wisdom and power of God confounds any claim that we know better than God what He should have done or said, for we would never have chosen the cross to save the world, but God did and has saved through the death of Jesus, reconciled the whole creation to Himself through Jesus’ blood [Col. 1:15-20]. All our thinking about God, and all our conviction about His goodness and wisdom starts here, and to confess we are saved through the death of Jesus is to also confess His is a wisdom and goodness, a power and love, that cannot be doubted or faulted.


"Focus on these issues can obscure what is really offensive and confronting in the Christian message, and that is the cross of our Lord Jesus and the lifestyle our crucified Lord calls for from His followers"


And the cross gives a shape to discipleship that confronts us every day, confronts our pride, our easy self-concern, our culture taught preoccupation with our rights. We know the words – love one another as I have loved you, or that greatness is service because the son of man did not come to be served but to serve. We know that when our Lord washed the disciples feet He said that He was setting us an example [Mk. 10:43-45, John 13:1-17, 34-35]. But to live that way  - whether it is in our marriage, or ministry, or in the way we shape our week to be present to encourage our brothers and sisters – that is a daily challenge, the challenge of daily denying ourselves and taking up our cross, of ‘doing nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit but in humility considering others as more important than ourselves’ [Phil 2:3].


I always welcome conversations about those aspects of Scripture’s teaching that are challenging or where you think it could be expressed better. But whatever it might be start your thinking at the cross, what it says about us and about God, and reckon you only understand the cross and trust the one who died on it as you live the cross, in love willing to do the will of your heavenly Father whatever the cost.


Further Relaxation and Sundays


We are thankful for the further relaxation in the density quotient announced this week. From today we can have one person per two square metres provided we also have a designated Covid check-in marshal. What does that mean for us?


Well, it means firstly that on Sundays we will need a covid check in marshall, someone to check that each of us have scanned the QR code or used the alternative check in sheet as we come into church. I know it irritates when we are not trusted to do the right thing, but reckon that the pain is worth the gain, smile and use it as an opportunity to say hello to whichever brother or sister has the job of marshall.


And it is gain for us to be at 2 square metres.

  • This Sunday it means we can run morning tea and have the library out again, as well as keep the petition closed for warmth.
  • Next Sunday, the 18th, it means children will start with us in the service before heading out to Sunday school and creche.
  • This Sunday the children will still go straight up to Sunday School as part of the holiday arrangements, and please keep sending them with their labelled drink bottle and snack.


We will keep needing to wear masks indoors unless you have an exemption but those working with children will not have to wear their masks when engaging with the children.


Winter, with coughs and sniffles and very cold mornings, is a harder time to get things going again, but make the effort.

Our Lord wants us to meet together for our good and just your presence is an encouragement to your brothers and sisters in a time when we all need encouragement.


"Make the effort. Our Lord wants us to meet together for our good and just your presence is an encouragement to your brothers and sisters in a time when we all need encouragement."


Staying in touch - 25th June 2021

Almost back to 'normal' this Sunday

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

It was good news this week with churches in Metropolitan Melbourne being allowed 300 inside, still subject to the one person per four square metre density quotient. It was not all we were hoping for, but the government has said this will be in place for two weeks with a further relaxation planned after that if numbers stay low.


What does it mean for this weekend?


Firstly, to maximise our numbers children will go straight upstairs to Sunday School as happened when we were last subject to the one person per four square meter density quotient. A big thank you to the children’s ministry team who will not only run Sunday school this weekend but also for the two weekends of the holidays so as many of us as want to can come to church. Parents, you will need drop your children off upstairs when you arrive, send them with their labelled drink bottle and snack, and remember to pick them up promptly when the service finishes.


"A big thank you to the children’s ministry team who will not only run Sunday school this weekend but also for the two weekends of the holidays so as many of us as want to can come to church."


Because of the good work of the Sunday school and creche teams we think that we will have space for all those who want to come to church at all three services. So we have scrapped pre-registration. Just come, scan in the QR code, and self check in to get your name tag. When you arrive there are three ways you can do check in.

  • You can do it by the computers – sanitise your hands before and after touching them, and we will also be sanitising the screens or keyboards.
  • Even better would be to use the ‘My Church’ app – if reception is an issue fill out the check in in the car park and then have your bar code scanned when you come into church.
  • Finally if none of those work for you, come to the registration desk and a name tag will be printed for you there.


Remember we do still need to wear masks indoors, and we do have to have a ‘Covid Marshal’ monitoring QR code scanning. I am sorry about this intrusion and will be glad to see it go, but for now that is the price we have to pay to meet. Smile at the welcomer behind your mask when showing your QR tick.


As we will need to have chairs through the hall again we won’t for these next two weeks have morning tea or the library open, but we hope to move back to one person per two square meters in a fortnight, and both these will, Lord willing, commence then.


We know this is a season of many colds and sniffles but I hope to see as many of your there as possible. Having been away for four weeks and then back for only one week before lock down I will be especially glad to get back to being able to meet and have the encouragement of sharing with you in prayer, praise and conversation as we gather around God’s word. That word is full of encouragement [Romans 15:4] as it reminds us our God reigns, and He has entrusted the rule of His people to His Son the Lord Jesus, who has, says Paul in Ephesians 1:20-23, been raised from the dead ‘and seated at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come’. And then Paul adds this great assurance, that God ‘put all things under his [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” The one who rules all things is our head, and we are dear to Him, His beloved bride. We need not fear or be anxious for we are sustained by His life, comforted by His love, and kept by His mighty power. Alleluia.


"We need not fear or be anxious for we are sustained by His life, comforted by His love, and kept by His mighty power. Alleluia."


Staying in touch - 18th June 2021

Our plans for Sunday & Repsonding to the Family Violence Report.

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Part 1: Our plans within eased restrictions


Restrictions Easing


As hoped and expected Metropolitan Melbourne has had a further easing of restrictions and so, as foreshadowed last week, we will, Lord willing, have services at 9, 11 and 5 this Sunday. Numbers remain limited to 75 in the building, along with those necessary to facilitate the services. It is a grief that we still cannot all meet and I am sorry that so many of you are on the waiting list for this Sunday because it is so encouraging to be together in person even when numbers are limited. And there will be a lot of encouragement this week as we witness people making profession of faith and a baptism, hear God’s Word, and sing our God’s praise together.


We hope that there will be a further easing next week and that in line with the current situation in country Victoria on Sunday 27th we will be able to have 150 in the building. Keep praying for the control of the spread of the virus and that further relaxation for it will be great to see you all there. If that relaxation should happen we will still be governed by the density quotient, set again at one person per four square metres which will complicate life a little. I will talk about how we will manage that next Friday.


In the building


For those coming to the building on Sunday we will be needing to be vigilant about practicing Covid safe measures. We will be wearing masks indoors and singing behind masks. Children, who will start in the service and then go up to Sunday School, should bring their own labelled water bottle and snack. We won’t be having morning tea this week – we will need to have chairs set up in the hall to meet the density quotient requirements, and we will need to move out of the auditorium to allow cleaning. We are used to all this, we can live with it, but let’s hope we will rapidly pass through this phase of re-opening.


There is one new requirement. The government, in an attempt to bolster the effectiveness of QR codes for contact tracing, now requires all businesses ‘to ensure their customers check-in upon arrival,’ so the welcomers will need to check this when you pick up your name tag. This is intrusive but we all depend on effective and efficient contact tracing. Whatever the requirements, it is good to be able to start meeting again and let’s hope we can enjoy further relaxation of meeting requirements over the coming weeks. But if you can’t make it, please keep watching the live stream, and join with us in meeting through on line means. All three services will be livestreamed this week, and there will be a Zoom catch up after the 9:00 am service.


Part 2: Responding to the Family Violence Report 


Family Violence Report


Some of you will have seen press reports related to the release of the ‘National Anglican Family Violence Research Report: Top Line Results.” Some may even, like me, have read it. The results and the commentary associated with it, especially from Julia Baird on the ABC, were distressing. Family violence is a reality in our community and our churches, and according to a report in today’s Australian family violence is increasing

[“Family violence offences in Victoria have reached the highest level on record over the past year to end of March, making up one fifth of all recorded offences.” View here.]


Your pastors have had, over the years, to deal with a number of cases of inter partner violence [IPV] and members of our congregation have been the victims of such abhorrent behaviour. They may well need your support, the support of their brothers and sisters, as the publicity surrounding this freshens their own grief or heightens the tensions of the situation they are living in. We should all be alert to the signs of domestic abuse, have zero tolerance for it, and be ready to support those going through it or who have been subjected to it. It is well known that in churches perpetrators will twist Scripture to support their controlling behaviour, and the report lists doctrines that can be misused – the lifelong nature of marriage, the necessity of forgiveness, suffering as a feature of the Christian life, and the teaching that the husband is the head of the wife. What was distressing about Baird’s commentary was her desire to use misuse to push her own agenda in relation to her falling out with the Sydney diocese and its complementarian stance on the relation of men and women, her assertion that association is causation, and her lack of recognition of the real work that both the Sydney and Melbourne Anglican dioceses have undertaken to address family violence in their churches.


"We should all be alert to the signs of domestic abuse, have zero tolerance for it, and be ready to support those going through it or who have been subjected to it."


There is still a lot of work to be done on both the details of the survey and on the analysis that accompanies it, and it is too early to draw conclusions from its results about the relative frequency of domestic violence in churches or its causes. I have included links in the resources section to two articles – one an interview with Sandy Grant who is a member of Family Violence Project that commissioned the report and who has played a significant role in the development of the Sydney diocesan response, which also contains links to their resources. The other is by David Robertson who deals with both the issue and the criticisms of Baird. Both are helpful.


Our Winter Teaching Series will also be looking at what Scripture says about the relationship of men and women, both in marriage and in the church, and I hope in that to also address the ways Scripture teaching is twisted by abusers. I am convinced that living according to God’s word is both freeing and fulfilling, but we must make sure we understand it correctly and work together in applying it in ways that honour the God who gave it.


"I am convinced that living according to God’s word is both freeing and fulfilling, but we must make sure we understand it correctly and work together in applying it in ways that honour the God who gave it."


Reflection


After reading the report I sat down and wrote a list of all the cases of Partner Violence I had been involved with over the years. You do not forget, the outcome always involves grief, and you always wonder if you could have done better. Reading Lundy Bancroft’s book ‘Why does he do that: Inside the minds of angry and controlling men’ was very helpful. I mention this to emphasise that this is an area where we can all, and we all should, keep learning, and that prevention is always better than cure. Far better to engage with dying to ourselves and learning to love our husband or wife from the outset, to confront our need for control and affirmation and the way it drives us to selfish and cruel behaviour from the beginning. Sometimes we will only be able to see our behaviour for what it is if we will listen to those we say we love, listen and believe them. If we have a biblical view of sin we should know there is not a day when we do not need to ask God to help us put our flesh, our selfishness, to death, and we should not be surprised that learning to love, especially those closest to us, is a lifelong project with many falterings along the way.


"Sometimes we will only be able to see our behaviour for what it is if we will listen to those we say we love, listen and believe them.

If we have a biblical view of sin we should know there is not a day when we do not need to ask God to help us put our flesh, our selfishness, to death"


It was as I was reflecting on the report that I came in my daily reading to Psalm 86, which contains comfort for those who are abused, those who deal with it, and even, if they will repent, abusers – and I will leave you with vv. 5-7


For you, Lord, are kind and ready to forgive,
abounding in faithful love to all who call on you.
Lord, hear my prayer;
listen to my cries for mercy.
I call on you in the day of my distress,
for you will answer me.

In our frailty our hope is in the Lord’s steadfast love.

- Psalm 86:5-7


If anything in what I have said today has distressed you get in touch, or talk with a trusted Christian friend, or if you think you are subject to domestic violence consider calling 1800 RESPECT.


Staying in touch - 11th June 2021

Back to Meeting Together - Again!

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

PART 1: Encouragement in affliction


Slight and Momentary Affliction


Fifty percent, my doctor told me yesterday, of people who get the Astra Zeneca jab experience no reaction.


Sadly I was not in that fifty percent and I have had a miserable night. But my affliction has been truly light – aches and pains relieved by Panadol – and momentary – the symptoms improving within twenty four hours. All I have been left with is a significant sleep deficit.


But the suffering of Paul, who coined the phrase ‘slight momentary afflictions’ [2 Cor. 4:17], were anything but. He chronicles them in 1 Corinthians 4 and 2 Corinthians 6 and 11. They were serious – being stoned, whipped, beaten, shipwrecked, in almost constant danger, hunger and thirst, toil and hardship – so that at one stage he could write to the Corinthians of his affliction in Asia “We were completely overwhelmed – beyond our strength – so that we even despaired of life itself” 2 Cor. 1:8.

And they recurred throughout his life, an almost constant feature of his ministry until he was imprisoned for the final time and executed in Rome.

How could he speak of them as slight and momentary?

Was he trying to impress the Corinthians as a tough guy?

Or perhaps he was just naturally modest, downplaying his adventures with understatement?

Was it because he was comparing his suffering to that of others? ‘Do you think that was hard, you should hear what happened to Peter’.

None of the above.

He spoke of his affliction as slight and momentary because of the future God was preparing for him through that affliction, what Paul calls ‘an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison.” [2 Cor. 4:17] Compared to eternity and the wonder of being raised to live in the new heaven and earth where there is no death, or pain or grief, what befell him in his ministry was slight and momentary, a small cost to pay for the benefit to come.


"What befell [Paul] in his ministry was slight and momentary, a small cost to pay for the benefit to come."


Looking to the Unseen


And knowing that he countered the discouragements of the present by looking to the unseen, not to the seen. “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.” [2 Cor. 4:18]. Paul did not focus [CSV] on the immediate difficulties of life that surrounded him, he didn’t let them grow so big in his mind that they filled his horizon to the exclusion of everything else.


"Paul did not focus on the immediate difficulties of life that surrounded him, he didn’t let them grow so big in his mind that they filled his horizon to the exclusion of everything else. It was the opposite. He focused on what God had promised Him"


It was the opposite. He focused on what God had promised Him and assured Him of by His Spirit [2 Cor. 5:5] and so he did not lose heart. The content of the unseen in the verses that follow is the resurrection and our accounting to the Lord Jesus [2 Cor. 5:1-10]. But there is more in the unseen. There is our Father God’s providential working of all things for our good, a work that climaxes in our being conformed to the likeness of Jesus [Rom. 8:28-30], and there is the steadfast love of God which makes us more than conquerors whatever trial we face [Romans 8:36-39].


Whether our afflictions are large – like the trials of illness and bereavement some of our brothers and sisters are experiencing at this moment – or small, like mine, that is the perspective we are to maintain. Looking to, focusing on, the unseen and eternal, the promises of God and sovereign working of God to bring those promises to fulfillment in revealing the glory of His Son Jesus.


Disappointments and Frustrations


I wasn’t referring to my Covid reaction when I was speaking of small trials. I am grateful to be able to get it and a night’s discomfort is a small price to pay to contribute to the community’s immunity. No – I was talking of the disappointment I feel [again] at the slow rate of relaxation of restrictions, the fact that we are not ‘snapping back’, and the difficulties that creates, and the frustration [again] of not being trusted to be responsible to make sensible decisions to protect my own and others health and instead being subjected to rules which at times appear absurd – when was someone last infected by an unmasked asymptomatic person walking down an empty street. This is a slight, momentary affliction you also might share.


But when we do feel that disappointment and frustration, learning from Paul, we focus on God and His good plan for us, the eternal weight of glory He has promised us. This is something I have already spoken about since Covid began, but I find it is something I must keep reminding myself of.


"When we do feel that disappointment and frustration, learning from Paul, we focus on God and His good plan for us, the eternal weight of glory He has promised us... I find it is something I must keep reminding myself of. For that will stop us grumbling"


For that will stop us grumbling, which is always a danger when we are disappointed and frustrated. That grumbling is serious. In reality it is grumbling against God’s unseen providence, the means He has decided will best shape us into the image of His Son.

And being reminded to focus on the unseen and eternal will help us not lose heart, so easy with repeated lockdowns, and persevere in living the life God has called us to in Christ each day, the life of thankfulness – even for vaccines, prayerfulness – including for those in authority, and love, as we make it our aim to please our Lord before whom we will one day stand.


PART 2: Our plans for re-opening, again!


Relaxation of Restrictions – and us


But there was some relaxation of restrictions that came into force on Thursday at midnight, and further easing was foreshadowed to come into effect at midnight next Thursday 17th if all goes well. How are we planning to make use of those relaxations to do what believers are called to do, meeting together to encourage one another to love and good works as we await our Lord’s return.


I am now going to run through our program for the next two weeks. There are quite a lot of changes and a lot of detail, and it is all in the transcript. It is important that you know what is going on, but you might find it easier to stop listening and refer to the transcript for the details of Sunday services or your ministry.

But here goes.


From midnight last night we are allowed to have fifty in the building for ‘services’. Fifty is not a number that works particularly well for us, especially on Sundays. So this weekend


Our activities 11th – 17th June


  • Kid’s Club will operate, as children are amongst those who suffer most with these lockdowns and if they are safe mixing at school they are safe mixing in Kid’s Club.
  • Youth Group will operate with selected year levels which Andrew will communicate, with other year levels meeting on Zoom.
  • The Iranian congregation won’t meet.
  • We will have only two services on Sunday, at 10 and 5, both live streamed.
    • At 10 we hope you will see a few more faces with musicians in the building. There will be a Zoom after church for adults, and also one for Sunday School children who want to say hello to their friends [the details will be sent out with the Sunday School material]
    • At 5 we will have more people in the building. Nick Lovell will be being baptised and family and friends will be there to witness it, along with more people for the operation of the service.
    • At 10 and 5 this week those in the building will be those who have a role in the service and its live streaming – with one exception. We are aware that some of us, because of the restrictions about people in our homes, have had to watch the live stream on our own. If you are on your own and would want to join us at church, contact the office either by email (office@bpc.org.au) or telephone (03) 9017 9037. There will be space for you.
  • Masks will need to be worn in the building by all except primary school children and younger.
  • During the week growth groups will continue on Zoom unless they choose to meet in the church – wearing masks and doing the cleaning, and not sharing food. If your growth group wants to meet at church, email the office.
  • Prayer meeting will be entirely on Zoom
  • And Mainly Music and Explorers will not meet in the building. These activities seemed closer to the groups that might meet in community venues which are limited to ten, and so it was thought prudent to delay their return.


What further changes are we anticipating from midnight on Thursday 17th?


Our planned activities 18th -24th June


The government has indicated that from the 18th metropolitan Melbourne will be allowed the freedoms that Country Victoria has started to enjoy from today. We can’t be certain that this will be the case, and we might even hope that some restrictions will be eased earlier through the week. But in country Victoria churches are now allowed a maximum 75 indoors for the whole facility with a one person per four square metre density quotient. They are also allowed 75 outdoors at the same time but this does not seem much use to us in a Melbourne winter. So we are hoping that from next weekend we will be able to have 75 in the building.


This means that

  • Friday women’s bible study is planning to be back in the building on the 18th [next Friday]
  • Kid’s Club and Youth Group will run within those constraints
  • The Iranian congregation will meet on the 19th.
  • On Sunday we will return to three service – at 9, 11 and 5 
    • with all three being livestreamed because there will be profession of faith and baptism at 11. 
    • While the cap of 75 in the whole building is not great for us it is better to get going again with meeting in person in the hope that we are travelling towards the Covid normal of April before the lockdown
    • You will need to get a ticket by registering online so we can make sure we stay within the limits.
    • Children will start in the service and then go upstairs. Please continue to send them with their own water bottle and snack. The staff will be in touch with those who are on rosters to confirm availability although on that first Sunday back we are not anticipating having morning tea.
  • During the week that follows Mainly Music and Explorers are planning to meet, the last week before the school holiday break.
  • At the moment it is still anticipated that Advanced Safe Church training will be able to run.


A lot of detail. If you have questions about your particular ministry or group please get in touch with the office.


As you can gather there is a lot of work for our staff and leaders in coming out of lockdown. Please pray for them, that they would be sustained in strength, patience and wisdom.


Being trained by lockdown


Listening to the experts it appears they think we may have to move in and out of lockdown a few more times before we see this pandemic through. We should accept that and be determined to move back together again as quickly as possible. It is so much better to be in each other’s presence, to gather in person, and we know we can manage it safely where we all work together and stick to the rules – scanning the QR code, using the hand sanitizer, wearing our masks when required, keeping our distance, staying abreast of the list of exposure sites.


Going in and out of lockdown is an opportunity to learn to meet together, not because it is part of our comfortable routine or easy, but because we are determined to do what our Lord Jesus says because we trust Him. It is good training, for doing what we do out of a conscious commitment to obey the Lord Jesus is the right way to live every part of our lives throughout our lives.


"Going in and out of lockdown is an opportunity to learn to meet together, not because it is part of our comfortable routine or easy, but because we are determined to do what our Lord Jesus says because we trust Him."


Staying in touch - 4th June 2021

Hope in the Lord

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

There is a repeated phrase in the Psalms – ‘Hope in the LORD’


“O Israel, Hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” Psalm 130:7-8


“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.” Psalm 146:5-7 [cf. Ps. 33:22, 39:7, 42:5, 43:5, 71:5, 1 Pet. 1:21]


As many of us deal with the disappointment of this continued lockdown, the loss of hope in our own plans or in our capacity as a society to manage the spread of the virus, I thought, before we look at our plans for the weekend, we should reflect on the great good it is as believers in Jesus to have hope in the LORD, for Peter says that is true of us. Through believing in Jesus who has ransomed us by His blood our ‘faith and hope are in God’, in the LORD. [1 Peter 1:18-21]


What is hope in the Lord?


Hope in the LORD is not hope in our knowledge of the LORD’s plans for us; nor is it hope in the work we do for the LORD; still less is it hope that the LORD would make our plans work out. And it is not quite the same as a future hope, a hope in the LORD’s promises.

Hope in the LORD includes that future hope, but it is more than that. It is hope in Him, in a person, the LORD. It is entrusting ourselves to His might, His faithfulness, His steadfast love. It is hope that He will always be to us the person He has revealed Himself to be in saving us through His Son Jesus – the Father who has compassion on His children, whose wisdom is unfathomable, who has power to raise the dead, who is rich in mercy and love.


"Hope in the LORD includes that future hope, but it is more than that. It is hope in Him, in a person, the LORD"


  • When we cannot see how we can meet our need – He can. He can bring water from the rock.
  • When we feel our strength and resources running out – He can sustain us with His powerful Spirit and make our weakness the place where we experience the fullness of His power [2 Cor. 12:9]
  • Where we cannot discern the way ahead because all seems dark and uncertain – He is light in our darkness, and His word a lamp to our feet. [Ps. 139:11-12, 119:105, John 8:12]. The darkness is as light to Him.
  • Where our capacity to engage waxes and wanes, He is always on the job. He who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps [Psalm 121:3-4].
  • He never falters in His good purpose for us [Romans 8:28-30] or His good work in us, and
  • When life itself is ebbing away, He is in the Son our resurrection and life [John 11:25-26].


As Jesus’ followers our hope for ourselves and our families and our church is in the LORD – not in the capacity of our officials, not in advances in technology, not in our own coping strategies, not in the strength of community. All these may fail us, just as life itself will, but the LORD never will fail us.


It is extraordinary to be able to say ‘My hope is in the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.’  This is our God’s gift to us in justifying us through faith in Christ and bringing us to enjoy peace with Him and to live in His grace [Romans 5:1-5]. My prayer for us all is that even as we again experience the disappointment of earthly plans and hopes being changed by forces much bigger than us, we will grow in the peace and confidence that comes from knowing our hope is in the LORD.


"My prayer for us all is that even as we again experience the disappointment of earthly plans and hopes being changed by forces much bigger than us, we will grow in the peace and confidence that comes from knowing our hope is in the LORD."


The coming weekend


But our normal pattern of life does continue to be disrupted, so we will be back livestreaming the services this week as well – at 10 and 5. This week there will be a Zoom chat after both services to give us an opportunity to encourage each other.


We would normally have had the Lord’s Supper this Sunday but Session has decided we will not have it this Sunday in the hope we will be able to share in it together in person in July. We made this decision for three reasons.

  • Firstly, we think this will be a short lockdown and did not want to communicate that it has a degree of permanence to which we must adapt again. It is something we are passing through, not settling in.
  • Secondly, in person is so much better and we don’t feel the need yet to resort to what is in truth a poor substitute for being in each other’s presence around the table, visibly expressing our unity in Christ.
  • Thirdly, we are wanting to keep things as simple as possible – for you and the staff.


Keeping it simple so we come out of lockdown well


We are wanting to keep things simple to preserve energy for coming out of lockdown. It is my observation that moving back into lockdown has been fairly smooth. While tiring and frustrating, especially for those doing schooling from home and trying to work from home, we know what to do. Bible studies have moved onto Zoom, thanks to our tech team we returned smoothly to live streaming, today Kids’ Club and Youth Group will be online. We know we can manage lockdown.


More energy is needed to move out of lockdown, to get things moving again. To re-engage with serving, to organising to get out to see people, to getting the children back into their activities, to making the effort – again – to return to normal when you don’t have confidence that it will last. That will require energy when so many of us are de-energised by lockdown. So we want to keep what we do in lockdown as simple as possible so we do have the energy to get things going again, because our normal is good. It is encouraging to be together, to sing together, to serve together, to witness baptisms, to teach children in Sunday School, to be able to invite others into our common life. That is so much better.


"We want to keep what we do in lockdown as simple as possible so we do have the energy to get things going again, because our normal is good."


We hope we will by the long weekend be able to start meeting together again. Sadly the talk seems to suggest it might be a staged relaxation of restrictions which takes a little more effort to plan and adapt to, but more of that next week when we hope to know more.


In the meantime do the simple things you know work. Maintain your personal devotion, your daily bible reading and prayer; stay connected by livestreaming the service and zooming in on your bible study; call up your brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage and be encouraged.

And put your hope in the LORD.


Let me finish with Psalm 131, CSV

Lord, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I do not get involved with things
too great or too wondrous for me.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted my soul
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like a weaned child.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
both now and forever.


Staying in touch - 28th May 2021

Adapting, again

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Locked Down


In response to the increasing number of cases of Covid 19 acquired by community transmission, the increasing number of exposure sites, many of them in our Northern suburbs, and the thousands of primary and secondary contacts of those infected, the government has initiated a lockdown from midnight tonight that will extend until midnight next Thursday.


As a consequence of the lockdown, as foreshadowed in Wednesday’s email, all gatherings in our homes and in the church building are cancelled for the next week, including the meeting of the Iranian congregation on Saturday night. All small groups will have to return to meeting on Zoom this week, and we will livestream two services on Sunday – the morning service at 10am and the evening service at 5pm. The links are included in this email


As this is hopefully a ‘short, sharp lockdown’ we won’t reinstitute the after service Zoom meeting for this one Sunday, and I would encourage you instead to be in contact with each other.


Groundhog Day


In the discussion of this lockdown on the radio I heard someone say it felt like groundhog day – the same all over again. We have been here before so we know both what to expect and what we need to do. We know the temptations a lock down can bring – even a short one. Grumbling against the government or God, giving way to bad habits, exposing ourselves to unhelpful material on the TV or internet, impatience and irritability with others, thanklessness, unconcern for others.


And we know the resources we have and how to use them to keep living godly lives.


  • Spiritual practices like daily bible reading and prayer where we cast all our anxieties upon the Lord.
  • Practical love, seen in looking out for each other, making those phone calls, helping out with shopping or cooking.
  • Physical exercise and adequate rest.
  • Staying involved in our Christian family by participating in Growth Group over Zoom and tuning in to the livestream on Sunday for the encouragement of the Word preached. This Sunday from Daniel in the morning and Kings in the evening, reminders of the sovereignty, power and faithfulness of our God.


Above all remembering the truth of the gospel, that God is, that He rules over all and judges the nations, that we are now at peace with Him through the death of His son for our sins, and we know that He loves us and will work this for our good [Romans 5:1-11, 8:26-39]. These events are not outside His control and His power to keep His promises is not limited by a virus or the decisions of human governments. Where we live in the truth these times give many opportunities to teach our children about the power of our God and His love for His people, to share with them His good promises, and these time gives many opportunities, opportunities each day, for thankfulness


Reliving the first lockdown


But the sense of having been here before can also be powerfully discouraging, demotivating and de-energising when we start to think we will never escape the threat of death from the virus and the disruption lock down brings. I also heard on the radio a psychiatrist say she thought some Victorians had post traumatic stress responses to lockdown, triggering intense emotional reactions as people felt again the fear and loneliness and anxiety experienced in the first lockdown. Perhaps you can relate to that, or sense that in others.


If that is you remind yourself of what as believers we know to be true. Why not say to yourself before you go to bed at night Psalm 23 – the LORD is my shepherd - and give thanks that is true for every believer in our Lord Jesus, our good shepherd, true for you as you trust Him. Or Psalm 121, or take comfort from Isaiah 40:27-31. ”Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.” Remember the Lord Jesus is with His people – we are never alone. He has said He will never leave us or forsake us. And talk with a brother or sister, and pray together to the God who hears our prayers [Ps. 62:2]


Some Particular Prayers


And in our prayers we should all remember those in hospital, further cut off from family and friends, like Jen Evans. Or those who have had to rapidly adapt their plans, like Rachel and Russell Smith who are even now as I write [Thursday evening] travelling to NSW so that Rachel can have her surgery. You will know others for whom this lockdown will bring particular difficulties. Pray for them.


There are many exposure sites in the North and it may be some of us will become primary or secondary contacts of someone who is infected and must isolate. Or some of us may become infected ourselves. Please let others know, let the Pastors know if that is you.


Lord willing when I speak to you next week it will be to say that everything is back to normal, but there is no guarantee that will be the case. This is a very fast spreading virus so keep praying that the Lord would, according to His will, contain the virus and prosper the health authorities’ efforts, even as we pray for our neighbours that they would turn from their sin and humble themselves before the living and righteous God, and be moved by this to seek His mercy.


Let me close with a prayer, the Psalmists prayer for grace for God’s people so that all would come to praise the true God, Psalm 67:1-3.


“May God be gracious to us and bless us

 and make His face to shine upon us,

 that your way may be known on earth,

your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you O God,

let all the peoples praise you.”

​​​​​​​

Staying in touch - 16th Apr 2021

Adapting to more change

Arriving on Sundays 

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

On the 23rd March the Victorian Government published new covid contact tracing requirements for venues, including churches. Whereas up to this point in time churches could use their own electronic record keeping – for us registration, including pre-registration, through BundyConnect – now churches must “use electronic record keeping through the free Victorian Government QR Code Service or Victorian Government Application Programming Interface (API) linked digital system.” Venues, including churches, were given to the 23rd April to implement this change.


“All venues must apply the two square metre rule and use electronic record keeping through the free Victorian Government QR Code Service or Victorian Government Application Programming Interface (API) linked digital system (venues will have a 28-day compliance amnesty in place to 23 April 2021).” 

www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/religion-and-ceremony Reviewed 12th April 2021


What does that mean for us? More change, in this case change to a system that has been working well for us. What this change means for what you do when you come to church Cat will explain, but in brief we will no longer use preregistration on BundyConnect. Instead, for Covid contact tracing purposes, we will all have to scan the Services Victoria QR Code or use the manual alternative every time we enter the building if we are going to be more than 15 minutes in the building. We will also be asking you to check in on Sundays in the way we all did pre-Covid to get your name tag as we have no access to the information kept by Services Victoria and need to keep the records we still need for SafeChurch and pastoral purposes.


I confess that my initial reaction to this new government mandate was frustration, dismay and concern that this change would discourage some from attending church just when our gathering is increasingly returning to normal, with no face masks, with singing, and from the 25th the children starting with us in the morning services. As meeting together is important for our own Christian lives, the encouragement of our brothers and sisters, and our witness in the community, and as I don’t think my reaction to this change will be unique, I am going to speak first of the causes of my frustration and concern and then how I have addressed them so that we can cheerfully adapt to the change and not lose the momentum we are gaining in returning our congregational life to normal.


I confess that my initial reaction to this new government mandate was frustration, dismay and concern


So what are the causes of my frustration and concern.


Firstly, especially when you are weary, and I think many of us are still tired from last year, change itself takes energy, and it is always discouraging to think you must change something that is working. And what we have been doing was working. Through all of us using Bundyconnect and the work of the Welcoming Teams we have a very good record of who is in the building on Sundays. We have also kept good records, both electronic and manual, of who is present in the building during the week, including LaTrobe CU on Mondays and the Iranian congregation on Saturdays. Stored by us on our servers they were readily available on request should the Covid Contact tracing team need them.


Mandating the use of the ServicesVic QR Code also introduces difficulties. There are the practical difficulties of not everyone having a phone, not all phones working well with the ServicesVic App [and only an App is available], and the poor reception many of us have, particularly in the foyer. We have explored the “Victorian Government Application Programming Interface (API) linked digital system” and other ways of dealing with some of the phone and reception issues. The Government is clear that it is not interested in individual groups developing their own API. Only certain approved commercial apps are permitted to do this and none of these seem suitable for us at the moment, and improving internet access in the foyer is also not a practical option at the moment. The practical difficulties remain and are not easily overcome.


Thirdly, as I have already said, we have no access to the ServicesVic data. That means we now must ask you to do two things when you enter the building. Scan the QR code for covid contact tracing and then check in with us. Going without check-in is not really an option for us. We must maintain records of all children and youth for SafeChurch, and it helps us pastorally to know who is present and who is not. If, for example, someone unknowingly infected with Covid came to church we would want to be in touch with all those present to see how you are going, but we would not get attendance records from the Covid contact tracers. We need to have our own record – and so an extra step for us all in coming to church, with the potential to slow down entry and also create a further bottleneck in the foyer.


That means we now must ask you to do two things when you enter the building. Scan the QR code for covid contact tracing and then check in with us...  We must maintain records of all children and youth for SafeChurch, and it helps us pastorally


More importantly, in principle we don’t want to suggest that you need the government’s permission to come to church and people can only come to church when a government requirement is met. And it doesn’t take much imagination to see that mandating a system that tracks in real time every time a person enters a church building and stores that information could in some circumstances be misused. For those who already have concerns about their privacy or the government’s motives this requirement may be a deterrent to gathering, and this extra disincentive is deeply frustrating for those of us who know that regularly meeting together is essential for our well being as followers of Jesus.


We want to make it easier, not harder, to gather, for we are commanded to gather together to encourage each other to love and good deeds, and we all need that encouragement. This new requirement seems to be only adding an unnecessary hurdle on the pathway to normality.


We want to make it easier, not harder, to gather, for we are commanded to gather together to encourage each other to love and good deeds


So those are my frustrations and concerns. What to do with them?


Firstly we need to recognise that the Government has introduced this requirement across all venues, not just churches, out of a concern for people’s privacy. There was realistic concern that the contact tracing requirement was being used by commercial venues to glean personal information for their own commercial purposes – e.g. sending unsolicited advertising – and a concern about their storage of the information. Having all the information on the Services Vic servers protects the vast amount of information being collected from commercial misuse.


Secondly it should facilitate contact tracing, allowing that to get underway more quickly where there is concern about the greater infectivity of new variants and it is thought that even a delay of hours will mean greatly increased risk of further infection.


Thirdly this information is collected under the Public Health and Wellbeing act and its use is governed by the orders issued by the Chief Health Officer. Under those directions only officers authorised by the CHO can access the data and only for the purposes of contact tracing, and the data is to be deleted after 28 days. As it is governed by the Public Health Act it would appear that when the state of health emergency ceases the requirement to collect the information will also cease, so this is not an indefinite requirement. The storage of the information is also subject to Privacy legislation and the Governments Data Protections standards. I have put a link to the Services Victoria Privacy Policy in the transcript. [https://service.vic.gov.au/privacy-and-security]. While more readily accessible to the contact tracers the data is securely stored – as much as any agency can guarantee security.


Fourthly this provision feels a misfit for us because it is not designed specifically for us. The Government is thinking of businesses and trying to ensure the safe collection of contact tracing data while facilitating the re-opening of businesses. There is a world of difference between a business with clients or patrons and a church. We are a voluntary association. We are not consumers but family in Christ. We give up our data on BundyConnect to us, to facilitate our common life, not for any commercial gain. It is applied to our priorities, our ministries, and our connection. We are more concerned with preserving the privacy of our movements than preserving the privacy of our personal information from our congregation. But compared to the commercial sector we are also a small segment of the population, and a failure to address our particular circumstances is far more likely to be because of a limitation of resources on the part of the health department than any deliberate neglect. We need to be generous towards those who are trying to keep our community safe.


Thinking Clearly


The reality is that good contact tracing serves us well. Contact tracing allows outbreaks to be controlled quickly and confidence in the contact tracing is what allows our society to open up and function. Good contact tracing contributes to our being open and supports our returning to normality, to being able to meet, for example, without masks, and to sing. We should support it.


Social cohesion has also served us well. General compliance with the government’s initiatives to control the spread of the virus has contributed to their effectiveness and benefited us all. We should not undermine it.


We also must recognise that the potential for misuse is not actual misuse. Many of the things we use everyday have serious opportunities for misuse – our cars, our phones, our words. The potential for misuse does not prevent them from being rightly used. Undoubtedly data collection can be misused but it can also be powerfully helpful and so is not wrong in itself. It is actual misuse we should be concerned about.


Recent controversies [e.g. over sexuality] may have contributed to some of us being concerned about the direction of the Government and suspicious of the motives of some elements of the government and public service. But we do live in a robust democracy with a free press and an independent judiciary. While being concerned about some legislation and its impact on us we ought to be thankful for the freedoms we do have and not exaggerate any hostility there may be toward churches.


Thinking Biblically


We should also commit ourselves to be guided by God’s word, not our fears. Our fears are not prophets. God’s word tells us ‘to be subject to the governing authorities’ [Rom. 13:1], to ‘be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution’ [1 Pet. 2:13]. Scanning a QR code is not a ‘serve God not man’ issue [Acts 4:19], especially as in this case ‘Caesar’ is seeking to ensure our safety from a disease, not forbid us preaching Jesus. Those of us who are troubled by the government’s direction must remember that faith is not seen in obeying only when what God asks agrees with our inclinations, but in doing what God says even when it conflicts with our inclinations.


We need to remember that our God is sovereign over these changes and we are not to grumble [1 Cor. 10:10], even when we are weary. We are to trust Him that He knows best the context in which we can glorify Him by ‘not growing weary in doing good' but 'keeping on doing good to everyone as we have opportunity, and in particular doing what is honourable in the sight of all’. [Gal. 6:9-10, Rom. 12:17]


And we should be guided by God’s word in our determination to gather and not allow ourselves to be deterred from gathering by changes or extra inconvenience. Hebrews is clear that we should ‘consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near' [Heb. 10:24-25]. Our neglect, fears and weariness are more a threat to our meeting than any government policy.


So don’t be deterred by these changes from meeting. Like the other changes we have had in the past twelve months we will soon get used to these. Coming into the building scan the Services Vic QR code for Covid contact tracing or use the manual alternative, then check in as you would have pre-Covid. Allow a little extra time in the first few weeks so that you don’t feel rushed.


Continue in thankfulness – that we can meet, and for our increasing freedom in our meetings, and pray for the government, that the Lord would prosper their efforts to control the disease and they would be His servants in rewarding good and restraining evil.


Staying in touch - 26th Mar 2021

Gather at Easter

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Easter is almost upon us, just as we have had on Tuesday a further relaxation of the Covid mask rules and just as the distribution of the locally made vaccine has commenced. We have much to be thankful for and, in light of the changes announced by the government in mask wearing, we will no longer be requiring mask wearing while singing at church. That is a relief to me, and something that will be welcomed by many of you. So this Easter, unlike last Easter, we will be able not only to gather, but to gather and praise our saving God wholeheartedly, to lift our voices together to declare His greatness and the wonder of His love, wisdom and might revealed in saving His people through the crucifixion of His Son Jesus.


Make sharing in our services a priority.


I encourage you to make it a priority to share in our Easter services – Thursday night and Friday morning, and Sunday 9, 11 and 5. More, to encourage others, particularly those who are hesitant or who have struggled to get back into a pattern of gathering together, to join us at the services. Christians, where they can, should gather together at Easter.


A witness to the world


Easter is a time when we say to the world by our visible gathering, by prioritising that gathering over other activities, that Jesus matters. We proclaim in our gathering that He is real, had a real death in history, and a real resurrection in history. More we say that those events continue to be central to the history of the world, to the fate of creation, and to the eternity of every person, for in Jesus God was fulfilling His promise to be the Saviour, the only Saviour, of the world [Isaiah 45:22-25]. It is a disservice to our neighbours to let them think that these events are of purely private significance, to not declare by our public celebration that Jesus is Lord, the one now with all authority, exalted because He humbled Himself to death in obedience to the Father’s will to reconcile the world to Himself through that death [2 Corinthians 5:17-21]. We should be saying to them come and hear what the living God has done, and just as in Jesus’ death you will see the horror of human envy, indifference and cruelty, the horror of our rejection of God that disfigures and destroys life, the horror we still see around us in our world, so come and find a true and abiding hope, and the joy of that hope, in Jesus’ triumph over our sin and death in His resurrection. This is a message the world needs to hear, a message the world needs to see by their gathering is central to the lives of those who say they are Christian.


Easter is a time when we say to the world by our visible gathering, by prioritising that gathering over other activities, that Jesus matters.


Remembering for life


But our gathering is not just about witnessing to the world. Easter is part of the rhythm of our remembering, the rhythm of a year where we do not let ourselves forget what God has done for us. Gathering as we do to hear the gospel story being read is saying this great good news, the good news of the God who so loved the world that He gave His Son to give all who believe eternal life, the good news that brings peace, is for us [John 3:16, Isaiah 52:7-10]. We are part of the big story of God’s dealings with humanity, the story of creation, fall, redemption and new creation, the story where the living God makes Himself known, and where that revealing of Himself has climaxed in the coming of His Son. Gathering to remember and rejoice in the gospel story is to remind ourselves of the goodness and greatness of our God, and that He can be known and called upon to save. It is to remember that we are not alone, and our lives are not purposeless. They are marked with eternal significance, and our end is not darkness and oblivion but by God’s great graciousness, saving might and faithfulness our end is to see the living God.


A Gathering that anchors our faith in history


We should always gather around the gospel, always be gathering to encourage each other to persevere in living lives of faith, but gathering together at Easter, at that time of Passover when Jesus was crucified, helps us anchor our faith in historical reality. It is a needed reminded that we are not followers of a philosophy or made up stories but of a real man who had real flesh and blood, lived a real life amongst us, and died our real death – and then rose in a real body to be touched, seen, heard. A real man, who is God with us. He knows us, and His is real power to save – in history, for the world is open, not closed, to Him. In this world people can and do make all sorts of claims – whether about the truth of their insights, or their capacity to bring peace, or that their philosophy will change the world and humanity for good. They call us to trust them but they will in the end all decay in their graves, and their promises and claims die with them. But Jesus’ grave was empty. He lives, He hears, and He saves. His words never fail and gathering to celebrate His death and rising is a great encouragement to live trusting and obeying them, to live that life of faith, hope and love to which our God has called us in bringing us to believe this wonderful gospel that Christ has died for our sins, been buried, and has been raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand, to live the life of faith, hope and love that will end in our entry with joy into the heavenly Jerusalem.


Gathering together at Easter... helps us anchor our faith in historical reality. It is a needed reminded that we are not followers of a philosophy or made up stories but of a real man.


So make gathering this Easter to remember together God’s great saving work in His Son a priority, a priority that witnesses to the world its reality and importance, and strengthens and nurtures the life of faith in you. To forget is death and to remember is life.

Come, remember, and rejoice together in our risen, living Saviour Jesus.


Note: There will be no communication on Good Friday, nor the week after as we allow the office to have a rest from our routine busyness.

Staying in touch - 19th Mar 2021

What is a church budget?

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Today I am going to talk about the budget that will be presented to the Annual Congregational Meeting on Tuesday, a budget formulated by the BOM and coming with the commendation of both the BOM and Session.


An opportunity to talk about the budget


I have always struggled to find a forum in which to engage you with the Budget so I am grateful to now have the opportunity of these Friday talks, courtesy of the changes that came with Covid, to encourage you to both own the budget – the ministry priorities it embodies – and to prayerfully support it. Over the years I have been reluctant, rightly I think, to speak of budget and money matters on Sundays. It is just such a turn off to those not yet Christian, reinforcing their stereotype of Christian churches as being self-interested and money hungry. And we don’t gather on Sunday to have human plans and strategies promoted, but to hear the Word and praise and pray to our God together.


That reluctance has been reinforced by my conviction that your money is your money, given to you by God to be administered by you as God gives you wisdom as a disciple of Jesus, and that Christian giving is always to be free and uncoerced. And I have found it hard, conscious as I am that many of you are at a stage in life where you face many demands on your finances and that there are a lot of deserving Christian ministries to be supported, to shake the uncomfortable feeling that promoting support of our budget is promoting my own interests as one of the beneficiaries of your giving.


The Budget – the fruit and expression of our ministry priorities


But the outcome of this reluctance has meant that there can be a lack of awareness of the congregation’s needs, and worse, a lack of excitement about what we as a congregation are doing, about the ministries you are supporting. Ours is a big budget, both the fruit and the expression of ministry priorities and plans pursued over years, embodying our commitment to make disciples of Jesus together. It is all about supporting gospel ministry, investing in people, our staff, who can pastor and teach us, and who can help disciple our children and support and encourage our own evangelism. Thus we have over the years supported the youth and children’s workers, and been richly blessed by their work. This is a key area, for it is vital that our bringing up our children as followers of Jesus be supported by them being able to have peers who share that Christian commitment in an increasingly secular society, and that they have a context to test what they are hearing and be challenged, independent of their parents, to live as followers of Jesus.


There can be a lack of awareness of the congregation’s needs,

and worse, a lack of excitement about what we as a congregation

are doing, about the ministries you are supporting.


We continue to invest through appointing an evening congregation pastor in the discipleship of university students and young workers, a key time for growing as followers of Jesus through the challenging transitions from school to tertiary studies to work, and for many from being single to being married.


And our own Christian lives need to be sustained through the regular teaching of God’s word in public and private and through being equipped ourselves to minister to others, just as we need to have a context in which we can welcome new believers in the faith and be encouraged ourselves to persevere in working together in evangelism, in sharing the gospel of our Lord Jesus. This is what our morning pastors do through teaching, writing, training, visiting, supervising growth groups, supporting ministries, sustaining our gatherings.


The value of investment 


I think the value of that investment was seen throughout last year and as we have moved again into this year. That we could move online so quickly was because God had given us the gifts in our tech team, but also because Andy could work with them to sustain the service. The growth groups were vital, and Clinton has been investing in organising and supporting them. We were able to produce daily devotions and the Friday emails, keeping us connected with each other. The sustaining of youth and children’s ministry, and the capacity to quickly move back to face to face meeting of Kid’s Club and Youth Group, is in large measure thanks to Andrew and Clarissa and their work over years with their teams. Chris was able to run Christianity Explored four times over 2020 and see people come to faith as they questioned their lives in the pandemic.


Our budget is about investing in ministry, and we see fruit from that investment. The rest of the budget is also about our ministry priorities. There is the support the office and administrative staff gives, which has proved invaluable – from electronic record keeping, keeping up to date with Covid compliance, distributing communications, and now streamlining our service announcements. The BOM increased the office hours towards the end of last year because of the enormous amount of work involved in starting to meet again, an investment that was both necessary and again fruitful, making possible the recommencement of face to face meeting in our building. There is the maintenance of our building, the building which is a gift from God. The usefulness of having our own building was again seen last year when many groups that met in rented premises were completely locked out of them. The fact that we could livestream from our premises and improve it over time was a blessing to others who tuned in from many places when their own congregations could not make the adjustment to online services. And the building continues to be a blessing to others, whether as a place for LaTrobe CU to start its meetings while they await return to campus and or as a hub for livestreamed conferences, for example those of Reach Australia, TGCA.


Our budget is about investing in ministry,

and we see fruit from that investment.


But the budget does not just support gospel ministry here. Through our budget the missions committee supports those who have gone out from the congregation to serve the Lord – whether in Africa or Northern Australia, North Asia or Thailand. And the budget also supports our connection with other churches in Victoria, through the support of the Presbyterian Church General Missions Program and also the Property Development Fund, the fund through which we hope eventually the Donnybrook church plant will obtain its own necessary property.

Ours is a big budget that is focused on supporting making disciples through evangelism and teaching.


Ours is a big budget that is focused on supporting making disciples through evangelism and teaching.


And our budget has also embodied our plans to realise our priorities, to keep on making disciples at every stage of life, which has often meant our budget has been a deficit budget. This year’s is no exception. In fact it is a big budget with a big deficit, the gap between projected expenditure and projected income being around $170,000. We can fund this from our reserves but to prevent disruption to ministry we would plainly not like to realise that deficit, to have sufficient funds at the end of the year to plan with confidence for 2022.


Understanding the budget deficit


How do we come to that deficit? It is a combination of acting on the plans we have made 3-4 years ago to increase the number of pastors from two to four, and Covid. Putting Clinton and Chris on was an important step from which we are reaping the benefits, but it substantially increased our expenditure. When we have increased ministry positions in the past we had used grants from the denomination to cover the gap created by the increased expenditure and our income, while income caught up as the congregation grew. But four years ago we decided to increase the number of Pastors without a grant as we had reserves in the bank and had been granted a two year pause in our giving to the Property Development Fund [5% of our giving], both of which we thought would allow our giving to increase to the point where we could sustain the appointments. Then, as we were gaining momentum in ministry, we had a Covid 2020. Miraculously, due to a combination of increased giving and government stimulus – the ATO Cash Flow Boost – we actually made a surplus in 2020. But Covid has been disruptive, making any growth in congregation size difficult. In addition some have left us during 2020 – for good things like the Donnybrook Church Plant or responding to family requests, or have just reassessed their circumstances and where they want to meet with others for encouragement. We have also had to increase office expenditure to cover the increased work we have needed to do to be Covid compliant and also, and more importantly, to maintain connection over the year. Along with resuming giving to the Property Development Fund this has contributed to our projected deficit, a deficit Session and BOM are willing to bring to the congregation because the budget is about embodying our ministry priorities and we want to sustain our ministry together.


We will, of course, be watching the finances very closely over the coming year and if necessary revive the contingency plans we had been formulating for 2020, but which in God’s grace were never needed. But we would like to move beyond deficit budgets. We would like to reach a point where giving exceeds expenditure, not to accumulate money in the bank but so that we can have confidence to plan and be in a position to help other congregations, particularly new congregations in the North of Melbourne like our brothers and sisters at Donnybrook. We will only be able to do that if we have a common mind about the importance of the local church in fulfilling Jesus’ command to make disciples. More, if we have confidence in this local church to be busy in making disciples, so confident that we are willing to invest here for eternal return.


We would like to move beyond deficit budgets. We would like to reach a point where giving exceeds expenditure, not to accumulate money in the bank but so that we can have confidence to plan and be in a position to help other congregations


When by God’s grace I first considered the ministry of teaching God’s word it was because of a conviction of the importance of the local church, and that conviction has only grown with experience. Central committees and big plans don’t make disciples. Local congregations and the evangelists they support do, as they encourage each other to be disciples, to speak the gospel to others and to live doing all that Jesus teaches. In God’s plan the local congregation where God’s word is faithfully taught is the means He provides to encourage you to persevere and grow in your faith through the ministry of each to the other with the gifts God provides, and it is also vital to your bringing up your children in the faith and their own growth into mature followers of Jesus. That is why, by the way, we all need to get back into the habit of meeting regularly week by week. And the local congregation is also vital to evangelising our community. Here people can see and experience an alternate community, one characterised by truth and love as our lives are ruled by God’s word. Here they can test the faith and be supported in change when belief in Jesus means hostility from the world. And here you can find in our common confession the encouragement we all need to keep on bringing to our needy but resistant world the light of the gospel.


Central committees and big plans don’t make disciples.

Local congregations and the evangelists they support do...

The reputation of Jesus in our community hangs on the

lives of believers in local congregations


The reputation of Jesus in our community hangs on the lives of believers in local congregations. When Christianity is spoken of, and often misrepresented, in our media, our neighbours will think of the believers they know to test those claims. Local congregations like ours that encourage genuine discipleship, living those good lives that cause others to see and praise God for our good deeds [1 Pet. 2:12, Matt. 5:16], are vital to the spread of the gospel, and the need for people to hear the gospel in Australia, in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne, is very great.


So have a look at the budget and prayerfully consider if now is the time to invest in our congregation, and through us in the work of the gospel around us.


Staying in touch - 12th Mar 2021

Staying away, staying in touch...

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

Scroll to RESOURCES

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

On Wednesday morning I saw in my inbox an email from the health department titled Increase in gastroenteritis outbreaks in childcare.

It went on to describe the very unpleasant symptoms of infection with the Norovirus - nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches, and to warn that sanitising hands would not prevent its spread. To control the spread people needed to wash with soap and water and to stay at home until forty-eight hours after symptoms have ceased.

 

That health alert was a reminder to me that alongside Covid 19 there are a number of highly infectious diseases out there, particularly amongst the pre-school age group, and that we all need to be vigilant to make sure our activities and gathering as a church don’t promote their spread.

 

Being sick is miserable, and especially when your children are young going from one sickness to the next, from the runny nose to the vomiting to the cough, is just exhausting and discouraging when you find yourself stuck at home week after week. In this fallen world loving our brothers and sisters means being diligent in embracing practices that will stop the spread of preventable infectious diseases through our community. We should also embrace those practices for the sake of our visitors and the church’s reputation in the community. We don’t want our visitors, perhaps that person you have worked so hard to get to church to hear the gospel and meet your Christian friends, to remember BPC not for the gospel message they heard but for the gastro their child caught and gave to them.

 

In this fallen world loving our brothers and sisters means being diligent in embracing practices that will stop the spread of preventable infectious diseases through our community. We should also embrace those practices for the sake of our visitors and the church’s reputation in the community.

 

Love tells us, especially as winter approaches, that we need to keep practicing our infection control measures. They are outlined in the FAQ section of the Covid 19 menu on the website [bpc.org.au]. The central point is that if you or, if you have children, your children have symptoms you need to stay at home. At this time if you have flu like symptoms, you should get tested for Covid 19. Even if the test is negative while you or your child has symptoms – e.g. the cough or runny nose persists – you should stay at home until those clear up to prevent the spread of some other URTI. If you have had gastro symptoms you should stay at home normally until 24 hours after the last vomit or runny motion, but with the Norovirus the department of health is saying 48 hours.

 

Sometimes we can have a persistent runny nose or cough from a non-infectious cause, such as hay fever or a post viral irritation. The important thing is that before you return to church you know it is non-infectious. In the case of a runny nose from hayfever is it like your normal hayfever? That should be a diagnosis that has been at some time confirmed by a doctor; in the case of a post-viral cough your acute symptoms have resolved, you have not had a fever for 72 hours, and you feel well. If in any doubt about this you should consult your local doctor before returning to church.  

 

Sometimes taking these precautions can seem burdensome or even unnecessarily restrictive, and we know it can be discouraging to have to stay away because of what seems almost continuous sickness going through one child after another, a discouragement that can be compounded by disturbed nights. But love does not want to pass on preventable illness to others and these precautions have been informed by what is known of the infectious periods of these viruses and other infectious agents.

 

But those of us who are well also need to remember that love does not want anyone to be left in their discouragement, to have the discouragement of sickness compounded by being isolated from others. Those of us who are well should notice who is not there, who is loving the rest of us by staying away, and then getting in touch with them, letting them know you have noticed, noticed their sacrifice in staying home, and asking what you can do to help.

 

Those of us who are well also need to remember that love does not want anyone to be left in their discouragement... notice who is not there, who is loving the rest of us by staying away,... [let] them know you have noticed, noticed their sacrifice in staying home, and asking what you can do to help.

 

And if you have to stay home because of sickness keep watching the live stream and give the pastors a call. One of the major reasons we are committed to continuing the live stream is our awareness that sickness, which can happen to any of us at any time, will mean some have to stay home, and especially when children are starting in childcare they might be away for a few weeks in a row. And give the pastors, or your Christian brother or sister, a call. Often adults can safely visit a home where some are unwell because they are aware of the risks and can avoid them.

 

There are times in our lives when it can seem that infectious illness – and with it the broken sleep, the being stuck at home, the extra cleaning, can go on forever in our families. It won’t. There will be an end. God in His mercy has equipped us with immune systems that learn and immunity will develop in your children. But these sicknesses are another small reminder that the world is not right because of our sin. Let it be a gentle nudge to remind you that here we have no lasting city and that by faith we are on a journey to the city ‘whose designer and builder is God’ [Hebrews 11:10]. On that journey our Lord teaches us to live under all circumstances by truth and love, to inform our decisions by the knowledge God gives us and a determination to look not to our own interests but the interests of others. For now, for us, that means staying away when you have an infectious illness, and staying in touch with those making that sacrifice for the good of us all.

 

Our Lord teaches us to live under all circumstances by truth and love... to look not to our own interests but the interests of others.

For now, for us, that means staying away when you have an infectious illness, and staying in touch with those making that sacrifice for the good of us all.

 

RESOURCES:

 

1) Some FAQ's from our Covid-19 FAQ’s Webpage

 

What is our policy?

If you or your children are unwell, especially with flu like symptoms, you must not enter. Isolate yourself and get tested if you have not already done so. 

If you are awaiting Covid test results, or are a close contact of a Covid 19 infected person, you must not enter until given the all clear by the Health Department. 

 

Can they return as soon as they have a negative test result?

No. In addition to the negative test result they need to be symptom free before they come to church. We want to avoid transmitting other upper respiratory tract infections (URTI’s) as well. 

 

Do I need to stay away if my child has a runny nose from hayfever?

No, but you should be confident it is hay fever and not an infection.  

Questions to ask are “Is it like my normal hayfever?”, “Do I have accompanying symptoms like itchy eyes?”, “Is it responding to my usual treatments?” If the answer to these questions is yes it increases your confidence that it is your usual hayfever. 

But if it is different from usual, or accompanied by fever, or unusual symptoms like cough, or is not responding to your normal treatments, you should go and be tested and wait for results before returning to church. 

 

What about other illnesses?

It is good to remember there are other infectious diseases and we do not want these to spread through church. We should follow the exclusion guidelines used by schools. For example, if your child has symptoms of gastro, you should exclude them from church until there has not been vomiting or a loose motion for 24 hours. 

See the document “Minimum period of exclusion from primary schools and children’s services for infectious diseases cases and contacts” 

 

2) Summary of the Increase in gastroenteritis outbreaks in childcare Alert

 

Status: Active

Date issued: 9 March 2021 (Update to 26 November 2020)

Issued by: Adjunct Clinical Professor Brett Sutton, Chief Health Officer

Issued to: Childcare providers, parents with children in early childhood education, the Victorian community

Key messages

  • Parents and carers are urged to keep young children at home if they are sick amid a rapid rise in outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis in Victorian childcare centres.
  • Viral gastroenteritis is highly infectious. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches, with more severe outcomes in the elderly and very young. Symptoms can take up to three days to develop and usually last between one or two days, sometimes longer.
  • Washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of infection. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are not effective against many common viruses that cause gastroenteritis.
  • Infants or children in childcare or school, as well as staff, who develop vomiting or diarrhoea should stay at home until at least 48 hours after their symptoms have stopped, since they will still be infectious. If symptoms are severe or they persist, or you are concerned, see a GP for advice and possible testing.
  • Staff and parents should be vigilant for symptoms of gastroenteritis in children and reinforce basic hygiene measures.
  • Cleaning and sanitising are also important infection control measures and facilities should follow relevant Department of Health guidelines.
  • Anyone recovering from gastroenteritis should avoid visiting hospitals, childcare centres and aged care facilities to avoid spreading the infection to those most vulnerable. Any person living in a household with someone who has gastroenteritis should refrain from visiting these high-risk facilities until at least 48 hours after the last person in the household has recovered.

 

Staying in touch - 5th Mar 2021

Responding to the destructiveness of human sin

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

 

Events in Canberra this week, and the reporting of them, have made me feel at times deeply sad and angry – and at the same time profoundly thankful for the gospel, for its moral clarity, its assurance of justice, and most importantly for its offer of redemption to sinners like me.

 

The gospel provides moral clarity and broad moral vision

 

The gospel has both moral clarity and a broad moral vision, gives us light by which to walk in the darkness of our world. Certain behaviours and attitudes are just wrong, never to engaged in by those who fear the Lord. Violence, rape, murder, but also greed, pride, and sex outside the marriage of a man and a woman.

 

Certain behaviours and attitudes are just wrong,

never to engaged in by those who fear the Lord.

 

And it has a broad moral vision, not seen with the current focus on the issue of consent. Consent is important but to reduce the rightness or wrongness of a sexual encounter to only the issue of consent is a form of moral reductionism which shows the poverty of the secular gospel of expressive individualism. That is the term for the gospel of the new secular religion, ‘one’ in Steve McAlpine’s words,

“built on a commitment to individual autonomy and celebration of personal authenticity at any cost’, a ‘religion that finds ultimate meaning in the self’. [McAlpine, ‘Being the Bad Guys’ p. 27-28].

Where individual autonomy is the fundamental commitment and the source of the good life, consent becomes the sole morally significant characteristic of a sexual encounter because the will of the individual is ultimate. What expresses the autonomous will is good, what denies or frustrates it is bad. This gospel’s promise is empowerment of those who were previously disempowered but its reality is increasingly seen to be anything but. Rather than erase power imbalances in relationships it can entrench them, for some wills are stronger and the focus in the relationship becomes the manipulation of the will of the other – the door is open to that manipulation and subtle co-ercion. Having this as the only relevant moral consideration [in the name of being free to do whatever you want] leads to confusion about commitment, even about the rightness and wrongness of the act [for what constitutes informed consent, when can it be revoked, how is it to be communicated?], as well as insecurity in the relationship and into the future [will what was reckoned consent then be remembered as manipulation in a moment of subsequent regret]? This secular gospel has not led to a brave new world of life enhancing freedom but regret, hurt and chaos. The Christian gospel’s vision for sex is broader and deeper.

 

This secular gospel has not led to a brave new world of life enhancing freedom but regret, hurt and chaos.

The Christian gospel’s vision for sex is broader and deeper.

 

Like fire in a fireplace sex has a helpful and safe place in a bigger moral context. That context is marriage, a life long exclusive union of a man and a woman, as God given, within which sex is not an end in itself but a contributor to both the delight and the fruitfulness of that union. And marriage itself is understood as part of  a world where right and wrong are not determined by our will with reference to our needs, where self is pre-eminent, but where right and wrong are determined by the revealed will of the Creator God who speaks, and who by example, in the incarnation and death of the Son, our Lord Jesus, and by decree has made power to serve love, love understood as a commitment to promote the well being of the other, love which is commanded to be shown by the [generally] more physically powerful man to his wife in marriage. In this understanding of the world, where we live with a commitment to the truth and authority of the gospel, our marriages and our sex within marriage are ennobled by being made to resonate with and point to the great purpose of creation, the union of Christ with His people [Ephesians 5:22-33]. This is a deeper and broader moral vision, and one that faithfully pursued does enhance and ennoble our lives, creates security and certainty, and can overcome the loneliness which is ‘an inherent by-product of individualism’

“If individual freedom is the goal and the means of achieving this freedom is replacing relationships of obligation and responsibility with a world of relational choice, then a certain amount of loneliness and insecurity will result.” [Dale Kuehne in McAlpine, p. 75]

 

The gospel provides assurance of justice

 

I am thankful for the moral clarity, the moral vision, of the gospel, and I am thankful for the gospel’s assurance of justice. We have had exposed this week, both in the events in Canberra and in the new scientific evidence presented in the Kathleen Folbigg case, the limitations and frailties of human justice. In this life complete justice is often unattainable and its pursuit can subvert justice, making it the vehicle of revenge. We should want justice and pray our authorities will be ‘the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer’ by rightly exercising their power in accord with God’s revealed will [Romans 13:4]. But human justice cannot overcome the limitations of our humanity – it will never be omniscient and omnipotent, its capacity to both access evidence and interpret the evidence available limited.

 

human justice cannot overcome the limitations of our humanity

 

This reality can leave those who are wronged or think they have been wronged either crippled with grief or consumed by a desire for vengeance and both can destroy our lives and even our society.

As Henry Ergas writes insightfully in the Australian, reflecting on Kafka,

“No one could deny the heart-wrenching torment real or imagined wrongs that have long been left to fester can cause. But Franz Kafka was right when he emphasised in The Trial that the justice “which never forgets” — yet is also incapable of accurately remembering — is no justice at all; it is, as he graphically put it, an ambush perpetually waiting to happen, a disease from which there may be temporary remission but no cure, a nightmare weighing even more heavily on the entirely innocent than on the irretrievably guilty.” [The Australian, 5/3/2021].

Christians, believers in the gospel of our Lord Jesus, know that no wrong will ever escape judgement by the just judge, the judge who searches people’s hearts [Jeremiah 17:9-10, Matthew 5:22, 28]. Our Lord tells us that on that day we will give account for every word we utter [Matthew 12:36-37], and God will give to everyone according to their works [Romans 3:5-6, Rev. 20:13]. Our Lord Jesus by His death and resurrection has guaranteed that the judgement of the last day is certain, and it will be just with God committed to upholding His law as we see in the crucifixion. We can bear patiently with the imperfect justice of this life and rather than being consumed with anger when we think people are ‘getting away’ with some wrong we should shudder at what awaits them from the just judge who has said ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay.’ [Romans 12:19].

 

We can bear patiently with the imperfect justice of this life and rather than being consumed with anger when we think people are ‘getting away’ with some wrong we should shudder at what awaits them from the just judge

 

The gospel offers redemption to sinners

 

But that assurance of justice makes me even more thankful that the gospel offers redemption to sinners like me. Many of us have probably shuddered this week at the thought that we could be made publicly accountable for our words and actions as teenagers, accountable for their impact on others, and feared the public shaming that would accompany that revelation. How much more should we fear the certain judgment of God, when not only our actions but their justifications would be exposed in the light of His justice. But with God there is mercy, rich, deep and real [Eph. 2:4-5, 2 Samuel 24:14]. Our futures need not be chained forever to the sinful actions of our past, to an inevitable karma.

 

With God there is mercy, rich, deep and real. Our futures need not be chained forever to the sinful actions of our past

 

At peace with God we, through our Lord Jesus [Romans 5:1-8], do not need to live in fear of the vengeance of those we have wronged, of the vengeance of the God we have wronged. The Lord Jesus, to whom judgment is entrusted, forgives those who call on Him, those who believing His gospel that He has died for our sins, repent and confess their sin, and follow Him. There is forgiveness, as the story of David shows, even for those who abuse their power to impose their desire on another. Yet this mercy is not at the expense of God’s justice. He restores the order of His righteous rule even as He pardons by presenting His Son Jesus to bear the cost of our sinning, to be the propitiation for our sin by His blood [Romans 3:24-26]. He Himself, says Peter, bore our sins, their guilt and shame, in His body on the tree [1 Peter 2:24]. Isn’t this what we need, what our creation needs – mercy and justice, where one does not exclude the other. Only in that hope can there be real peace.

 

But Peter says Jesus bore our sins ‘that we might die to sin and live to righteousness’. We must live now committed to mercy and justice ourselves, avoiding wrong and being willing to forgive, not avenge ourselves on, those who wrong us while insisting as we are able on justice, the rewarding of good and punishing of wrong, in our public life.

 

I have found the events in Canberra troubling this week with the destructiveness of human sin at many levels and in many lives so publicly paraded before us. But it has also renewed my thankfulness for having been brought to know and believe the gospel of our Lord Jesus. As you think about what you are seeing and hearing in our news reflect on what you see and hear in the light of the gospel, and resolve to pray and speak so that in what is for many a despairing and fearful world, a world where we wrong and are wronged and live with the consequences, they also, the many, can find moral clarity, be assured of justice, and above all experience peace bringing forgiveness through believing in our Lord Jesus

 

Staying in touch - 26th Feb 2021

Thinking about the vaccine roll-out

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

A good place to start

https://www.focusonthefamily.com/episodes/broadcast/covid-19-vaccines-what-you-need-to-know/

 

A helpful interview with Francis Collins, someone personally involved at the highest level with the development of vaccines

https://www.russellmoore.com/2020/12/11/a-conversation-with-dr-francis-collins-on-vaccine-development-2/

 

On whether or not foetal cells are used in the production of the vaccine

https://lozierinstitute.org/update-covid-19-vaccine-candidates-and-abortion-derived-cell-lines/

 

On RNA vaccines

https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/explainer-what-you-should-know-about-the-covid-19-rna-vaccines/

 

Albert Mohler: Part II The Christian Tradition and the Question of Vaccines: Seven Principles for Christian Thinking

https://albertmohler.com/2020/12/14/briefing-12-14-20

 

A brief article on the acceptability of using vaccines that have been developed using the cell line HEK293

https://www.heritage.org/public-health/commentary/the-covid-vaccine-and-the-pro-life-movement

 

Megan Best, an Australian Christian bio-ethicist, considers the morality of the AstraZeneca vaccine

https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/does-acceptance-of-a-covid-19-vaccine-represent-endorsement-of-abortion/

 

The Gospel, Society and Culture committee of PCNSW also has a series of helpful posts on vaccination at

http://gsandc.org.au/vaccinations-the-big-questions/

 

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT


Thinking about the vaccine roll-out.


Thankfully the vaccination roll-out has now begun but there is a degree of concern amongst some about the advisability of receiving the vaccine. This concern relates mainly to either the speed of its approval or the use in the production of the AstraZeneca vaccine of a cell line [HEK293] developed from the tissue of an aborted foetus. In Western Australia there is even an anti-vaccination party running in the State election. So today I thought I would talk about some of the issues around the Covid vaccination and how we might think about them as followers of Jesus guided by His Word, the Bible.


Introductory comments


But first, five introductory comments.


  1. A brief talk cannot canvas fully all the issues, and there are a number of resources attached to the transcript.

  2. This is not medical advice, particularly individual medical advice. All our circumstances differ, and for individual medical advice you should consult your local medical practitioner.

  3. We will have to make up our own minds about what we are to do. This is a situation where Christians may disagree and are free to do so, but whatever conclusion we come to we must be convinced it comes from faith, being fully convinced in our minds that it is pleasing to the Lord [Romans 14:5, 23]

  4. In general vaccination is a good, whose purpose is to save lives and it has saved millions of lives around the world. It is a gift of God’s common grace that works with and through our created capacities to recognise and destroy microbial invaders that harm us. The underlying mechanism of vaccination is to equip the body to recognise a pathogen [e.g. a virus like polio] and mount an effective immunological response that quickly destroys the invader before the person gets ill. It facilitates processes already present in our creation for our good.

  5. For me vaccination is an experienced good. Polio vaccination commenced in 1956 and before that there were recurrent polio epidemics. I grew up knowing people who had contracted polio, including a boy who walked to our bus stop with calipers on both legs. That so many now know no-one who has had polio is due to community vaccination. In India in 1977 I had the sad experience of seeing a baby with infantile tetanus, the child of a mother who had been out of the district when the immunisation campaign was conducted. Infectious diseases are scourges and effective vaccinations for them are something we should all be grateful to God for.


Concerns and Fears


Concerns about Covid vaccination cluster around the speed of the development and approval process, and about the use of cells derived from the cells of aborted foetuses in their development.


Concerns about Covid vaccination cluster around the speed of the development and approval process, and about the use of cells derived from the cells of aborted foetuses in their development.


In many ways the speed of the development and approval of these vaccines is something to be thankful for. It reflects developments in vaccine production and the use of new but existing technologies – DNA sequencing, mRNA research – to produce a safe vaccine. The talk below by Francis Collins, someone directly involved in overseeing the development of these vaccines, is very helpful. M-RNA [messenger RNA] vaccines [Pfizer and Moderna] give the cell the information needed to produce the antigen [the foreign protein] that the cell then recognises and develops an immune response to. The protein is not the virus and so cannot infect us, just a part of the virus. The m-RNA cannot enter the cell nucleus, and it is rapidly degraded by the cell’s ordinary recycling processes. In principle they are as safe or safer than traditionally produced vaccines which use killed or live attenuated viruses.


In principle they are as safe or safer than traditionally produced vaccines which use killed or live attenuated viruses.


The question with the speed of approval is really a question of whether all the normal steps in the approval process have been followed and whether the vaccine been tested with sufficient sample sizes to prove both its safety and its efficacy. The answer to both those questions from those involved in the process is yes. All the approval steps have been met, particularly in Australia where we have had the luxury of less urgency, and the sample size is now huge, with millions of doses having been administered. What side effects are experienced are generally minor and the signs of an effective response – soreness in the arm, mild short fever. With any medical procedure there are risks – even taking an aspirin, but the benefit has to be weighed against the risk. In the case of these vaccinations the risks, as far as it can be known, are small – no greater than the risks with the normal vaccines we receive - and the benefit to the individual and particularly the community, large.


Pro-life Christians are also concerned about the use of cell lines developed from aborted foetuses in the production and testing of these vaccines. The link to the Lozier institute below is to a chart they have developed and keep up to date that details which vaccines are produced using these cell lines, and which are not.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are synthetic vaccines, manufactured, not multiplied in cell lines. Cell lines are not used in their production and there is no component of them that has any connection with cells from an aborted foetus. They have been tested on these cell lines, as have many other medications.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is produced in the cells of the HEK293 cell line. How should this influence our decision, if at all, about whether to get the vaccine and which vaccine to get? Several of the articles below go into this in more detail.


There are at least two ethical questions.

  1. Firstly, does our use of something derived from an abortion [in this case a forty year old ‘immortalised’ cell line], make us complicit in the original evil act of the abortion?

  2. Secondly, does our use promote further abortions?


Some will answer the first question by saying that the use of anything derived from an abortion indicates complicity. I am not persuaded by that as so much of what we use, taken far enough back, will have some moral taint. Some would argue that even our living in Australia and enjoying its wealth has at its origin the evil act of invasion. Does that mean we should abandon living here? Paul walked on roads made for the Roman military, to facilitate their conquest and occupation. Should he have restricted himself to the perilous and at times impassable non-Roman roads? We do not live in a perfect world and while we should grieve for the pervasiveness of sin in our world, we should also be thankful it is a world where sometimes good is brought from evil. The original abortion, done in the 60’s, was not done to develop the cell line, developed in 1972. It would have happened whether or not a cell line was developed. This cell line has since been altered significantly from the original cells. Those who are working on developing the vaccine also have a clear intent to do good, to save lives. The Albert Mohler article below explores these issues of distance and intent, along with other ethical considerations, but as I said above I am not persuaded by the suggestion that use of the AstraZeneca vaccine makes us complicit in the evil of the original abortion.


The original abortion, done in the 60’s, was not done to develop the cell line, developed in 1972. It would have happened whether or not a cell line was developed.


Does our use of this cell line promote further abortions?

No, although it may contribute to the normalisation of the use of such products. That is a serious consideration, but whether the products of abortion continue to be used in research will depend on changing the ethical climate to value the unborn human life and the development of alternatives, for these cell lines are extensively used because their properties are so well known. We should campaign for the cessation of use of the products of abortion in research and for ethically developed vaccines, but whether that campaign will be helped by frustrating the achievement of community immunity by refusing vaccination is another question. If we are pro-life, and believers should be, then we must also be pro the lives of those who will be spared sickness and death by an effective community wide vaccination program. So, in sum, I think there are no ethical issues in the use of the synthetic m-RNA vaccines, and, like the Catholic bishops, think the use of the vaccines like the AstraZeneca vaccine is acceptable where there are no acceptable and practical alternatives. I mention practical because the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine at -70 degrees Celsius presents formidable logistics challenges in Australia.


We should campaign for the cessation of use of the products of abortion in research and for ethically developed vaccines, but whether that campaign will be helped by frustrating the achievement of community immunity by refusing vaccination is another question.


I am also aware that there are all kinds of wild conspiracy theories going around about 5G, the vaccine being used to insert a microchip that also has the mark of the beast, and the nefarious activities of Bill Gates to control or make money out of us by this vaccination. Francis Collins draws attention to Philippians 4:6 – the encouragement of Scripture to think about ‘whatever is true’. We should not occupy ourselves with untrue and harmful speculations, as these are. Paul in Titus 3:9-11 tells Titus and the believers in Crete to “avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” That is written for us.


Distaste, risk and love.


So should we participate in the vaccine roll out? I will, with thankfulness.

Let me give you three reasons to consider that have influenced my decision.


1) All truth is God’s truth.

He made the world and all that is in it. Science is the study of God’s handiwork, and the knowledge discovered by it part of the means God has given us for fulfilling our role in creation, to steward the world and multiply on it. Our God rules over all things. He says in Isaiah that he is the one who instructs farmers in their practice [Isaiah 28:23-26], just as he is the one who creates the smith [Isaiah 54:16-17]. That is, knowledge of our world, and knowledge of how to operate in our world, to manipulate creation to sustain human life and society, comes from Him, from His common grace. We should welcome the truth we are learning about the operation of cells, truth that in God’s grace now serves us in showing us how we can fight these novel viruses and reduce the disease burden on humanity. I sense sometimes amongst some Christians a suspicion of science and it is not helpful. I can understand how the boasting of atheist scientists can irritate us, and the invoking of politicians of the authority of science to justify their actions can grate on us, the proud triumphalism of the secularists that greeted the approval of these vaccines disappoints us, but that distaste at the misuse of science should not dampen our enthusiasm for truth about our created world and gratitude for truth that allows us to live well.


Distaste at the misuse of science should not dampen our enthusiasm for truth about our created world and gratitude for truth that allows us to live well.


2) Secondly, there is always risk in anything we do, a risk that needs to be balanced against benefit, not just to us but to others.

We might think that we have only a small risk of contracting Covid or having a serious illness when we do contract it, and so think the benefit of vaccination will be only marginal to us. Where we are making our assessment in the context of unfounded rumours about long term risks, or the dangers of vaccinations generally, and where we have a general anxiety about what we do not understand fully, we might be swayed to abstain from vaccination. But we should not be guided by untruth or fear, and we should consider the benefit to others. Overseas experience tells us that the Covid infection is serious and deadly to many, and it seems in some to have long term consequences. Further the economic and social cost to our society of measures to prevent the spread of the infection without vaccination are enormous, falling principally upon the young whose education has been disrupted, whose work has been lost, and who will be repaying the debt for decades. And as with any vaccination the healthy who can get vaccinated do get vaccinated to protect the more vulnerable who cannot get vaccinated by preventing the circulation of the virus. Further community wide vaccination will help limit the development of new, potentially more dangerous, strains of the virus by decreasing the amount of virus multiplying in the community.


3) Which brings me to love. Faith and love should guide our decision, and it seems to me love for our neighbour and our community would encourage us to get vaccinated where we can, whatever our assessment of the benefit to us individually. Love will want the vulnerable protected, our health care staff to be safer, our economy to once again be able to open up, for people to be able to travel freely to see family, for opportunities for mutation to be limited. More, love will encourage the government to make this vaccine widely available to other, poorer nations. I witnessed that case of infantile tetanus 21 years after vaccination started in Australia. We cannot have poorer countries waiting another 21 years to share in protection from the virus.


Love for our neighbour and our community would encourage us to get vaccinated where we can, whatever our assessment of the benefit to us individually. Love will want the vulnerable protected, our health care staff to be safer, our economy to once again be able to open up, for people to be able to travel freely to see family, for opportunities for mutation to be limited.


 “Is it right, lawful,” Jesus asked in Mark 3:4, “on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” He asked this of people whose religious scruples, whose fear of doing something wrong on the Sabbath, made them willing to leave a man in misery for a little longer.  Jesus was not pleased with them and healed the man. The answer to Jesus’ question is that it is always right to do good and save life and receiving the vaccination will do that. So I will receive the vaccination when my turn comes with thankfulness to God for His kindness in giving us this knowledge and ability to combat this disease, and letting us get on to face the other trials that will come our way in this fallen world.


It is always right to do good and save life and receiving the vaccination will do that.


Resources:


A good place to start

https://www.focusonthefamily.com/episodes/broadcast/covid-19-vaccines-what-you-need-to-know/


A helpful interview with Francis Collins, someone personally involved at the highest level with the development of vaccines

https://www.russellmoore.com/2020/12/11/a-conversation-with-dr-francis-collins-on-vaccine-development-2/


On whether or not foetal cells are used in the production of the vaccine

https://lozierinstitute.org/update-covid-19-vaccine-candidates-and-abortion-derived-cell-lines/


On RNA vaccines

https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/explainer-what-you-should-know-about-the-covid-19-rna-vaccines/


Albert Mohler: Part II The Christian Tradition and the Question of Vaccines: Seven Principles for Christian Thinking

https://albertmohler.com/2020/12/14/briefing-12-14-20


A brief article on the acceptability of using vaccines that have been developed using the cell line HEK293

https://www.heritage.org/public-health/commentary/the-covid-vaccine-and-the-pro-life-movement


Megan Best, an Australian Christian bio-ethicist, considers the morality of the AstraZeneca vaccine

https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/does-acceptance-of-a-covid-19-vaccine-represent-endorsement-of-abortion/


The Gospel, Society and Culture committee of PCNSW also has a series of helpful posts on vaccination at

http://gsandc.org.au/vaccinations-the-big-questions/


Staying in touch - 19th Feb 2021

Back, and thankful.

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Back, and thankful.


Thankfully the short sharp lockdown was just that – short and sharp and we are back to our Covid Summer this weekend with Kid’s club and Youth Group this Friday, the Iranian congregation commencing meeting again this Saturday evening after almost a year of no meetings, and all three Sunday services meeting with a density quotient of one person per two square meters, with the continuing requirement that we wear our masks indoors.


Back in operation again we will continue to re-introduce features of our normal pre-Covid activity. This Sunday at 11 the children will start in the service so they can witness the baptism of Annika Kothakota. If you are watching on the livestream be prepared for that time when the children leave, which will take a couple of minutes. In the evening we will begin serving tea and coffee after the service. This will be a helpful test of our processes before we start serving tea and coffee after the morning services at the beginning of March.


We can only do these things because of those who willingly serve, whether that is in the Sunday teams, or helping the Iranians in teaching their children under Christine’s leadership, or in Youth group and Kid’s Club. I want to thank those who have volunteered, and encourage you all to consider joining a team so we can sustain what we do without exhausting any, and continue to re-introduce valuable parts of our life together like morning tea. Serving one another is just part of the normal Christian life.


I want to thank those who have volunteered, and encourage you all to consider joining a team ... Serving one another is just part of the normal Christian life.


Practice Praise


But as I say that I recognise that the most recent lockdown creates uncertainty in our minds about the future and can contribute to a general anxiety and undermine motivation to make any plans or regular commitments, as well as add to our energy sapping frustrations with our Covid circumstances. In response can I encourage you to experience the health giving, confidence strengthening, joy renewing benefits of the practice of praising and thanking our great God.

We are called to “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, And we have examples in Scripture of our Lord and His apostles giving thanks and praise in difficult circumstances.  When our Lord encountered wilful unbelief in the cities of Galilee in which he had ministered it says ‘At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you. Father, Lord of heaven and earth” [Matt. 11:25]. He responded by praising God for His sovereign work in revealing the truth to whom He willed. When the apostles were beaten for preaching Jesus it says they rejoiced at being counted worthy to suffer dishonour for Jesus [Acts 5:41-42]. When Paul and Silas were bound in the goal in Philippi they prayed and sang hymns [Acts 16:25].


Use the Psalms


We are to praise and thank our God in all circumstances, and as those whose trust is in the living, gracious God we always have reason for that praise and thanks.


We are to praise and thank our God in all circumstances,


There are numerous expressions of praise and thanks in Psalms that can serve as models and vehicles for our own praise [e.g. 92, 103, 113, 47, 19, 32, 34]. Consider Psalm 146, one of the group of ‘hallel’, praise psalms with which the Psalter ends [Psalms 146-150].


Psalm 146: Praise the Lord!


Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.


The Psalmist starts with calling himself and all to praise, and committing himself to praise the LORD, the living God, always. If it is not your practice, can I encourage you not just to say this to yourself, but out loud. God should be praised publicly, His praises heard in His creation.

Then he introduces a contrast that helps us see how much better it is to be able to put our trust in the LORD


3 Put not your trust in princes,
    in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
    on that very day his plans perish.


For good or ill the plans and promises of mortals fail. When so many seem to be putting their trust in politicians to save them it is good to remember that we have a sure hope in the LORD, and how much better that is.


When so many seem to be putting their trust in politicians to save them it is good to remember that we have a sure hope in the LORD


5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;


The LORD who has made Himself our God through calling us to Himself through the gospel of His Son our Lord Jesus, who has brought us into His covenant family through the death of our Lord Jesus, has given us a sure hope and a present help in Himself. Those who trust Him are always blessed for He is the Creator – there is no limit to His power, all that is made serves Him, and He is the faithful God, who never fails of His promise. As those who trust Him, who can always turn to him for help, who can rely on His promises, we always have a cause for thanks and praise.

And the LORD is good, the active Saviour of His people. He is not some distant, uninvolved, uncaring power. He

7     who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8     the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the sojourners;
    he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

He is the good and compassionate God, and the just God who will execute His righteous judgments. His way and will are certain, for as we know through the triumphant resurrection of our Lord Jesus, and as the Psalmist declares.

10 The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, to all generations.

Praise the Lord!


Make their praise your own.


In a year of ups and downs, of false starts and uncertainty, refresh your spirit by praising and thanking our God who reigns for ever. Do it out loud and try making these psalms and their praise your own.

Maybe something like this:


I praise you my God for you have set me free from sin and death and given me a sure hope of eternal life, you have opened my blind eyes to see your glory, the wonder of your love and power, in Christ my saviour.

You are the One who when I am tired and weary lifts me up, when I am grieved and fearful renews my soul, who watches over me and is always with me, even when the world thinks my concerns unimportant and irrelevant.

I praise you the almighty, faithful, kind and gracious God.

Praise our God, Father, Son and Spirit – always.

                                            

Staying in touch - 12th Feb 2021

The Work of the Board of Management & Lockdown Update

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

PART 1 "The work of the Board of Management"

 

Under the shadow of the Holiday Inn cluster the Board of Management held its first in person meeting in the building since the 11th June 2020. It was good to be back together although the work of the board had continued on Zoom throughout last year.

That work, though often invisible, is important for the Board’s role is to facilitate and support all the ministries of Bundy. They do that by managing our finances, preparing and monitoring the annual budget and ensuring the financial integrity of all our dealings, considering and funding capital equipment purchases [e.g. for music and PA/AV], by keeping our insurance up to date, planning and ensuring the scheduled services and inspections required to keep operating in the building [e.g. lift, fire, air conditioning, kitchen], arranging and meeting contractors who work in the building, managing the weekly cleaning contract and sanitary services, liaising with the office, responding to maintenance requests, running our bi-annual cleaning bees.

 

I am drawing your attention to the work of the Board today for three reasons.

 

Firstly I find the Board a very encouraging testimony to the truth that God gives His people a great variety of gifts, all the gifts needed to sustain our life together, and that the body is healthy when all use their gifts for the building up of God’s people. Word gifts get more prominence in our Sunday gathering, but our life together depends on our brothers and sisters using their gifts of administration, finance, technical skill [not just the Board, think of the great work of our tech team], and practical help. Being on the Board I get to see my brothers and sisters using their gifts diligently and perseveringly, and I am thankful to God for His supplying us with what we need in each other. I am also thankful for the example they are of serving with their gifts to all of us. We need their example for the whole body grows ‘when’, joined to Christ, ’each part is working properly’, when we all in love serve one another with the gifts Christ has given us. Be encouraged by their service to use your gifts for the common good for we need you.

 

Secondly, the Board administers our finances on behalf of us all and so they bring to the congregation a budget annually for the congregation’s endorsement. That budget embodies each year our ministry priorities and the most significant expenditure is unsurprisingly ministry salaries. The preparation and administration of that budget is a heavy responsibility for the Board often has to bring deficit budgets to the congregation not knowing where the money will come from. While we have always been able to cover our deficits from reserves it is a measure of their faith that they have consistently supported ministry, for no congregation can survive where income is consistently below expenditure, and they are aware of that. This year will be no exception with a budget that now has quite a large deficit. But we have found God faithful thus far. We were contemplating a similar deficit last year and had had big discussions about various contingency plans but through a combination of increased giving, the government cash flow stimulus, and Covid related decreased expenditure we ended the year in the black, which none of us anticipated and for which we give thanks to God. I speak of this because the Board will be bringing this year’s budget to the congregation at the Annual Congregational Meeting which this year is provisionally scheduled for Tuesday March 2nd, and will be circulating the budget for the two weeks before. It would encourage the Board if you would examine it, ask questions beforehand [or if you want them asked during the meeting let them know you will be asking the question], and then own the budget and more importantly its ministry priorities by coming and voting to approve it, for it is not just the Board’s budget but our budget. We are making provision for on-line participation in the meeting, an innovation now allowed for in our Code. That is important for under changes to the Code we need for a quorum members and regular attenders no less in number than 10% of members on our roll. It would be good for you to be there to hear the explanation of budget priorities, hear questions asked and answered, and to indicate your support, or otherwise, for the proposed budget by voting.

 

We are making provision for on-line participation in the meeting [ACM], an innovation now allowed for in our Code. That is important for under changes to the Code we need for a quorum members and regular attenders no less in number than 10% of members on our roll. It would be good for you to be there to hear the explanation of budget priorities, hear questions asked and answered, and to indicate your support, or otherwise, for the proposed budget by voting.

 

Thirdly at that meeting we will be saying thank you to some of our retiring members. Kay Ellis and Gordon Mann have over twenty years’ service each to the congregation on the Board, including through the busy years of buying and equipping our current building. It has been a wonderful contribution and they deserve the thanks of all of us. Rob Ferrara will also be retiring after a couple of years looking after our maintenance requests. He deserves our thanks for serving well in one of the most difficult roles in the church, as the others who have taken it on can testify. It is difficult because often maintenance needs are visible [e.g. a dripping tap], many of us think they are easy to fix [although we can’t do it ourselves], and we are often only aware of that one need. We therefor think that as soon as we have notified the need, or within a week, it should be done. If only it were that easy for someone who is a volunteer with limited time and who receives multiple notifications. Trying to find someone to do the job, either a volunteer or a paid contractor, or the time to do the job yourself; arranging a time, getting quotes, supervising the job to a satisfactory standard – all takes time. Jobs have to be prioritised, and with some jobs there is always someone asking ‘Is it done yet?’

 

So come along to the ACM... thank those who are retiring from Board, and think about serving on Board yourself if you have the gifts and skills. It is an important and necessary work, and God gives us our gifts so we can serve one another in love.

 

So come along to the ACM – whether on line or in person - and thank those who are retiring from Board, and think about serving on Board yourself if you have the gifts and skills. It is an important and necessary work, and God gives us our gifts so we can serve one another in love. And yes, having just trumpeted the difficulty of being responsible for maintenance, we will be looking for someone to take on managing maintenance while the Board also thinks about better structures to help make that role sustainable. The building is in many ways part of our face to the world, creating an impression on those who visit, and a helpful support to our ministries. We are determined to keep maintaining it in a way that gives a good impression of the life of the congregation, but we will need to work together in this.

 

In the meantime, as other members of the Board already busy with their roles fill in for  maintenance, be patient, and if you are asked to help – do if you can. And pray for the Board’s work is important and we all depend on it. So give thanks for those who have served so faithfully, pray that the Lord would raise up for us other gifted people to serve us by being members of the Board, and pray with thanks for those who continue to serve, that they would be sustained in joy in knowing they are serving Christ in serving His people, and that the Lord would continue to give them endurance, wisdom and skill as they manage our temporal affairs. And even though many of us may feel tired at the moment after a tiring year and a busy start to the new year at school, work and church, pray about whether this is a way in which you can love the Lord’s people. If that is something you are prompted to consider, talk to me, or Andrew Harrisson the chairman of Board, or any of the current members.

 

Pray that the Lord would raise up for us other gifted people to serve us by being members of the Board, and pray with thanks for those who continue to serve...

 

Ephesians 4:15 “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

 

Let’s keep being a body that builds itself up in love.

 

PART 2 "Changes during the re-introduction of Stage 4 lockdown."


Many of you will have already heard the Premier’s announcement of a “short, sharp, lockdown” to attempt to control the spread of the highly infectious UK strain of the Covid virus. This means the re-introduction of Stage 4 restrictions for us. I know this will be a disappointment to many of you as you move to cancel planned engagements or again look at working from home with the children at home.

The Proverb says

16: 9 In their hearts humans plan their course,
    but the Lord establishes their steps.
[NIV]


That the LORD is in control of our lives is not only humbling as our plans are changed but for those of us who have come to know God in Christ it is good news. He loves His people and His purposes for us are good, that we be conformed to the image of His Son and come to share glory with Him. He is the God of heaven and earth and in all things, even the disruptions of viral spread, He is bringing those good purposes to fruition. We can trust Him, the living God who has adopted us as His children through faith in His crucified Son.


The church will also have to re-arrange its plans over the next five days and I will now run through our response to the re-introduction of restrictions.

  • The church building is shut from midnight tonight until midnight Wednesday except for the livestreaming of our services.
  • Also, as the Premier indicated it would be helpful to curtail large gatherings we have decided that tonight there will be a holiday from youth group – youth group will not run.
  • On Saturday the Iranian service will not re-commence as planned.
  • On Sunday we will livestream the morning service at 9:00 and it will be available to be watched on Youtube at 11:00. Only five people are allowed in the building for the livestream and so we regret we can’t proceed with Farrah Salter’s baptism. We will also be livestreaming the 5:00 pm service where Chris is preaching through 1 Thessalonians in a separate preaching program. For this week we will also return to pre-recorded songs and a pre-recorded children’s segment – watch out for Kathryn answering a big question. We will have a Zoom meeting after the 9:00 livestream and at 12:15pm for the 11:00 am congregation, and again after the 5:00 pm livestream. The links will be on the Bundy Live page. Hop on line and say hello – encourage each other as we all adjust to this lockdown.
  • During the week: BundyLife will start on Zoom on Tuesday and our February prayer meeting on Wednesday will also be entirely on zoom, with the link in this email. During the week we will be watching developments closely.


We hope the lockdown will be effective and so would encourage you to plan to be in church on the 21st – and let us know so we can contact you if there are any changes. There will be further communication next week when the Premier lets the community know whether the restrictions are remaining, will be changed, or will be removed.


Let us keep “praying at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication, keeping alert with all perseverance, making supplications for all the saints” [Eph. 6:18] as we variously deal with disappointment, with refreshed anxiety, with having all the emotions we experienced in the first lockdown stirred up in us. And pray that in the Lord’s mercy the steps the government has taken will be effective.


But give thanks – the Lord is with us, and His steadfast love is renewed to us every day. And whether we have freedom to move around, freedom to plan, or not – we are blessed in Christ, something we will remind ourselves of this Sunday morning when we look at the blessings our Lord pronounces in Matthew 5:1-11.


I read Psalm 145 this morning, so let me close with its closing verses:

Psalm 145: 17-21 

The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever.



Staying in touch - 5th Feb 2021

Unchanging Love

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Masks on, masks off, masks on ….


We have all had a reminder this week of the continuing presence of the virus in our lives and how quickly what is required can change. For me this one case has reminded me of the need for us all to keep maintaining our Covid protocols – registering for contact tracing, being vigilant ourselves with the handwashing, social distancing, staying away when sick, and keeping up the cleaning effort.

For others, as I gathered from listening to the radio on Thursday, the case is a reminder of the frailty of our lives and reinforces a general sense of uncertainty about the coming year that makes them reluctant to make any plans, that disempowers them and undermines initiative. The occurrence of these cases can thus be quite dispiriting and feed into more general anxieties we have about our society and future. Perhaps you feel that, while recognizing that outbreaks will happen from time to time.


Dealing with discouragement and disempowerment


'We live in the last days, so there will always be reminders that the world is out of order and that this is a place of pain and grief'


How to deal with these discouraging episodes and the disempowerment they bring? As I said last week we need to remember what does not change: that we live in the last days, so there will always be reminders that the world is out of order and that this is a place of pain and grief, not the best of all possible worlds where all our dreams will be fulfilled; that the living God has established His Son Jesus as Lord, with all authority in heaven and earth; that He is a God of steadfast love and faithfulness, whose every word will prove true; that the Lord Jesus loves His people and He is with us; that His gospel is God’s power to save. IF you want reminders of what that means for his people can I recommend a read of Psalm 34 or Psalm 40. Hearing the truth the Psalmist speaks of the Lord’s care for His people, and knowing that in Christ this Psalm belongs on our lips, is so encouraging. For example:


Psalm 34: 4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
    and saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!


The unchanging requirement to love.


But I want to remind you today of something else that does not change for this can and should guide our actions even when our confidence to act has been lessened. I want to remind you of what Jesus has said is the mark of being His disciple, a mark unchanged across the generations of Jesus’ followers. You will know it, know that the night before He died Jesus said: “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.” [John 13:34-35] Jesus has loved us in deed and truth [1 John 3:16-18], not just with thoughts and words, and so love should motivate action, action for the good of our brothers and sisters, no matter how we are feeling. The requirement to love is unchanging, a command that sustains initiative where we are disempowered, activity where we feel like withdrawing into passivity. As believers, those who know Jesus’ love in His laying down His life for us, our goal should be to live through these times as His followers, to live sustained and directed by loving the Lord’s people.


'The requirement to love is unchanging,

a command that sustains initiative where we are disempowered,

activity where we feel like withdrawing into passivity.'


An example of love


I am thankful for the many examples of love we have amongst us and one particularly has stood out for me over the last couple of weeks. The context for Jesus’ unchanging command is not just that it was given on the night before He died. It was given on the night He washed His disciples’ feet, both a service and a sign of the love He would show in dying for them. At that time He had said “12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” [John 13:12-17]


'Love is what will hold us together,

help us recover our sense of being God’s children together,

a family united by love in action not just words'


Those who have shouldered the burden of cleaning, whether after our services or after our ministries, are giving us an example of following the example of Christ. It is an example we need, not just because we must clean to stay open, but because such love is what will hold us together, help us recover our sense of being God’s children together, a family united by love in action not just words, participants by grace in a rich reality. But their service is not only an example of love, but of faith. Jesus says that following His example of loving others by serving them in menial tasks is the path of blessing – “blessed’, He says, ‘are you if you do them.” Menial service is something we should undertake and keep on doing with joy, for it shows we are Christ’s, that our understanding of what is worthwhile and valuable has been shaped by Christ and especially by His death, and our Lord says we are blessed in doing.


'Menial service is something we should undertake and keep on doing with joy, for it shows we are Christ’s'


There are, of course, many ways of serving on Sunday and throughout the week – from teaching Sunday School to cooking meals, from preparing bible studies to ringing a brother or sister to see how they are going. All are needed, and all are to be done in love. But let us not miss the opportunity for showing the world that we are Jesus’ followers by undertaking the unrewarding and menial tasks that are necessary to keep our common life going, tasks that are outside of areas of giftedness. And trusting Jesus let’s not resent them, or even just get them done as a necessary evil – let’s thank Him for an opportunity to be blessed in serving, an opportunity to do as He has done for us. Whatever the ups and downs of the pandemic, let’s keep on looking for ways to serve in love, because we know Jesus’ love.


'Whatever the ups and downs of the pandemic, let’s keep on looking for ways to serve in love, because we know Jesus’ love.'


Reintroducing Morning Tea and Supper.


Cleaning has been on my mind for another reason as well. It is the cleaning requirements that mean we have been asking you to leave the building quickly after the service. This is not very satisfactory, for meeting together is about encouraging each other to love and good deeds, and so we need an opportunity to talk. Session has therefore, in discussion with those heading up the cleaning team, that is our elders for whose service we should all be thankful, decided to move to re-introduce morning tea and supper. We will start with supper in the next couple of weeks and move to have morning tea at both 9 and 11 by the beginning of March. The trade off in the morning is continuing to have the children start upstairs for the time being to allow us to shut off the hall and not have chairs in there at 9 and 5. Without the hall and with the children in we would exceed the numbers allowed in the auditorium under the density quotient at both morning services. Shutting off the hall will also allow a staged cleaning, so you will be asked to leave the auditorium to allow cleaning to start there. We will be starting with just serving tea, coffee, and cold drinks and see how we are managing that in the kitchen before a decision about re-introducing any food is made – so parents, keep sending your child with a snack and a labelled drink bottle. We will need to reintroduce some chairs into the hall for the 11 o’clock service, both for numbers and to continue to allow easy access to the creche. There are a few details we will have to work through, and this will create some more opportunities to serve in the kitchen. But we think this is a change most will welcome. We will be continuing to review the operation of the services as restrictions change and, Lord willing, confidence grows throughout the months ahead with continuing low cases and the commencement of vaccinations.


'As we think of this change, and of the continuing adjustments to be made over the coming months, let the last word belong to love.'


But as we think of this change, and of the continuing adjustments to be made over the coming months, let the last word belong to love. You see, despite our best efforts, with these changes there is plenty of opportunity to not get everything right – to fail to have consulted adequately with all involved; to move too early for the comfort of some, too late for others; to fail to execute the change perfectly; for the work to be distributed unevenly. But we will get through it if we hear and heed the Apostle Peter:


8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8


Staying in touch - 29th Jan 2021

Truth for Testing Times

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Truth for Testing Times - Congregational Communication 29th January 

School has gone back for many this week. For some, students and parents, that is just a relief. But for others, both students and parents, this can be an anxious time. Will I have friends? Will I get on with my teacher? Or ‘Will she/he make good friends?’ ‘Will she/he have a teacher who takes an interest?’ The unknown and uncertain future can make us anxious, which is a problem for the future is always unknown and uncertain, as last year has brought home to us. We may be able to hide from that reality in the predictable routines of our existence but we have learnt how fragile those are, how much our lives are at the mercy of forces – not just biological but economic and political – beyond our control. Heightened anxiety is a feature of our times. 

And sometimes our anxiety about the future is also compounded by our troubled present. By the job we don’t have or the diagnosis we do. By the conflict at work or home we are experiencing, the loneliness to which we see no end, or the hostile political rhetoric we hear. We wonder how it will work out, can’t see things improving. 


'And sometimes our anxiety about the future is also compounded by our troubled present. By the job we don’t have or the diagnosis we do. By the conflict at work or home we are experiencing, the loneliness to which we see no end, or the hostile political rhetoric we hear. We wonder how it will work out, can’t see things improving.'


An uncertain future, a troubled present. That is our individual experience from time to time, and that can also be the situation of congregations like ours, full of sinners living in a world hostile to the living God. How do we live through these times faithfully? 

Israel, the generation of the exodus, was tested by an uncertain future and a troubling present. They were travelling towards a land they had not experienced, had only the promise of God that they would inhabit and possess it. And they experienced first the murderous threat of Pharaoh and his armies when they were trapped beside the red sea, and then later in the wilderness they knew hunger and thirst, a hunger and thirst made worse by no known, available, means of satisfying their need for food and water. Hunger and thirst prey on the mind, they pre-occupy. I think I would have found it easy to become anxious as I saw the water skins empty, looked at my family, heard the bleating of the flocks for water.  

But we are told that their response to being tested by an uncertain future and a troubling present is exactly the wrong response for the people of the LORD. Scripture tells us we must not react like them, that their experiences happened as examples to us “that we might not desire evil as they did.” In particular we are told 1 Cor. 10: 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 

To put the Lord to the test is to doubt His good intent, His commitment to His people, and His power, and to demand the LORD prove Himself by doing what you want in the way you want in the time frame you expect. It is to reverse the relationship where God’s people serve Him to demand that God serve us. To grumble is to articulate those doubts and dissatisfactions with the LORD’s response to your circumstances, to say to each other ‘the LORD does not know what He is doing, that He doesn’t care, that His purpose is not good, His promises meaningless’. 

They were sins then, deadly sins, for the LORD had committed Himself to His people and called them to trust Him. He had given them good promises and had shown repeatedly His might and mercy and faithfulness– delivering Israel and destroying Pharaoh’s army in the red sea, feeding them with manna, bringing water from the rock.  

And they are sins now, sins to which we can be tempted when the future looks uncertain and dark and when our present troubles are oppressive and seemingly insoluble. How can we avoid them and live with thankful confidence and sustaining hope? Let me give you five truths to remember that help me not to be overwhelmed. 


'And they are sins now, sins to which we can be tempted when the future looks uncertain and dark and when our present troubles are oppressive and seemingly insoluble. How can we avoid them and live with thankful confidence and sustaining hope?'


Firstly, remember our God. He is not some dumb idol onto whom you project activity. He is almighty and does whatever He pleases. 

Psalm 103 gives a helpful summary of what to remember in times of testing. 

Psalm 103: 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, 
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 
9 He will not always chide, 
    nor will he keep his anger forever. 
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, 
    nor repay us according to our iniquities. 
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, 
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 
12 as far as the east is from the west, 
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 
13 As a father shows compassion to his children, 
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 
14 For he knows our frame; 
    he remembers that we are dust. 

In Christ, belonging to God’s people through repentance and faith in Jesus, this Psalm is true for us. 

Whatever is happening God is not dealing with us according to our sins, for all our sins are forgiven and we have been adopted as God’s children through faith in Jesus. We know each day His steadfast love [Romans 8:31-39, 1 John 3:1-3]. He is a good Father wanting only our good. And He knows the best way of working that for us for He knows us, is aware of our frailty, and is compassionate. 

Remember the God we confess in confessing Christ as Lord. 


Secondly, remember that God has a good purpose in testing us. He said to the generation that was to possess the land 

Deuteronomy 8: 2 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. 3 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. 4 Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. 

God tested Israel in the wilderness so that they would learn the lessons that would allow them to live in and keep their inheritance. The Lord is also a good Father to us, and He tests us in the circumstances of our lives so that we also are ready to possess our inheritance. The tested faith that endures is the faith that inherits the new heaven and earth. 

God has a good purpose in testing us. 


Thirdly, the Lord promises a way of escape under testing.  

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul continues '11 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. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation [ or testing. The Greek word can mean test or tempt, which is testing with bad intent] 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.'

We see that in Israel’s experience. He brought water from the rock. He parted the red sea. He is never at a loss. Just because you and I cannot see how we can keep enduring our circumstances does not mean He cannot provide a way. He is faithful and will not let you be tested beyond your strength, even if part of the testing is to humble you by showing you how little your strength is. 


Fourthly, it is always comforting to know we are not alone. The Lord is with us, and He is with His church. Our circumstances and the tests they bring are not unknown to Him, for He Himself has been tested as we are. Hebrews says that ‘because He himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those being tempted’, and assures us that He is someone to whom we can always turn with confidence for ‘mercy and grace to help in time of need.’ [Hebrews 2:18, 4:16]. The Lord is with us. 


And Fifthly, I find it good to remember the future is not ultimately uncertain. God keeps His promises. Christ has been raised from the dead and the new age has begun in the pouring out of God’s Spirit on His people. Our labour in the Lord, our labour to be faithful, is never in vain [1 Cor. 15:54-58] for our resurrection is certain. 


An uncertain future and a troubling present does test us but our heavenly Father, our almighty God, can be trusted. We do not need to be fearful and anxious. We can rely on His steadfast love which is ours in Christ.


An uncertain future and a troubling present does test us but our heavenly Father, our almighty God, can be trusted. We do not need to be fearful and anxious. We can rely on His steadfast love which is ours in Christ. But knowing and doing are two different things, so this might be a good time to pray for yourself and each other what Paul prays for the Ephesians – that we would know ‘what is the hope to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places' [Eph. 1:18-20] and also that we, 'being rooted and grounded in love, would have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.' [Eph. 3:17-18

Great prayers for days of an uncertain future and a troubling present.

Staying in touch - 22nd Jan 2021

Change and Suppression Practices Bill 2020

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

Please note: Bible references are not included in the audio, but full references are available in the transcript below. 

RESOURCES

 

Helpful Blogs:

 

 

Both Murray and Stephen have a number of helpful posts on the matter. Murray has been following this issue for many months, and was writing on it well before the final bill was introduced to Parliament. In addition Stephen’s book ‘Being the Bad Guys’ [Good Book Company] is very helpful in considering the changes taking place in society and how we can helpfully respond and persevere.

 

Websites:

 

 

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT


The Change or Suppression Practices Bill


I have been asked to comment on the ‘Change or Suppression [Conversion] Practices Bill 2020’ which is currently before Parliament and has been a cause of concern for many. The origin of the bill is the conviction that LBGTI people have been harmed and are still being harmed by the continuation of ‘Change or Suppression Practices.’ This has to be acknowledged and we should be grieved at coercive and cruel practices based in ill-informed understandings of the origin of sexual orientation, especially where people have been pressured to participate in these against their will. Nevertheless the bill raises serious concerns about, amongst other things, its conflation of issues relating to gender identity and sexual orientation, its definition of change or suppression practices, its reach into private and voluntary conversations, its criminalisation of therapy that is not in line with affirming gender transitioning, and its enshrinement of gender ideology in law.


The bill combines both sexual orientation and gender identity in its scope and seeks to embrace them both in its prescriptions. But these are distinct issues and have different responses. It is the inclusion of gender identity in the bill and the insistence that the only response permissible to gender dysphoria in young people is affirmation of change to the desired gender that has provoked the most concern amongst professionals. Gender re-assignment treatment has recently been described in the recent English High Court judgement in Bell vs Tavistock [1/12/2020] as experimental.

“We express that view for these reasons. First, the clinical interventions involve significant, long-term and, in part, potentially irreversible long-term physical, and psychological consequences for young persons. The treatment involved is truly life changing, going as it does to the very heart of an individual’s identity. Secondly, at present, it is right to call the treatment experimental or innovative in the sense that there are currently limited studies/evidence of the efficacy or long-term effects of the treatment.” [paragraph 152]

To preclude the exploration of other treatments of gender dysphoria, to insist that only one line of response can be pursued, would seem to go beyond the scientific evidence and potentially do harm. On professional concerns see the public letter addressed to the Victorian Attorney General by the National Association of Practicing Psychiatrists.


It is also clear that the only response that is allowed to someone revealing a same sex or bisexual orientation is affirmation and strengthening them in that identity. Doubt about whether it is fixed or might change, grief at what that might mean for them and for their family, or the distance of distaste, all human reactions, will fall far short of what the government is mandating and in the complexities of family relationship may well be used against those who express them.

In addition the definition of change or suppression practices, the behaviour that is being criminalised is intentionally both broad and ill defined.

Section 5 of the Act states          

(1)       In this Act, a change or suppression practice means a practice or conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person's consent—

                        (a)  on the basis of the person's sexual orientation or gender identity; and

                        (b)  for the purpose of—

                                  (i)  changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person; or

                                 (ii)  inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.


Sexual orientation is further defined to include sexual practice “"sexual orientation means a person's emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, or intimate or sexual relations with, persons of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender;". [Part 5:59:3]

Thus encouraging someone who is same sex attracted to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage of a man to a woman would be seeking to suppress someone’s sexual orientation.


Section 5:3 gives examples of prohibited practices.

                (3)  For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice includes, but is not limited to the following—

                        (a)  providing a psychiatry or psychotherapy consultation, treatment or therapy, or any other similar consultation, treatment or therapy;

                        (b)  carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism;

                         (c)  giving a person a referral for the purposes of a change or suppression practice being directed towards the person.


The Explanatory Memorandum [page 5] adds

“These examples are illustrative only and do not narrow the definition in subclause (1) which is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including, informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity, and more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs and residential camps.”


There is a real possibility with this wide definition that conversations with a Pastor, or a youth group leader, or an AFES worker, where the biblical teaching that same sex activity was sin was being outlined to help someone understand the cost of following Jesus, would be breaking the law, even if those conversations were taking place [as they would] voluntarily [“whether with or without the person's consent”]. Further, prayer with someone that he or she would be strengthened to resist temptation and live a chaste and godly life would also potentially be construed as breaking the law. This is deliberate.


'There is a real possibility with this wide definition that conversations with a Pastor, or a youth group leader, or an AFES worker, where the biblical teaching that same sex activity was sin was being outlined to help someone understand the cost of following Jesus, would be breaking the law, even if those conversations were taking place [as they would] voluntarily.'


One of the reports that has informed the Government’s development of this law [Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice, by the Human Rights Law Centre and La Trobe University] makes it plain that it considers the teaching in faith communities of homosexual practice as a sin [or of gender to be binary] to be a harmful suppression practice which develops a culture which is unhealthy for LGBTI people. The government leaving the definition broad leaves open the possibility that this teaching itself will be banned under this legislation, despite a mention of religious freedom in the Victorian Charter of Human Rights.


Another of the disturbing features of this bill is its reach into private and voluntary conversations. This legislation will make people reluctant to talk with those who might be troubled by their same sex attraction or their discomfort at their gender if they cannot be wholly supportive, if they have doubts or reservations. Yet it is helpful to people to be able to explore their feelings and responses with those they know and trust, and helpful to families to be able to speak openly about these matters. One sided conversations do not help understanding but the fear that what is now a welcome conversation may become later a resented conversation will cause many to hold back.


The bill and its shortcomings


Others have written about the bill and its shortcomings, and links are at the bottom of the transcript. While the prevention of harm to others is a worthy goal, and while we should not minimise the distress of gender dysphoria or the cost of living a celibate life, this is a bad bill with significant implications for our freedoms. And it is a bad bill because it is based on false beliefs.


'While the prevention of harm to others is a worthy goal, and while we should not minimise the distress of gender dysphoria or the cost of living a celibate life, this is a bad bill with significant implications for our freedoms'


One is the idea that gender identity is fixed. The letter of the National Association of Practicing Psychiatrists says

“The Bill is premised on the idea that gender identity is fixed and unchangeable, making attempts to change or suppress it futile. The press release accompanying the legislation put out by the Department of Justice and Community Safety makes this explicit. It says: “there is no evidence that…gender identity can be changed.” This is an extraordinary proposition and is contradicted by a large body of medical and scientific evidence.”

It is an extraordinary proposition where one of the goals of the Bill is to support people making a gender transition, and where there are a growing number of de-transitioners. The letter cites some of the evidence and you can pursue the issue of gender fluidity further there.


But the more fundamental problem is the false gospel of salvation through defining your own identity that runs through the bill, which is in truth an expression of that ideology clothed in prevention of harm.

That gospel is expressed in the ‘objects’ of the Bill. 3:1[c] states one of the objects of the Bill is

“to ensure that all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, feel welcome and valued in Victoria and are able to live authentically and with pride.”

This means it is the intention of the Parliament to

“(b) to affirm that a person's sexual orientation or gender identity is not broken and in need of fixing; and

(c)  to affirm that no sexual orientation or gender identity constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency or shortcoming;”,

only just falling short of declaring no sexual orientation or practice to be a sin.


The important thing is that people can live ‘authentically and with pride’ for that is the vision of life found in the secular gospel. We are to be true to ourselves, and that means finding identity and purpose in ourselves and being free to express that in fulfilling our desires, in a context where sexual identity is central to personal identity. Salvation, the life of human flourishing, is found in sexual authenticity. Any gospel therefore that calls for authority to be found outside ourselves, or says that life is found in denying yourself, is an alien gospel in our society.


Our response to this Bill


So how should we respond to this Bill.


It is possible to respond politically – to lobby politicians to ensure amendments that protect private conversations and our freedom to teach and preach the truth. There is a place for that, for the freedoms threatened by the overreach of this bill – freedom of speech, freedom of association [defining on what basis people can belong to voluntary associations], freedom of belief – are vital to the functioning of our society.


This bill will also, if it prevents the exploration of alternative treatments other than gender re-assignment for gender dysphoria, do harm to young people. Such action though must be done in love, not anger, and in humility not a spirit of offended entitlement, acknowledging the reality that some have been hurt in the past by responses to same sex attraction that have been co-ercive.


But the best way to respond to a false gospel is with the true gospel, proclaiming Jesus is Lord and life is found in denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him, for He is the one with authority to judge and to forgive. In love we want to be able to call people of all sexual orientations and all gender identities to follow Christ, to tell them that He is worth everything. But that means we must also tell them the cost of following Him, and the Scripture is clear that all sexual immorality, and that is all sex outside the marriage of a man and a woman, is sin, and continuing in sin is inconsistent with inheriting the kingdom of God [1 Cor. 6:9-11]. We need to show the goodness and the greatness of Jesus, and we need to be in truth a community of forgiven sinners who love one another, including believers called out of and tempted by sins we might find confronting.


'But the best way to respond to a false gospel is with the true gospel... In love we want to be able to call people of all sexual orientations and all gender identities to follow Christ, to tell them that He is worth everything.'


To respond to the false gospel with the true gospel will now take courage. As others have observed the broad nature of the offence is meant to create a climate of fear in which we will self-censor, become less clear and bold in teaching what God has given us for our good, the sexual morality of Scripture. But our Lord Jesus has told us that we should ‘not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, but rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Matt. 10:28]. And He has warned us that He did not come to bring peace but a sword [Matt. 10:34-39] and that anyone who does not love Him more than all is not worthy of Him.


Now is the time for we ourselves to remind ourselves of and build ourselves up in the truth and goodness of Jesus, to remember that what is at stake in being faithful to Him is eternal life, and that our Lord has all authority, including over governments, and will work all things for our good and for the glory of His Name. We will need to do this together, to know each other’s encouragement in a community of love as we face the hostility of a society seduced into believing a lie. The Lord Jesus is not less Lord because the Victorian Government is seeking to bring in a piece of legislation that may test our faithfulness. We must look to Him, and not expect allies either in free speech advocates or civil libertarians. And we should not be discouraged when people who claim to be Christian come out in support of affirming same sex sexual orientation as acceptable to God. In writing to the seven churches in Revelation our Lord warned his people that there were those who taught that God’s people could share in idolatry and practice sexual immorality [Rev. 2:14, 20]. His condemnation of them and those who follow them is clear, as is our Lord’s expectation that we have nothing to do with them [Rev. 2:21-24].  


'The Lord Jesus is not less Lord because the Victorian Government is seeking to bring in a piece of legislation that may test our faithfulness. We must look to Him, and not expect allies either in free speech advocates or civil libertarians.'


And we should pray. Pray for our government, that they would encourage and reward good, and shun wickedness. Pray that in His mercy the Lord would continue to allow us to ‘live quiet and peaceable lives, godly and dignified in every way’ [1 Tim. 2:2], where we are free to preach the gospel. Pray especially that this legislation would not be used to exclude Christian groups from campuses or chaplaincy. And pray especially for those most threatened – Christian counsellors and health professionals, Christian teachers and chaplains in schools, our own youth leaders, evangelists on our university campuses – that they would be sustained in love of the lost, in trust in the Lord to keep them, and in hope, the hope that tells them that the work of the Lord is never in vain, and worth the cost. And yes, pray for your pastors too. I do not think for the moment we are as much at risk as those others I have mentioned for we work in a more explicitly religious context, but we always need prayer for boldness in preaching the gospel.


'Censoring ourselves would just embolden the opponents of the gospel. Worse, it would deny to lost people the Saviour who is seeking them'


Censoring ourselves would just embolden the opponents of the gospel. Worse, it would deny to lost people the Saviour who is seeking them, to dying people the Lord who can give them life. So hear the Saviour’s call to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. The path of faithfulness to His Father cost Him His life but was the path of exaltation over all, and one day every knee will bow and confess Him Lord.



Staying in touch - 15th Jan 2021

Priorities, Principles and Plans for 2021

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

Please note: Bible references are not included in the audio, but full references are available in the transcript below. 

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the first of our pastoral communications for 2021.

 

I hope that many of you have had the opportunity for a refreshing break and not too many have had their holiday travel plans disrupted as our family did. That disruption is a reminder that we are still living in unusual times and we must plan for the year ahead anticipating the continuing impact of the presence of Covid 19 in our community. As a church that means we make our plans anticipating both uncertainty and continuing restrictions, at least for the first half of 2021. At the moment those restrictions continue to be the ones we were operating under in December with the 2 square metre rule, masks indoors, record keeping, cleaning, staying home if unwell, and hand hygiene. I am uncertain if there will be any further relaxation of these as we get ready for the return to school but suspect, in light of the recent border turmoil and the arrival of the new virus from the UK, that the government will only reluctantly relax the rules further and be very quick to re-impose them, although I would be happy to be proved wrong.

 

We must plan for the year ahead anticipating the continuing impact of the presence of Covid 19 in our community.

 

Against this backdrop of uncertainty and restrictions let me now outline our priorities for the year, the principles we will be seeking to employ in our planning, and what to expect on Sundays as we start term 1 on January 31st.

 

Priorities

 

Our priority is always to trust the Lord Jesus and do what He says, to “make disciples of all nations” by bringing them to a commitment to the living God revealed in Jesus [baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit] and ‘teaching them to do” all that our Lord Jesus has commanded us. So we are committed to preaching the gospel and calling for repentance and faith in Jesus and to encouraging each other to live as followers of Jesus.

 

Our priority is always to trust the Lord Jesus and do what He says

 

But at this time in particular, where our meeting and our opportunity to deepen and develop relationships of love with each other has been disrupted by a prolonged period of isolation, and where we feel the pressure of an increasingly secular culture and we and our family members are being wooed by a powerful and pervasive secular gospel of meaning and identity through ‘being true to yourself’, our priorities for both discipleship and evangelism are firstly re-establishing our meeting together, both on Sundays, in growth groups and youth and children’s meetings; secondly, engaging with and creating opportunities to teach what Jesus has taught, for example in one on one follow up, or courses applied to marriage and family discipleship; thirdly, encouraging and sustaining our service in ministry together, so that the body grows as it builds itself up, as we build ourselves up, in love [Eph. 4:16]; and fourthly prayer, an explicit dependence on our great God to make us a people who honour His name and to save others.

 

The importance of regular meeting around God’s word and of having real relationships of love in a Christian community was brought home to me again by Steve McAlpine’s book “Being the Bad Guys: How to live for Jesus in a world that says you shouldn’t”, a book that will be reviewed in the coming weeks. It is an examination of the rapidly changing cultural climate that now portrays Christians and Christian doctrine, particularly its teaching on sexuality, as enemies of human flourishing. He looks at its effects, causes, and Christian responses, concluding with how Christians can resist the secular pressure to compromise on the gospel that Jesus is Lord of the whole of life and life is found in denying ourselves to follow Him. He has a very good chapter on the workplace, but also one on the necessity of church – a gathering where we can be reminded of the truth, be encouraged together to remember both our Saviour’s goodness and our hope, and love and be loved – for maintaining what he calls the faithful, faultless and fearless witness that we will need to practice in our age.

 

So I encourage you now, and will continue to encourage you throughout the year, to be intentional in making the effort to be in church every week, to be active in attending a growth group or meeting with other believers during the week, to expend the energy to maintain our meeting, especially our discipling together of our children, to practice real relationships of love. This is vital to sustaining your own Christian life, vital to our witness in our community, and vital to being able to welcome those wounded by the lies of our secular culture, who have found its promises empty, and have been brought by our Lord to seek forgiveness, refuge and hope in Him amongst His people.

 

Principles

 

With those priorities what principles are we employing in developing plans for the coming year. We are conscious that uncertainty is a feature of our times, and that it also increases tentativeness in commitment and can sap energy. So we are seeking a focused simplicity and flexibility that can allow for quick adaptation to changing circumstance.

 

Uncertainty is a feature of our times... So we are seeking a focused simplicity and flexibility that can allow for quick adaptation to changing circumstance.

 

While the weather is good we will be encouraging simple to organise, outdoor, social events – for example picnics and joint growth group events – that will strengthen connection. We will plan all our teaching to be either online or able to be moved online if we need to, and having experienced much online already last year we can make that move with confidence. The only events we will seek to run in Winter are the Winter Teaching Series and the Women’s Conference. Larger events that take a lot of organising and energy will not be planned for the first half of the year, and we will be making decisions about the end of year towards the middle of the year.

 

Being flexible and adaptive is a joint effort. As some of us have experienced with border closures, things can change quickly so this will need to be a year where we continue to check our emails.

 

Sunday services

 

But in the immediate future, what can we expect in the Sunday Services when the holidays end and we all return to ‘normal’ life?

Some of you have asked about the number of songs in the service, children in church at the beginning of the service, the livestream, and the commencement of Sunday youth.

 

We will be moving to two morning services at 9:00 and 11:00 on the 31st December, Lord willing. This will create work for our teams but we want to make it as easy as possible for all to get back into the habit of meeting together. We will, until further review, continue to livestream all services. To help the deepening of relationships we would encourage you to try and attend the same service each week but if you cannot get to your normal service on a particular Sunday, get to the service you can. Sunday Youth will also start on the 31st December.

 

While we anticipate the 5:00 pm service will have more flexibility in its arrangements not much will change in the morning at least for term 1, as far as we can see [and that may not be very far]. I know this will be disappointing as we all would like to see a return to normal. The reason for not moving the children back in at the beginning of the service, not increasing the number of songs in the morning service, not re-instituting morning tea, is the continuing operation of the restrictions that create pressure on time and space. In relation to time even a modified clean between services needs about thirty minutes, and if we have ten to fifteen minutes before we leave the auditorium, thirty minutes for cleaning, and then ten minutes before the start of the next service, you will see that we need to keep finishing the 9:00 o’clock service around 10:15. Having the children start with us and then leave adds several precious minutes, as does returning to four or five songs. In addition we remain concerned about a crush on the stairs and in the foyer when the children leave, making distancing very difficult. In relation to space the need to have chairs in the hall makes it difficult to resume morning tea [even practicing Covid safe serving], for, with the movement of people, especially children, it would be difficult to have everyone safely in the foyer and corridor.

 

So for the present children will normally continue to go straight upstairs [there may be exceptions e.g. baptisms] and we would ask parents to keep sending them with their own drink bottle and snack. Youth will leave during the children’s song. We will also continue to need to register for contact tracing purposes [although if you forget there is the QR code registration available at church], and to be diligent about staying away if we have covid like symptoms.

 

We are aware of the deficiencies of the current arrangements, particularly of time after the service for catching up with each other. We have tried to think through alternatives like staggering the cleaning of spaces or sectioning off a portion of the car park and taking urns etc outside, but think that the morning heat in February will make the latter a very unpleasant experience. The loss of the morning tea context for facilitating relationship means that we will all have to be active in creating other contexts – going to a park together, or to your home together, or off to a café together. I urge you to be intentional in that – try to have a good conversation with another one or two people each week. You will gain, and so will they. The instruction of Hebrews 10:24-25 to encourage each other does not cease to apply to us because we can’t have morning tea after church.

 

We will all have to be active in creating other contexts – going to a park together, or to your home together, or off to a café together. I urge you to be intentional in that – try to have a good conversation with another one or two people each week. You will gain, and so will they.

 

Review

 

We will continue to review our Sunday arrangements. The regulations might change by the end of this month. There might be a growing confidence as the vaccine is rolled out. Or there might be another increase in infections. We do not know. The removal of the density quotient would have a dramatic effect on what we can do. We do welcome suggestions about how we can do things better, and we will need to work together to make our Sundays work. The effort we put in to do what our Lord commands –  to not neglect to meet together and to think how we can stir up one another to love and good works – will have eternal fruit. So enter the new year determined to meet while we can, a precious practice so easily taken away from us, the gift of gathering given to us for our good.

 

Enter the new year determined to meet while we can, a precious practice so easily taken away from us, the gift of gathering given to us for our good