BUNDOORA PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

BPC Pastors Updates

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

 

Staying in touch - 18th Dec 2020

Comfort and Confidence in Knowing Jesus is Immanuel

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

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

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Comfort and Confidence in Knowing Jesus is Immanuel


In this unusual year some aspects of our humanity we normally try and keep in the background have been thrust into prominence. Our lack of control over our lives as we have had our plans rearranged by events outside our control. Our dependence on others, whether it is those who stack our supermarket shelves or those that staff our hospitals. Our limited strength and wisdom as we experienced uncertainty and exhaustion in trying to adapt and manage in changed circumstances. Our embodiedness as we felt the lack of the embodied presence of others or saw how our mood was so dependent on that hour of exercise. Our mortality, as we listened to the daily death toll, here or overseas.

We have been reminded again of what it is to be human – finite, dependent beings in mortal bodies living in a world we do not control – and when we feel our humanity is a good time to meditate on and give thanks for the incarnation, the taking on of human life by the eternal Son. The eternal Word becoming flesh [John 1:14], the Son who though equal to God humbling Himself to take on our life [Phil. 2:5-8], Jesus being Immanuel, God with us, means we are assured God knows us, and we can know God, and there is great comfort and confidence in that.


Jesus being Immanuel, God with us, means we are assured God knows us, and we can know God, and there is great comfort and confidence in that


The God who knows us


We have a saving God who knows us because the Son shared our life, shared fully our humanity, shared our flesh and blood so that He could be ‘like us in every respect’ [Heb. 2:14-18]. Jesus felt the weariness of physical exertion [Jn. 4:6], anger at unnecessary suffering [Mark 3:5], grief at self-destructive pride [Luke 19:41]. He knew what it was like to face constant demands and conflicting expectations [Mark 1:32-39, 3:20-21], the experience of many trying to work and do school from home. He knew what it was to have a sleepless night [Mark 1:35, 14:32-34], and to be let down and disappointed by close friends. And he knew what it was like to live in a mortal body and not want to die [Mark 14:36], and then He knew what it is to die. Our saviour knows us from beginning to end, knows the demands of our flesh, and its weaknesses. And in our flesh He knows what it is to be tested in trusting our heavenly Father [Matt. 4:1-11], in trusting and obeying. Knowing us, He can help us – He has walked in our shoes [Heb. 2:17-18] Reflecting on this the author of Hebrews writes “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.”


Our saviour knows us from beginning to end, knows the demands of our flesh, and its weaknesses... Knowing us, He can help us – He has walked in our shoes


We can come with confidence to God, confidence that we will be shown mercy and get the help we need. We don’t have to worry that if we haven’t explained our situation well enough, or are unable to dictate what is required, we will miss out, or get inappropriate or harmful help, the kind you might get from an unengaged and distant government agency. We don’t have to worry that we will surprise Him with our needs, confront Him with something He has never thought about. We don’t have to be ashamed of our frailty or neediness. We can just ask for mercy and help – and know He knows what we need, and when we need it. And that is a great comfort all the time, but especially when we are exhausted or grief stricken or perplexed, a great comfort for the one who knows us is also the exalted Lord, who has no limit on His mercy or His power, on His willingness or capacity to help. And His knowing us also means that in His teaching, in calling us to live as His disciples, He also knows what He is asking of us, what it will cost us. When He asks us to take up our cross, it is because He has already. When He asks us to love our enemies, He also has battled that desire for vengeance. We can embrace His teaching as fit for our humanity, for it was spoken and lived by the One who is truly human. It is wonderful to know God knows us.


We don’t have to be ashamed of our frailty or neediness. We can just ask for mercy and help – and know He knows what we need, and when we need it.


The God we can know


And in the incarnation we are assured we can truly know God and that is a priceless treasure. What we believe about God is the bedrock of our understanding of reality, the understanding that shapes how we live and what we hope for.

If, for example, we believe there is no god, then we will believe we are accountable only to ourselves for the life we live, and we are the origin of what we will reckon to be right, the origin of our own meaning and identity, and it will all end in our death. Or if we believe there are many gods in competition or co-operation, then we will seek to earn the favour of one to protect from the malice of others, or their worshippers. We will remain in control, our choice and our works the source of our security, and never being completely secure, our misfortunes the fruit of quarrelling amongst the gods. If we believe there is just one god, but he is disinterested in his creation, we will think it useless to try and seek his help, know ourselves to be left alone to make the best of things as they are. But if you believe there is a personal, almighty Creator, the only God, the judge of human actions, you will seek Him, and seek to live a life pleasing to Him.


What we believe about God is the bedrock of our understanding of reality, at the core of the choices we make, yet there are many competing ideas of God, of foundational reality. Are any better, more true to reality? As God, if there is a God, will be much greater than us, almighty, invisible, spirit, distinct from created matter, in the end finite creatures can only know the truth of infinite invisible spirit if God makes Himself known. Our limited perceptions and speculations will always be incomplete and distorted on their own. God is the one who truly knows Himself and can truly make Himself known. The incarnation takes away any doubt that the living God can make Himself known, any doubt that He has made Himself known, and any doubt that He is good.


The incarnation takes away any doubt that the living God can make Himself known, any doubt that He has made Himself known, and any doubt that He is good.


All the gospels [Mark 1:1, John 1:1-18, Matt. 1:18-25, Luke 1:33-37] start with the claim that Jesus is the Son of God in the fullest sense, and all the gospels recount that claim’s vindication in the life, teaching, death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus. Because of God’s initiative in sending the Son into the world we can know we know the truth of God when we look at and listen to Jesus, who claimed the words HE spoke were the words the Father had given Him, the deeds He did the works given Him by the Father [e.g. John 12:44-50, 14:6-11]. As John says the incarnate word, the unique God who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known [John 1:18]. Believing Jesus, knowing the truth of God in Jesus, we can live in the light of eternal reality, can practice the fear of the LORD that is the beginning of wisdom, the source of the life of human flourishing. But Jesus does not only teach us to know the truth about God. He brings us to know God, in the sense of having a relationship with Him where we can call upon Him as our God, as our Father [John 1:12]. He does this by His atoning death, a death He can only die because the Son has become a true and genuine human. And in saving us, in showing us the love of the Father in giving His Son for sinners, believers learn in Jesus that God, whom they have been brought to confess by the incarnation as Father, Son and Spirit, is good, better, more loving, more righteous, more gracious, more wise, more powerful, than they could ever imagine. The incarnation says the work of saving is all of God, all His initiative, the overflow of His love.


Believers learn in Jesus that God... is good, better, more loving, more righteous, more gracious, more wise, more powerful, than they could ever imagine.


There is so much more to speak and think about when we confess at Christmas Jesus is God with us, the Word become flesh. Give yourself time to do that thinking, for our Lord said “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” [John 17:3]. Life is knowing the true God in Christ. And give yourself time to praise our God in company and in your heart for the comfort and confidence we have in knowing the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.


This will be the last pastoral communication until the 15th January, Lord willing, when I will start to talk about the plans and arrangements for the New Year. It has been a long year and I pray that you will be able to have a restful holiday, with time for thankfulness and reflection. Cat will keep you informed about coming events as necessary. Please keep registering to come to church, and I hope to see as many of you as possible at our Christmas services to rejoice together in the birth of our saviour. Merry Christmas!


Staying in touch - 9th Dec 2020

Part 1: Settled plans for our services

Part 2: How we operate in the building

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

 

More change for the better.

 

A new density quotient, no cap.

 

Another week, and praise God, more relaxation in restrictions on our gatherings because community acquired Covid infections have remained at zero.

We are thankful that last Sunday the Premier announced that churches with electronic record keeping like ours have now no cap on the number of those who can be present in the building beyond the requirement of the new density quotient that says we must have two square meters of space per person.

 

What does this mean for us?

More can attend our Sunday services, and with that a much simpler Christmas and January period. We are at the moment re-doing all the room number signage, but we can have under the new density quotient two hundred people in the auditorium and hall, and over sixty upstairs. There is still the requirement to maintain social distancing – 1.5 meters between groups or individuals who are not from the same household – so the actual number of people able to be in the auditorium and hall may fluctuate.

To facilitate seating the maximum number of people possible we have reconfigured the church with rows of chairs 1.5 meters apart as you can see in the photo. To maintain social distancing we just need to leave two chairs between groups and individuals not in the same house, and there is easy access with the spacing between rows. We think with the help of our ushers we will all be able to find a safe space easily.

 

What do the increased numbers mean for our plans for the coming weeks?

These relaxations, which the Premier has foreshadowed won’t be changed before the end of January if we continue to have no community transmission, brings some definiteness to our own plans. Let me run through the coming weeks with you.

The 13th December, this coming Sunday, we will have two morning services as announced, one at 8:45 and the other at 11, as well as our 5:00 pm service. We decided to keep the two morning services to give plenty of opportunity for everyone to be back in church before the commencement of our summer program. You can register confident that there will be a space and confident that there won’t be crowding. Sunday school will be up to and including grade 6 as we announced, and we will have a baptism at 11 and a baptism at 5.

If you haven’t yet been to church – either because you are anxious about the numbers present or you have been holding off to let others come – this is a great opportunity to bet back to meeting with your brothers and sisters in person. I encourage you all to come before we start scattering over the state for that much needed holiday to get a feel again of being in each other’s presence.

You still need to register on line beforehand. This is not because of limited spaces, but to fulfil our record keeping requirements and to make it easy to move through the foyer and into the auditorium, and children will still go straight to Sunday School and Little Sunday School.

Sunday the 20th December we will move back to one in morning service as we do each holiday period, and this will continue up to and including Sunday 24th January, Lord willing. The 5 pm service will continue as normal through this time. Having only the one morning service through this time takes the pressure of our teams when many are away. There will be Sunday School on the 20th, which will be a special service of thanksgiving and reflection on the year that has passed.

 

Over Christmas we will now have the two services, one on Christmas Eve at 7:00 pm and one on Christmas Day at 9:30 am. You will need to register on line, again for our record keeping, but also because there will be no Sunday School on these days so the total number of spaces will be limited to the spaces in the auditorium and hall. The creche room will be open with some toys available for parents to use, and the service will be live streamed to the creche room.

 

The two Sundays after Christmas, the 27th Dec and 3rd Jan, are traditionally our quietest days. Services will be at 10 and 5, and there will be no Sunday School at the morning service. We will be starting the gospel of Matthew on the 27th, which will continue in sections throughout the year. Like Christmas, our numbers will need to be capped at the numbers available in the auditorium and hall, with the creche room open.

 

From the 10th Jan to the 24th January inclusive there will be one morning service at 10 and the evening service at 5. Sunday School up to and including Grade 6 will be running from the 10th, and to help with numbers children will go straight up to Sunday School

The plan is then, Lord willing, to resume two morning services from the 31st January, and our experience this coming Sunday will inform our planning for getting things as close to normal when the new school year starts.

 

Summary of upcoming Service Times


What do these changes mean for the way we operate in the building?


Little else has changed in the way we will operate in the building.


We still need to practice social distancing, hand hygiene and record keeping, so entry into the church will look much the same as last week. We will still need to clean the building, and so we will not be able to linger in the building after the service.

As you know there has been a welcome relaxation in the requirements for mask wearing but we have been encouraged to use our common sense when we are in groups of people, especially indoors. On its website the Government says “It is strongly recommended that you wear a face mask at a religious gathering when you can’t maintain 1.5 metres distance from other people. You must carry a face mask with you at all times when you leave home, unless you have a lawful reason not to.”

We would also strongly recommend the wearing of a face mask, particularly in the foyer when it may be difficult to maintain social distancing. We also, in line with advice, request that you wear a mask when singing. Singing softly behind masks is the safest way at the moment for congregational singing.


I realize that attitudes towards masks wearing will vary amongst us – some strongly resenting it, some being very much in favour of it. Where you have no legitimate reason for not wearing a mask I encourage you to think of mask wearing in terms of love, not rights or freedoms. We want to encourage as many as possible to join us, including those whose health and age gives them every reason to be cautious about being in groups. Wearing a mask, where you can, is a small price to pay to love another and make it easy for them to join us. Paul gives us an example of foregoing his rights for the good of others in 1 Corinthians 8-10 where he speaks of giving no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, of trying to please everyone in everything that he does, because he is looking to the advantage of others, not his own, in seeking their salvation. 1 Cor. 10:32-11:1. He also points us to the example of Jesus who did not seek His own rights but humbled Himself to save us as he calls us to “Do nothing from rivalry or selfish conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phil. 2:3-4

So in relation to masks I encourage you to listen to the government advice and walk and speak in the love that can look to the interests of others. We also ask that you refrain from singing for now unless you are wearing a mask.    

There has also been some relaxation in relation to having food and drink at our meetings but while the hall is full of chairs and while we need people to leave fairly quickly to allow the cleaning team to get to work we won’t be recommencing morning tea and supper yet. We will take January to think this through so we can have a plan, if possible, for the recommencement of services in the new school year. We again strongly encourage you to have tea or coffee in each other’s homes or a café together, to keep those good conversations going.   

      

Children

As indicated, Sunday School will now include all children up to and including Grade 6, and it will be running every Sunday except the 27th December and the 3rd January. Creche will also be running every Sunday, but not at our Christmas services. On Sundays with Sunday School children will still be asked to go straight up to Sunday School when they enter the building to allow us to have as many spaces as possible in the foyer and hall. They will be able to watch the first part of the service, including the children’s talk, on the livestream upstairs. As indicated last week we do ask that you send your Sunday School children with a labelled drink bottle and snack, and Clarissa outlined in last week’s video the procedure for dropping and picking up children.

As Sunday school has now resumed for all grades and teachers will be occupied after the services we will be ceasing the Sunday School zoom catch ups. Thanks to all those who ran and sustained those catchups, and all who participated over the last eight months. It was a great encouragement, but it is good that we can now move to catching up in person.


Livestream.

The livestream continues and will continue indefinitely, but not for all services. Where we have two morning services we think we will eventually move to livestreaming the first, but discussions with the tech team continues. We will review the after service zoom catch up over the next two weeks to see if it is useful and possible to continue it into the next year. We will not be able to Zoom on the 27th Dec and 3rd Jan when many staff are away. We simply will not be able to get to an online meeting straight after the service. So over the next two weeks we will be looking for those participating in the after service Zoom sessions to communicate with us about what they would like to see happening with the Zoom catchup.


Once more – a lot of information. But I hope that this will be the last update that has to deal with changing restrictions until the end of January. We have put the service information into a table which I hope will serve us through the holiday period.

But we are thankful. We continue to be thankful to God for the present control of the spread of the infection, for the further relaxation on restrictions to our gathering, and for degree of certainty with which we can plan at least the next six weeks. And I am also thankful for the work of so many that has made it possible to restart our meetings.


Let’s use our opportunities to do what we are called to – to meet, to praise, to encourage one another in the privilege of being followers of our Lord Jesus, children by grace of our heavenly Father, and heirs in hope of the resurrection.

Psalm 100: 4 “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; His faithfulness to all generations.”

Staying in touch - 4th Dec 2020

Re-opening.

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Thankfulness, Uncertainty, and Christmas.

Psalm 105: 1 “Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples.”

It was exciting to see so many of you in the building for the services last week. It was encouraging and a cause of great thankfulness - for the low numbers that have brought this relaxation of restrictions, for the service of many that made the gathering possible, and for the tangible reminder of being brought by grace to belong to a people, the people of the Lord Jesus, saved by His grace and called to follow Him. At the morning service all 150 spaces were used and the spaces for this coming Sunday morning were all taken by the end of Sunday with 100 on the waiting list as of Thursday night. In the evening we were able to fit in all who wanted to come, and this was most of the evening congregation – again, very encouraging.


Moving to two morning services.


As we never want to be in the situation where we are turning people who want to come away, where, by having insufficient space, we are encouraging the irregularity we have sought for years to discourage, we will be starting, Lord willing, two morning services from Sunday 13th, one at 8:45 and the other at 11:00. With the move to two services the children’s program will also be expanded to include years three to six. We have moved the first service to 8:45 as it is recommended that we have 60 minutes between services, and we do need that time to clean and then set up for the service that follows. While it is summer we think it is not too difficult for most of us, and we pray that the promising vaccine developments mean we won’t have to continue that earlier start into winter. But please give thanks for and pray for our tech and music teams as moving to 8:45 means a much earlier start for them, and moving to two services means a much longer day for some  while we wait for others to join up to serve and to be trained.


What will happen after the 13th December?


I wish we knew for sure. You will remember that the Premier foreshadowed moving to having 30 in our homes on the 13th December. That will be wonderful. While no other changes were foreshadowed then I am allowing myself to hope that if the conditions allow this expansion of people in our homes then it will also allow a further relaxation on gatherings, perhaps an increase in numbers and a decrease in the density quotient. If, for example, the density quotient were relaxed to one person per two square meters and capacity was determined by density quotient alone we could have three hundred in the building and two hundred and eight in the auditorium. This would allow near normal operation of our services. Please pray for this as it would make planning for and provision of our Christmas and summer holiday services much easier. But we have thought about both scenarios and below I outline our plans with and without a further relaxation.


Planning for a further relaxation in restrictions.


If there is sufficient relaxation in restrictions on numbers on the 13th we would revert to one Sunday morning service on the 20th, but still with the children’s program running to sixth grade. This is in line with our usual summer holiday programming. That service on the 20th will take the place of the Sunday School concert and in the morning and evening will be a service of review and thanksgiving as we seek to draw a line under 2020.

At Christmas, we will have a Christmas eve service at 7:00 pm and a Christmas day service at 9:30. We have introduced the Christmas Eve service to create greater capacity. This would be necessary if there is no relaxation in restrictions, and as we all need some degree of certainty in our Christmas planning we want to retain it whether there is a relaxation or not.

After Christmas we will run from the 27th December up to and including Sunday 24th January with one morning service at ten and the evening service at five, as we do each summer. We do anticipate, however, the children’s program recommencing in the morning service on the 10th January. This is in part because of numbers allowed in the auditorium, and in part to catch up a little on what the children have missed out on all year.


What if there is no relaxation in restrictions,


and we remain with attendance in the building capped at 150? We will retain two morning services on the 20th December, and we are planning to run two morning services at 8:45 and 11 throughout the summer as well as the five pm service. We made this decision because it is difficult to make constant changes – for example, having only one service on the 27th December and 3rd January, and them going back to two for the rest of January. We also made the decision because when there is no children’s program we would have to effectively cap our Sunday attendance at about 110, the number of spaces in the auditorium and a few in creche. Being able to run two services is, however, dependent on our ushering, cleaning, and service production teams having enough people to do the job.

If there is no relaxation in numbers then we will run three Christmas services. One at seven on Christmas eve, and two on Christmas day at 9:00 and 11:00. Each of these services will have an effective cap of 110 people of all ages.

What is happening will become clearer after the 13th, Lord willing, but we thought it best to let you know what we are thinking and ask you to consider serving on one of the teams through the holiday period because it is important that we meet together.


What about carols and GSF?


As both these programs take a long time to plan and involve many people decisions had to be made early as to how they would be delivered. For example, planning for GSF started in August and decisions had to be made about how to deliver the program in September. Even though much was uncertain it was decided to run GSF this year – for we still want children and their families to be able to hear about the Lord Jesus – but run it differently. With number limits and social distancing we could not run it in the building and so it was decided to deliver the program at home via a 45 minute youtube recording each day from the 11th-14th January which will contain the skits, songs, memory verses – most of which are already recorded and are being edited. Craft materials will be provided to families with an explanation of the crafts on youtube and there will also be a 30 minute zoom small group. A pilot of this program was tested successfully in October, and with thirty allowed in our homes this provides an exciting opportunity to gather friends and neighbours to share in the program. We hope you'll be keen to register your child or children from this Sunday, and also consider inviting your children's friends to your home to have fun doing GSF online together. You'll soon be able to find out more info at bpc.org.au/gsf


Carols also will be pre-recorded and screened on the 19th December. While I, like many of you, love getting together to sing in celebration of the birth of our Saviour decisions had to be made early about how we would be able to share in a carols service. And again, the pre-recorded carols presents new opportunities. Think of inviting your friends and neighbours to watch it with you, and instead of our normal sausage sizzle throw a bbq at your place. It is a great time to practice generous hospitality that shows our thankfulness for God’s generosity to us.


This has been a year that has required a lot of adaptability, and we will continue to need that adaptability in the months ahead as what we do evolves with ever changing circumstances. But we can be thankful for the gifts the Lord has provided us in each other through His grace, and we can continue to pray that the Lord would sustain us all in thankfulness and loving service of each other.


'This has been a year that has required a lot of adaptability, and we will continue to need that adaptability in the months ahead as what we do evolves with ever changing circumstances. But we can be thankful for the gifts the Lord has provided us in each other through His grace, and we can continue to pray that the Lord would sustain us all in thankfulness and loving service of each other.'


Three more things.


We will continue the livesteam and zoom catch ups, but when we move to three services and more can attend we will have to decide which service to livestream. Andy will be leading discussions with the tech team about this. Post service Zoom will also continue, but in the weeks after Christmas when a number of the pastoral staff are on holidays we will have to discuss how this takes place – we may have to settle on a set time not immediately after the service, but we can discuss this with those on the Zoom catch ups.


Secondly, it is the Lord’s Supper this Sunday. We have purchased and will be providing individually sealed cups and bread combinations, and gluten free crackers in individual bags. If you are gluten sensitive you may need to have someone else unseal your cup. Remember that only children who have made profession of faith or to whom Session has given permission upon parental application can share in the supper. Session’s policy on children participating in the supper is available at https://bpc.org.au/mt-content/uploads/2020/12/children-partaking-in-the-lords-supper.pdf. We encourage parents to use their older children’s presence at the supper as a teaching opportunity – talk to them about why the Lord thought it so important for us to remember His death that He gave us this meal, and what the words and actions of the meal mean.


Thirdly, our last prayer meeting for the year will be on Zoom on the 16th December. In the new year, from February, we will be retaining Zoom participation in the prayer meeting but working towards a combination of both people being on Zoom at home and present in the building. We want as many of us as possible to keep on sharing in prayer, and the prayer meeting has been one of the highlights for me this year. As prayer is so important even though we won’t have our organised prayer meeting in January I will be in the building on the evening of January 20th to pray, and those who want to join me are very welcome.


Lots of change, lots of information. It is sometimes hard to shift our minds from present concerns and our response to them, but Paul reminds us that “the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” [2 Cor. 4:18]. Unseen by us the baby born in Bethlehem, God with us, reigns at God’s right hand, saving and protecting His people, always with us. In all our busyness let us fix our minds on Him.


Staying in touch - 27th Nov 2020

Re-opening.

Staying in touch - 20th Nov 2020

Part 1: Securing Identity

Part 2: Returning to Meeting Together

WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Part 1: Securing Identity


Lord willing we will move to the last step this coming Sunday the 22nd and be able to open the building to permit youth group and Kid’s Club to run and have services with up to 100 people inside on Sunday 29th and beyond.

We can learn something of the importance of getting back together again in person, and something of the effort involved, from Nehemiah’s prayerful determination to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Why was Nehemiah so grieved by the absence of the wall [Neh. 1:3-4] and so determined that the wall be rebuilt?

He was determined. He risked his employment and possibly his life by speaking to the Persian King about it [Neh. 2:1-4]. He provoked the hostility of the surrounding nations, was subject to threats against his life, by rebuilding it [Neh. 2:10, 19; 4:7-9; 6:1-14]. He gave generously of his time and money to make sure the work was completed [Neh. 4:23, 5:14-19]. It was the focus of his governorship from the time of his arrival until its completion [Neh. 2:11-20, 6:15-16]. It wasn’t the only thing he did to restore the life of God’s people in Jerusalem, but it was the first and foremost.


Why?


Why? It was because the wall was essential for the identity, security, ongoing distinctive life of God’s people. Without the wall they could not resist the pressure and threats of the more powerful and established surrounding nations who wanted to draw them into their sphere of influence and resented the distinctiveness of God’s people. Without the wall they could not enforce the law of God – like the sabbath law that was the sign of their distinctive covenant relationship with the LORD, or the laws on intermarriage with the surrounding nations. Without the wall the security of the temple and the purity of its practices were always under threat from the nations and their rulers. The wall around Jerusalem created a boundary that both expressed their distinctive identity and created a space within which that identity as the people of God could be strengthened. It did not secure purity of public corporate worship but created the possibility for it. It was vital to their continuing existence.

Our public gathering together functions much like Jerusalem’s wall. It expresses and strengthens our identity as the people of the Lord Jesus, the people who worship God as revealed in Christ, Father, Son and Spirit. It protects us individually and collectively by being the God given context in which we can enjoy all the means of grace – the reading and preaching of His Word through those whom He has gifted and called to that task, which encourages our perseverance as we grow in knowledge of our Saviour and His will; public prayer, which brings our common concerns to our God and testifies to the effectiveness of Jesus’ work and that we are now God’s people, people with access to the living God; public praise of the living and true God which both reminds us of and expresses His greatness, that He reigns and is the source of all our good; the practices our Lord gave us, the Lord’s Supper and baptism, which speak to us of inclusion in Christ as we respond with faith in the gospel; the encouragement of our brothers and sisters, commanded as a means to keep us living the life of Jesus’ followers, that life of love and doing good. These can all be experienced individually in different contexts, but in our public gathering we experience them all together week after week and they shape and strengthen our identity as followers of Jesus. That gathering around the gospel also gives us the context in which that distinctive identity can be protected against the encroachment of a world hostile to Jesus. It is not all that is required to maintain that identity, but it creates the possibility of that distinctive identity, the space in which the word of the Lord Jesus alone might rule, where the truth of the gospel is affirmed. Our gathering is vital to our ongoing identity, both our private personal identity and our corporate public identity, as the people of the Lord Jesus – and the Christian faith has always had a corporate and public identity expressed in gathering around the word of God.


Because of the essential nature of our gathering for our continuing life as Jesus’ people the elders are determined that we restart gathering together. That will take effort. Nehemiah gives us a little insight into the nature of the work involved in rebuilding something that before its destruction most who lived in Jerusalem probably took for granted, and which a year after the wall was completed was again taken for granted by most, had again become the context for them to conduct the rest of their lives.


Rebuilding.


Firstly rebuilding the wall was not the work of just one person, or even of Nehemiah and his team. It was as we see in Nehemiah 3 the work of many as each took responsibility for their own section of the wall. Secondly it was unusual work for most. Priests, goldsmiths v. 8, farmers from the country were all contributing – none of them professional wall builders. Thirdly it was work made awkward by fear, the threat of violence by the surrounding nations. They had to work conscious of the danger, taking precautions, with a sword strapped by their side and with a plan to respond to violence [4:15-20]. Fourthly it was an intense work, with people staying the night in Jerusalem, never off their guard [4:21-23]. But it was not a long work and it was a successful work, completing the wall in fifty-two days [Neh. 6:15], although the celebration of that completion had to wait [Neh. 12:27ff.]

This gives us a picture of what will be involved in getting our face to face meetings going again. It can’t be the work of one, or even of a small group. It will, by its nature, only happen if we all share in the work. What we are called on to do might not be the usual service we undertake or even align perfectly with our gifts, just what is needed to be done for this time. And gathering will be awkward for a while because of government directives about spacing, time we can spend in the building, the wearing of masks – a whole host of regulations we need to be conscious of. We will have to keep taking precautions as we gather, conscious of the threat of the virus, and the threat to the reputation of Jesus if we get it wrong – and yes, with a plan to respond to that danger, our Covidsafe plan. It will be intense for a while as we get things going again. But it won’t last forever and like the people of Nehemiah’s time we will be successful if we work together convinced of the importance of our physical gathering.


See the value of our gathering and come, if you are not in a high-risk group, and share in the work of rebuilding it if you can. Share in that work by coming – registering to attend and being there. And share in that work by serving – on the welcoming, cleaning and children’s teams. It will take a lot of willing people to start and sustain our gathering, especially when we move to two morning services. Anticipate the awkwardness, think through the risk, but be convicted that face to face meeting is the God given means of expressing and strengthening our identity as followers of Jesus, the context for sustaining that identity as His word is faithfully taught and praise and prayer given to our saviour.

We know that not all will be able to come, so we will be continuing the livestream grateful for the possibility of including all in our meeting. But if you are able make sharing in the restarting of our meetings your priority, for your own good, the good of your brothers and sisters, and for the honour of Jesus who should be publicly praised and honoured as Lord and Saviour.


Part 2: Returning to Meeting Together.

 

I have spoken from Nehemiah of the importance of our meeting. But what will coming to a Covid Safe gathering, as we hope we will be able to do from Sunday 29th, be like for us?

 

Differences.

 

Quite different, at least to start. You will firstly have to make sure you can come. We have had to outline conditions of entry. This means excluding yourself if you or your child have any symptoms of a cold or flu and committing to meeting in a Covid Safe way – wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene, observing seating instructions, practicing social distancing. The full conditions of entry are attached to our pre-registration form as you will need to agree with them to register and receive a ticket to attend. They will also be available on our website when they are posted on Wednesday when we have had an opportunity to review them in light of the Premier’s actual announcement about moving to the last step on Sunday 22nd.

And that is the second thing. You will need to register on line to attend. Cat has prepared a video to explain the process but we have had to do this because the limits on our meeting are clear and strict, and also online registration meets the requirements for record keeping for contact tracing. We can only have 100 people, and that includes children over 12 months, in the building at any time. Registration for next weeks service will open on the Sunday before and will also normally be sent earlier to those who are serving that week. Those serving and whatever members of their family attend with them count in the total number and so we need to know how many of them are attending to know how many other spaces there are week by week. I would encourage you to register – don’t not register because you think you ought to leave a space for others. If more register than there are spaces, we will create a waiting list who will be contacted if there is a cancellation, and registering will give us guidance on when we need to start a second morning service.

 

Logistics.

 

As the service will continue to be livestreamed, we will start punctually, so I would encourage you to come early so there is minimal movement and noise when we start the service. We will be running a creche and Sunday school up to and including second grade, but older children will need to remain in the service with their parents. This is because we do not have enough space to run our Sunday school normally and observe the density quotient, the one person every four square metre rule which has made our class rooms upstairs almost unusable for a group larger than two. Material for the older children will continue to be provided as it is now and we would like parents to print this and bring their own pencils and textas to reduce the sharing of materials, which is not allowed. We will be encouraging the younger children to go straight to Sunday School and not to enter the auditorium. This is to lessen the movement of people in the building, and also help maintain distancing. Clarissa is preparing a video this Sunday to walk parents through the drop off and pick up but because children will be there for the whole time we would like you to send your child with a snack [clearly labelled as theirs, and without nuts] and their own water bottle.

Creche is a different story. We are conscious that many creche age children will not have seen many adults beside their parents and so we anticipate it will take some weeks [or months] for them to settle. We expect that parents will be in and out and so we have seated them in the hall with easy access to the creche, and we will also be making the service available in the creche. We do ask parents to keep their masks on while in creche. Because of the tendency of very young children to share food it is thought better if the creche team prepare individual bowls for the children – all with the same food. Again, more information will be available from the creche team, and we have prepared a set of FAQ’s  which will be available on the website from Wednesday the 25th, when we have had time to digest the Premier’s announcement on the 22nd.

 

Having registered and received a ticket when you arrive you will find sanitiser stations on the way in and an usher at the door to guide you and keep a check on numbers in the foyer. Your name tags will be pre-printed and available at a number of pick up points. This allows us to keep a record of attendance and achieve a smoother flow. As we need to put the seating in zones of twenty you will be ushered to your zone and asked to stay in that zone for the duration of the service. More information about seating in zones will come on a video next week but we are encouraging you to think ‘deep, not wide’ in your conversations – to talk with the people in your zone and not to move between zones. The service will run as it has on the live stream and for the coming weeks will continue to have some pre-recorded elements e.g. the children’s talk.

The only people who can sing will be those leading the singing, but the rest of us can hum or mouth the words behind our masks. If the musicians and service leader seem more distant, that is because they are as the regulations specify there has to be 5 metres between anyone speaking or singing with their mask off and the congregation.

 

Relationships.

 

At the conclusion of the service we would encourage you to stay in your zone until you either go and collect your children or leave the building. The government has set a 90 minute limit to a service and expects people to be in the building no longer than that. Knowing that, plan to catch up with people after the service at your home, or a café, or a park. We will have to wait to see how things go before restarting a cup of tea after church. The other reason for leaving is to allow the cleaning team to start work – as every space used and surface touched needs to be cleaned.

At the conclusion of the 90 minutes only those involved in cleaning can remain in the building. That means if you are coming with your family you might need to come in two cars, or come in one and get a lift home with me or another on the team.               

Not all will be able to come and gather physically – health and numbers guarantee that. We are committed to being one congregation even when we can’t be all together and we will be continuing the zoom after the service. But if you can’t be in the building you can be with others as you share in the livestream, and you can meet with others for a meal or play after the service. Make use of those opportunities to encourage each other

That has been a lot of information, perhaps overwhelming. It has definitely been a lot for the staff and session to get their heads around. There will be more information videos coming out during next week, being filmed this Sunday. There will be FAQ’s available on the website along with our revised CovidSafe plan but we will delay posting these until the 25th, when we will have had an opportunity to check them against the announced policy. And contact one of the pastors or staff if you have questions or things that are troubling you about restarting our services. If you can we would like to see you there, and if you can serve that would be very helpful in making our gathering possible. Thanks to those who have signed up already.

 

Adapting.

 

A Covid Safe service may seem strange at first. It will take a little getting used to. There is work involved in getting back to meeting in person. And it may all may change again in a few weeks time as numbers remain low. We don’t know. But two things I do know. Firstly, if we speak the truth in love, don’t let our anxiety get the better of us but practice patience, forbearance and love towards one another even as we comply with regulations imposed upon us that we may not like but which are designed to keep us safe from Covid 19, we will be able to start meeting in person regularly without too much difficulty. Secondly, it will be good to be able to encourage each other in person. Last week fifty of the evening congregation met outside for their service. It was windy, it was hot, but it was so good to see one another, to have conversation with a few others, to do as we are commanded – to meet to encourage each other to persevere in love and good works in light of the coming day of our Lord.

Please continue to pray for God’s mercy in keeping infection numbers low, for God’s mercy that will allow us to meet. And pray for the staff at this busy time as they work to make us Covid compliant in our meetings. And pray for each other, that we would continue in faith, hope and love, that whether we can meet in person or not our lives would honour our Lord Jesus.

 


Staying in touch (13th Nov 2020)

"Encouraging, Planning & Engaging in a Covid Normal Community."

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WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Moving towards a Covid Normal.


Let us give thanks to God that zero new cases are being recorded and that we can continue to plan to gather again as churches re-open. Thankfulness to God does not exclude thankfulness to all those who have made an enormous effort and paid a significant cost, like our health care workers and neighbours whose businesses have been shut down, to achieve these numbers. But it does locate our thankfulness where it primarily belongs, with the living God who rules and governs all things, and who has shown us mercy. I am stressing this because in the public pronouncements there has been much self-congratulation and an absence of thankfulness to the living God, God’s mercy misused to support our society’s proud self-reliance. But the godly person, someone who engages with the world knowing the gospel of Jesus is true, will, in Calvin’s words “For benefits received [he will] reverence and praise the Lord as their principal author, but will honour men as his ministers; and will know what is in fact true: it is by God’s will that he is beholden to those through whose hand God willed to be beneficent.”   

But as numbers come down and we move along the steps to Covid normal what are we encouraging, what are we planning, and what engagement are we seeking from you. 


Covid normal should not normalise neglect of our most vital relationship, our relationship with God our Father, the root of endurance and fruitfulness. 


Encouragement in Covid Normal 


So what are we encouraging?  Firstly, that as we all have the possibility of getting busier as things open up you will prioritise sustaining your own relationship with God, that you will not allow daily prayer and reading and meditating on His word to be crowded out. Covid normal should not normalise neglect of our most vital relationship, our relationship with God our Father, the root of endurance and fruitfulness. Secondly, that you will act in love, and consider how the permissions accompanying each stage will allow you to love others – spending time with them, sharing your home with them, helping give their week structure. Thirdly, that you would know yourself, what you feel confident doing and what you are not confident to do as restrictions ease. That will make it easier for you and for others as you talk and plan. All our circumstances are different, and you are best acquainted with your own circumstances and what is appropriate for you. Part of moving together towards normal operations is allowing each other to move at our own pace. 


Planning for Covid Normal 


What are we planning as a church? Here my focus is on our larger gatherings. I know growth groups are making various plans to use even now the ability for ten to meet outside to catch up, whether socially or for study. And we are seeking to use the present permissions while our focus in planning is on what will happen after the 22nd November. So this Sunday the evening congregation will, Lord willing, meet with fifty outside in the church carpark, and live stream from there. Those fifty seats are fully booked already. Please pray for that gathering as it is a new thing for us and has technical challenges, but it will also allow confidence to build in meeting together and us to trial our Covid safe practices. 

But our focus is on the week starting from Monday 23rd November when we anticipate, Lord willing, moving to the last step and being allowed to have 100 maximum in the building. It is, however, not a simple hundred but a hundred total with a maximum group size of 20, so using this permission takes some thought. Kid’s Club and Youth Group are making their own plans for Friday 27th and will be communicating these separately. We are focused on Sunday 29th when we plan to have one morning service at ten in the building and one evening service at 5 in the building. We will be continuing the livestream of both services, and the Zoom meeting afterwards. These first services in the building will be kept as simple as possible and so initially we won’t be serving tea and coffee afterwards. There will be opportunity to chat, but we will be encouraging deep, not wide – that is you stay within your group and talk to the people you are seated with. There will be live singing from the front, but the rest of us will only be able to hum behind our masks. We will be retaining at first some pre-recorded elements of the service. As you might expect, the seating will look a little differently, as the Government has said the maximum group size is twenty and these groups must be in zones separated by five metres from each other. There will be provision for creche and Sunday School, but at first this will only be up to and including grade two because of constraints on space caused by the density quotient, having only 1 person per 4 m2. This first Sunday is only a beginning and we are confident that as time goes on and numbers stay at or near zero, Lord willing, we will be able to re-introduce more and more features of our gathering. 


There are, as you can imagine, a lot of details to be worked out,


There are, as you can imagine, a lot of details to be worked out and so this week the Session, BOM, and staff will be working on building the welcoming, cleaning and children’s teams; the configuration of the seating in the auditorium; refining the booking process; ensuring we have all the cleaning supplies we need; getting our communication ready, including health guidelines for attending. The plan is to have a short video explaining how to register to attend on the 29th go out with this newsletter next Friday along with more details about requirements for those who attend. We hope to shoot videos about what to expect when you arrive and the process for children going to Sunday School and creche next Sunday [22nd] when we plan to practice and test our processes and set up, and then to release those videos in the following week to give you an idea of what you will experience if you come on the 29th.  

One hundred is a number that is a good start but is less than a third of those in the building on a normal Sunday morning. We are not sure how many of you will want to come in person but don’t let the consciousness that not all will be able to be accommodated stop you from registering your interest. We need to know. If there are more wanting to come than we are allowed chairs for, we will start a second morning service. Let’s pray that we move towards Covid normal when things will be easier as quickly as possible. 


Engagement in Covid Normal 


What engagement are we seeking for from you? Fundamentally to engage with these changes as a disciple of Jesus, someone committed to loving your brothers and sisters, to the obedience of faith, and to having your hope wholly in God. As a disciple to be someone committed to meeting together with your brothers and sisters to encourage one another, to stir one another up to love and good deeds [Heb. 10:24-25], whether that be online or in person. As I have already said, know yourself; know what you are comfortable with in your own particular circumstance, and within that seek to encourage others. If you are reluctant to meet in a larger gathering now – for all sorts of good reasons, think through what will need to happen [e.g a month of zero’s, or a vaccine] for your comfort in meeting face to face to grow for that is the goal to which we are moving towards, our normal meetings and all the ministries associated with that. 

Watch the videos as they are released and if you are comfortable meeting, register that interest – let us know you want to come.  


This continues to be a time of uncertainty as well as change, and so it continues to be a time of heightened anxiety. We will need patience and grace with each other,


This continues to be a time of uncertainty as well as change, and so it continues to be a time of heightened anxiety. We will need patience and grace with each other as we restart services in the building – we are unlikely to get it all right the first time, and we will need patience and grace with each other as we move at different speeds in our re-engagement with face to face meeting. Keep talking with each other and with us so that misunderstandings are quickly resolved and we can hear from each other the truth spoken in love that builds up the body of Christ. And please continue to pray. All the good we enjoy comes from our Almighty God’s hand – our health, our capacity to meet, our daily bread. Let us continue to seek from Him the mercy that allows us to meet, the strength and skill to keep live streaming our service, and the wisdom and energy needed to restart our meetings, and that in everything our God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. 


 

Staying in Touch: The new challenge freedom brings (6 Nov 2020)

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The new challenge freedom brings


Just as Proverbs says a person is tested by the praise they receive [Proverbs 27:21] so a congregation is perhaps more tested by its freedoms and opportunities than by its restrictions and limitations [cf. Deuteronomy 8]. Today, Thursday, is, thank God, the fifth double donut day in a row – no new cases and no deaths. We can, I think, confidently look forward to a further cautious easing of restrictions as the Premier foreshadowed on the 25th October, an easing that will allow us to travel further, even to regional Victoria. Those long delayed holidays will become a possibility and there will be more opportunity for catching up with friends and family. If you have been working from home getting out or getting away on the weekend will be a priority. We will have more personal opportunities for refreshment and our lives will become busier. At the same time the freedoms granted for what you can do in your home and for religious gatherings will probably lag behind our personal individual freedoms, and that will mean that for most of us our common ‘gathering’ for the next few weeks will continue to be the livestreamed service at 10 or 5.


The dangers that lie ahead


And this makes the easing of restrictions, especially the time between the beginning of the easing of restrictions and the re-opening of churches for gathering in significant numbers, a perilous time for us as a community. The livestream is, as I have said before, a far less rich experience than our normal Sunday service with everything else that goes on when we meet – children’s ministry, encouraging conversations, the energy of being in the company of other believers, singing with others. I find it takes more effort to listen to the livestream, and I expect that is the case for you as well, and we are calling on this effort when we are tired. The temptation on a sunny day when you have been cooped up working from home and the children are restless is to tune out, not tune in. You might say I can listen to it later – and you may, or you may find yourself too busy or too tired later. Or you might say it is only for this week – and that might be the case, but next week there will be others to visit, or the chance to get away, and the Sundays will pass and you find it is two or three or four weeks since you have tuned in, and you and your family, if you have one, will have fallen out of the habit of gathering with others to hear God’s word, to make common prayer, to give public praise to our God.


Now especially is the time to be vigilant to ‘not neglect to meet together?’ [Heb. 10:24-25]


Why does that concern me, and why should it concern you? Why do I think that now especially is the time to be vigilant to ‘not neglect to meet together?’ [Heb. 10:24-25] Andy in his sermon series in the morning talking about the importance of community spoke last week of truth and grace as central to our individual and corporate life, and I want to answer my questions in terms of truth and grace, or truth and love. Joining the livestream service, keeping on listening to God’s word together, praising God, praying to God together is not just about helping us stay connected in a time of isolation, or sustaining our mental health through the lockdown. Joining the livestream does those things, but the truth is our participation is part of the bigger story we have been caught up into by God’s grace and part of the bigger battle we are to wage every day, and that truth means it is never a good time to fall out of the habit of meeting. That bigger story is God’s determination to exalt Jesus as the Lord, the one to whom every knee will bow in heaven and earth [Psalm 2, Phil. 2:5-11], and the Saviour of His people, those He has ransomed for His Father from ‘every tribe and language and people and nation.' Rev. 5:9 This purpose of God runs like a powerful current through history that sweeps all in it towards God’s appointed end, and we are caught up into it when we become Jesus’ disciples, when we repent and trust the Lord Jesus. Staying in Christ we are being carried to share in the joy of His exaltation, carried along to eternal life, to a future of unimaginable goodness and beauty. One of the chief means God has given for keeping us in Christ, for staying in the current that will carry us to life, is meeting together. In our meeting we both express and experience being in the body of Christ, being united to Him; we hear the implanted word that can save our souls [James 1:21], we encourage and teach each other through song, we pray and nurture relationship with God in prayer, and we join together in the Lord’s Supper which expresses and nurtures our faith and joy in Jesus. You could say that meeting together around God’s Word in response to His calling us to Himself is a way of regularly cleaning our gospel glasses through which we see and interpret our world in ways consistent with the reality that Jesus is Lord, and to run the race of faith to the end we need to keep seeing clearly through those gospel glasses. We meet, and we are diligent to meet, because we have been caught up into the great plan and purpose of God to have a people of His own through Christ.


One of the chief means God has given for keeping us in Christ, for staying in the current that will carry us to life, is meeting together.


And we are diligent to meet because we know we are part of a bigger struggle – not against a virus but against ‘rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ Eph. 6:12. The devil, says Peter, ‘prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour’. [1 Pet. 5:8] We must resist him firm in our faith, must make full use of the armour provided by God. Meeting together keeps this spiritual reality prominent in our thinking and keeps the armour of God close at hand, keeps us engaging with truth and righteousness, being refreshed in the gospel of peace, renewed in faith and hope, enriched in word and prayer. Meeting around God’s Word is a way of stirring one another up to be alert and persevering, to resist what the author of Hebrews calls ‘the deceitfulness of sin’ [Heb. 3:13] through our mutual encouragement.


Make meeting together a priority


Truth tells us to make meeting a priority. And so does love. We can only be known as Jesus’ followers by our love for one another [John 13:34-35], and this love cannot be seen unless we are in relationship with one another. Gracious love recognizes the inadequacies and imperfections of our life together but forbears and forgives because it is eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [Eph. 4:2-3] Love wants to maintain a common life in which all can be encouraged, all can serve and be served, children can be discipled, a common witness maintained. Love is never satisfied with being ok alone. And like the love with which we have been loved by Jesus, love will reckon with and pay the cost of loving, and there is a cost, a cost you may well feel more as your freedoms increase, to maintaining our common life for the good of all.


The challenge is to use our freedom not just to pursue our own personal goals but to pursue what builds up and is helpful, not only to myself, but also to those the Lord has made my brothers and sisters, those He calls me to meet with regularly for mutual encouragement to love and doing good.


I am looking forward wholeheartedly to the further easing of restrictions. They are a blessed relief and present opportunities for good, opportunities for encouragement, for seeing and serving family, for having people over, sharing the live stream, catching up face to face with others. But these times of easing restrictions will also present us with some challenges to our discipleship that we may have become unfamiliar with during lockdown, the challenges of ‘the cares and riches and pleasures of life’ that our Lord says can choke the word and make it unfruitful. The challenge is to use our freedom not just to pursue our own personal goals but to pursue what builds up and is helpful, not only to myself, but also to those the Lord has made my brothers and sisters, those He calls me to meet with regularly for mutual encouragement to love and doing good. As you enjoy these relaxations be aware of the challenge remembering that you are not your own but bought with a price, people called to live not just individually but together for the glory of the Saviour who died to make you part of His own people, the people He will raise to eternal life to the praise of His glorious grace. [1 Cor. 6:19-20].



Staying in Touch: The victory of our Lord Jesus (30 Oct 2020)

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WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

The victory of our Lord Jesus


The uncertain victory over Covid-19


This morning I want to talk about the Lord Jesus, His victory, and the confidence believers can have in Him.

That is always good to think of and talk about, but what has prompted me in particular this week is the contrast between His victory and the victory so many are celebrating in moving to step 3, the victory in virus suppression. I am grateful for the low numbers, grateful that we seem to be moving in the direction of the fuller relaxation of restrictions that will allow us to gather, but what struck me is how limited the outcome of this ‘victory’ – for example, I am still wearing masks, still unable to have my whole family around at one time – and how fragile the achievement. Fear of a third wave is palpable, with many still anxiously tuning in for the daily numbers. The contrast between human saviours and the true Saviour is always so marked, and the felt difference has again made me very grateful that in believing in Jesus our trust is not in humans, but in the living God.


The certain victory of Christ


You see, there is nothing uncertain or fragile about the victory of Christ. It is both certain and secure, and its achievement is complete. It is good, wonderful to know and always remember that. Sometimes we can obscure that with our illustrations. Take the illustration that likens Christ’s death and resurrection to D-Day and his return to VE day in the 39-45 war. That analogy is useful in illustrating the now and not yet of our experience of the fruits of victory – the reality that we enjoy now forgiveness and new life of the Spirit, but we await the return to enjoy to the full victory over death, the not yet of the new heaven and earth. But it is misleading if it is used to suggest that the battle between Jesus and His foes is still underway, that there could still be an offensive of the devil or another expression of human rebellion, a spiritual ‘Battle of the Bulge’, that could threaten the outcome.


Jesus’ victory in His incarnation, death and resurrection is complete, the outcome now never in doubt.

Let me give you some of the many Scriptures that make this point.


Jesus, speaking in John 12:31-32 says of His coming death

"Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

From the time of the cross the ruler of this world is cast out – done with. Jesus occupies the throne, and He will be the one all must deal with.

After His resurrection and before His ascension He says


Matthew 28:18-20

"And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

All authority. Not some, with some still contested, some still be possessed. All. No competitor can rival him. All power and government is subject to Him.


Hear the apostle Paul speak of Jesus’ achievement.

Philippians 2:8-11 

"And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Not will, but has highly exalted Him and given Him now the name to which all will bow. He can’t achieve more, for there is no more to achieve.


Colossians 2:13-15 

"And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him."

So complete is His victory that not only are we forgiven the powers just make up part of His victory parade, the enchained opponents dragged along at the end.


Or the author of Hebrews. 

Hebrews 10:12-14 

"But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified."

Jesus is no longer out on the field battling away. His death has done all that needs to be done to save His people. He is sitting down, and it is just a matter of the subjugation of His conquered enemies being made plain by them being made the footstool for His feet.


Jesus is no longer out on the field battling away.

His death has done all that needs to be done to save His people.


These are all well known passages and their message could be multiplied [e.g. Revelation 12:10-12, Ephesians 1:19-22, Acts 2:32-36]. The gospel we preach is ‘Jesus is Lord’ [2 Cor. 4:5]. Not becoming Lord when people trust Him. He is Lord. His dominion is everlasting and His achievement limitless.


Considering Jesus' acheivements


Consider His achievement, and I can only mention a few aspects.


  • HE is a present Saviour. HE is with us, and is near when we call on Him, almighty to help us wherever we are.
  • HE gives the holy Spirit, unquenchable life, assuring us of our future, the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance, and transforming our present.
  • Believers are now justified and assured of peace with God [Romans 5:1-11] peace with God now and forever, of being spared wrath on the day of wrath.
  • We can boldly approach the living God. There need be no hesitancy, no masks or veils holding us back from being present in His presence. We can rely on His grace [Eph. 3:11-12, Hebrews 4:14-16].
  • The Kingdom, the longed for reign of God, is what Jesus says it is no matter how it appears to us, spreading like leaven - unseen, growing to be the largest of trees, growing up to the harvest despite opposition, worth everything [Matthew 13:24-50].
  • Even death serves believers because of Jesus’ achievement. It’s a falling asleep, the doorway to rest and then the transformation of our bodies to be like His in the resurrection [1 Cor. 15; Rev. 14:13].


Considering our own frailty


When the limitations and frailty of human achievement is so obvious it is good to remember the greatness and certainty of the achievement of our Saviour. When our own limitations and frailty are so apparent it is good to have our minds filled with the greatness of our Saviour.

And our limitations and frailty have been made obvious by this time.


When our own limitations and frailty are so apparent it is good to have our minds filled with the greatness of our Saviour.

And our limitations and frailty have been made obvious by this time.


Our planning has been exposed as so uncertain by this virus, but the virus serves Him. His plans are sure and we can rely on our almighty good shepherd to guide us to His good goal for us. We don’t need to be anxious.

We have been reminded of our mortality. But He has conquered death, we do not need to fear.

We have seen our personal frailty, how hard to be the people we want to be, to keep an even temper, to be always thankful, to not become irritable in lockdown. But Jesus is always on the job to keep us, and His strength is made perfect in weakness, His Spirit is at work in us. We can rely on Him to have us keep living the lives of His followers.

This lockdown has even exposed our sin, the cracks in our godliness, but our Lord Jesus has brought us into the new covenant where our sins are remembered no more, even the sin of our imperfect faith. We can rely on His grace.

And where the exposure of our sin might make us fearful of our strength to persevere, He has said He is mighty to keep us, that no one can pluck us from His hand.


In a world of insecure and incomplete achievement it is good to think on Christ and His victory. We preach Jesus as Lord. And it is good to live by faith in the light of His victory, with confidence that He is with us, confidence that He hears us and will help us, confidence that even in suffering He is treating with us in love for there is no condemnation, confidence He is through this time conforming us to His image, confidence He will raise us.


Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Staying in Touch: Engaging with re-opening (23 Oct 2020)

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WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT

Engaging with the roadmap to re-opening


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


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


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


Making the most of the 3rd step


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


The encouraging each other to love and good works

that God calls us to depends on each one of us


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


Our plans for the last step (Lord Willing!)


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

Three introductory comments.

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

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

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


What will our sevices look like? 


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

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


The need for new teams of people to serve


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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



Past Updates


October

Staying in Touch: Our varied responses... (16 Oct 2020)
Staying in Touch: The power of conviction (9 Oct 2020)
Staying in Touch: The road to 'rebuilding' (2 Oct 2020)

 

September

Staying in Touch: The temptation to grumble (25 Sep 2020)
Staying in Touch: Keep hearing God's word (18 Sep 2020)
Staying in Touch: Sadness and continuing loss (11 Sep 2020)
Staying in Touch: How do you spot Team Jesus? (4 Sep 2020)

 

August

Staying in Touch: Passages in Ezekiel (28 Aug 2020)
Staying in Touch: Promoting the presence of God (21 Aug 2020)
Staying in Touch: Encouragements this week (14 Aug 2020)
Staying in Touch: Thinking about authorities (7 Aug 2020)

 

July

Staying in Touch: Preparing to die (31 Jul 2020)
Staying in Touch: The livestream services (24 Jul 2020)
Staying in Touch: God's Word for our prayers (17 Jul 2020)
Staying in Touch: Sustaining our hope (10 Jul 2020)
Staying in Touch: Confidence in the Cross (3 Jul 2020)


June

Staying in Touch: Dealing with disappointment (26 Jun 2020)
Staying in Touch: Praying big prayers (19 Jun 2020)
Staying in Touch: Encouragement (12 Jun 2020)
Staying in Touch: Endurance (5 Jun 2020)


May

Pastors Update: As restrictions ease (29 May 2020)
Staying in Touch: Clinton Le Page (23 May 2020)
Staying in Touch: Andy May (16 May 2020)
Staying in Touch: Engaging with God (8 May 2020)
Staying in Touch: Encouragement in Nehemiah (1 May 2020)


April

Staying in Touch: Waiting and longing (24 April 2020)
Staying in Touch: The same and not the same (17 April 2020)
Pastors update: Changes to our gatherings (10 April 2020)
Pastors update: Grief and loss (3 April 2020)


March

Responding to Covid 19 (27 March 2020)
Responding to Covid 19 (19 March 2020)
Responding to Covid 19 (18 March 2020)
Responding to Covid 19 (13 March 2020)
COVID 19 Prevention (11 March 2020)