Conflict in Ukraine
“You are going to hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet.” [Matt. 24:6]
The war between Russia and Ukraine is a long way away but it is yet another reminder that we live in what Scripture calls the last days, a time characterised by the disorder that comes with the world continuing to reject its rightful ruler, God our Creator, while God’s people await the revealing in glory of God’s King, the Lord Jesus Christ. This open conflict is also another reminder of the fragility of ordinary life, of how easily disrupted our plans and lives can be by the decisions of others far away from us, and another sad illustration of the horror of human sinfulness, of the misery, pain and death that comes when people act out of a love of their own power, doing what seems right to them to secure their own prosperity and security regardless of the consequences for others.
I am sure you will have your own thoughts on what is happening in Ukraine but four things come to my mind.
Firstly the need to make use of the time and the prosperity we have to make the gospel of Jesus known now and to urge people to respond, to flee from the wrath to come [1 Thess. 1:9-10]. We do not know how long this time of peace will last just as we do not know how long our lives will be. We have to make use of the time we have.
Secondly, the need to pray for our government and politicians. The world is a perilous place because of human sin, and God has entrusted to human authorities the restraining of human evil and the protection of their populations. We should pray that they would be focused on that responsibility and God would strengthen them in that task so that we can live ‘tranquil and quiet lives, in all godliness and dignity’ [1 Tim. 2:2].
Thirdly, we should set our hopes fully on the grace coming to us at the revealing of our Lord Jesus in glory [1 Pet. 1:13] and see the folly of placing our hope, as so many seem to, in people to bring ‘heaven on earth’, of thinking that peace and justice can be finally and fully established without dealing with human sin. We should always be praying ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come.’
Fourthly, the wisdom of David’s choice and the mercy we have so far received from God in being humbled by a pandemic, and not by human conflict. When David had sinned against God by conducting a census of Israel the LORD sent the prophet Gad to him with a choice.
“Do you want three years of famine to come on your land, to flee from your foes three months while they pursue you, or to have a plague in your land three days?” Gad urged him to consider carefully his choice and David answered “I have great anxiety. Please, let us fall into the LORD’s hands because his mercies are great, but don’t let me fall into human hands.” [2 Sam. 24:13-14].
Despite our sins as a nation, we are still in the LORD’s hands. Let us pray that our country will humble itself and turn to the LORD for mercy, for to fall into into human hands, to be abandoned to the will of our enemies, is cruel.
'Let us pray that our country will humble itself and turn to the LORD for mercy, for to fall into into human hands, to be abandoned to the will of our enemies, is cruel.'
In the LORD’s mercy Covid restrictions continue to be relaxed and from tonight masks are no longer required to be worn inside, including during our church services. This will be welcome news to many who hate wearing masks and who have particularly not enjoyed singing behind masks. But, on the other hand, changes in rules don’t make Covid any less prevalent in our community, nor do they make the medically vulnerable less vulnerable. So some of us will greet this change with increased anxiety about the safety of our gathering. How can we live with these differences in love, so that we can show maximum possible care for those with the greatest health risk and also welcome and encourage those for whom masks have been a discouragement?
Session has decided on the following:
1. Mask are no longer required to be worn inside on Sundays or at any of our activities. This includes during singing.
2. Those who are more comfortable wearing a mask should continue to do so.
3. Wearing masks now is a personal choice except where the government continues to mandate masks. As the Government continues to mandate masks for Students in year 3 or above at primary school, and workers at early childhood centres and primary schools and as we have always taken our guidance on Covid safe practices from the requirements for schools, we would ask parents to continue to send their children to Sunday School, which is a class like environment, with masks and encourage them to wear them for the protection of teachers and other children [but this is only while they are in Sunday School].
4. As some are very concerned about the risk of transmission of the virus where masks are not worn [and the virus is still very active amongst us] we will be reserving the section of the auditorium on the left as you enter as an area for mask wearers only. Currently this is the area where we have reserved the last three rows for those whose health is compromised, but now we want the whole section to be for mask wearers only. We will enlarge this section and create a slightly larger gap between it and the areas where people need not wear masks. In this area masks are to be worn during singing.
5. There is difference amongst us about masks so we all need to be thoughtful of each other. This is a time to continue practicing the principles of Romans 14 – accepting one another with our differences, and remembering that the Kingdom is not about whether we wear or don’t wear masks, but about ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ 14:17. We should all ‘pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.’
'The Kingdom is not about whether we wear or don’t wear masks, but about ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ We should all ‘pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.’
6. In line with Government advice - Masks are recommended for other workers serving or facing members of the public, such as if you are at reception, meeting guests or serving customers, we strongly urge those serving on welcoming, creche, morning tea and supper, and Sunday School, to continue wearing masks. We would also strongly encourage parents in creche, except when talking directly to their child, to wear a mask while in the creche.
A video appearance
Finally, Covid is active amongst us and a number of our families have contacted us through the week to let us know that a member of their family is infected and they are isolating. This includes Clinton’s family, and Clinton is down to preach this Sunday morning. So, for the first time, we will have Clinton appearing in our services on video. We decided to do this, rather than get another pastor to preach, because in the current circumstances there was no guarantee that the substitute wouldn’t be knocked out by Covid before Sunday.
We can be thankful, again, for the technology that allows us to do this but let’s pray that these disruptions soon end and we can regain momentum in gathering to proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light [1 Pet. 2:9].