Thinking about our values

Over the last few weeks I’ve begun the exciting process of collecting my own thoughts about what our church values might be. What do we value? Generally speaking, we already know the answers, don’t we? We value the bible and sound Christ-centred teaching. We value the sacraments, corporate and private prayer, Spirit filled and ordered worship services, our Anglican heritage. We value each other and therefore genuine redemptive relationships and a sense of family, we value each other’s gifts, we value commitment and faithfulness, we value servant hearted service of others. We value being a safe church for anyone who walks through our doors.  The list could well go on and on… 

I’m aware that thinking like this is not a new process for you.  Significant time has been given previously to praying, thinking, planning and writing. We want to honour that and so intend to ‘stand on the shoulders’ of those who’ve gone before us as we seek God’s will for our future together. 

Eventually, (and I do mean eventually!) Parish Council and I will publish a document that the entire parish has had the opportunity to contribute to in one way or another. For the next few blogs, I’m going to write with the aim of helping us think about what is important to us as a church family. To begin with though, we’re going to think a little about our culture here in the West and how this affects this process. How do I know what I should value? 

Individualism: What I value may not be what you value!

As we think about this we need to be aware that we are more individualistic as a culture than we ever have been before. We are more about me, myself and I than ever. What I value therefore must be right! A challenge to our individualism is the New Testament itself. Did you know that the ‘one another’ word group is used over 100 times in the New Testament and that the plural for ‘you’ is used over 2200 times? That’s staggering! Church really isn’t about me!

In addition to the danger of individualism, cultural commentators agree that since the 18th century Enlightenment, our beliefs have become linked our identity as people. What this means is that if we disagree on a value, then we are not disagreeing with the value or idea; we are disagreeing with who the person is as a human! The result? Disagreeing is not allowed. We are all entitled to our own individualistic opinion no matter how absurd some may think it is. Individualism and self-determined truth is consequently rampant.

As a result, tolerance is now our culture’s greatest virtue. Disagreeing is not allowed. Tolerance is totally unsustainable though as it requires that we are intolerant of who we decide is intolerant. We have given ourselves massive authority to decide who is intolerant and then we exclude them or keep them at arm’s length. 

I laughed Rugby Australia’s inconsistency when they sacked Israel Falau. Falau was dismissed because he was deemed to be exclusive in his views about Same Sex Marriage. He was excluded for not being inclusive! I just wish Rugby Australia said, “We are inclusive of all people and all views, and so Falau is entitled to his. We disagree with his views and they are not the views of Rugby Australia but we will defend his right to express them. He is a great player and so let’s all get on with it!” Problem solved? 

Despite the intolerance of our so-called tolerant society, tolerance remains our greatest virtue. We live in a culture where everyone is right. Saying someone is wrong is the greatest cultural no-no. To disagree is now deeply offensive. Consequently, we have lost the ability to have convictions, robust debate, disagree and remain in fellowship. I think we need to be aware of this as a church family as we think about what we value. So what’s the solution? 

The bible as our authority on what we should value

As Christians we do believe in objective truth that should shape our views. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Jesus also prayed to his Father, “Sanctify them by your truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17) So, Jesus who is the truth said that God’s word is the truth. God’s word is therefore where we find the objective truth about what we should value. 

Over the next few blogs I would like frame our discussion theologically. This will give us the tools to find out what God wants and not necessarily go on our own personal and individual views which may or may not be helpful. 

Just to get the ball rolling, how do these verses shape what we should value as a church? 

  1. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and, love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 10:27)
  2. “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:4ff)

Here are some texts for further reflection: 

  1. Acts 2:42-47
  2. Ephesians 4:1-16
  3. 1 Corinthians 12 

As we read, pray, think and chat with people, let’s think about what we value as a church family. Let’s work at making these values clear, and then let’s make all our decisions according to those values. 

Above all, let’s pray that what we value is what God values. That way,  our decisions will be God honouring, Christ exalting, prayerfully dependant, people, community, nation and world transforming decisions. How exciting! 

Your brother, 

Gus 

The salvation coin

For today’s blog we look at the other side of the coin from 2 weeks ago. What’s the coin? The coin is the tension between God’s sovereignty on the one side and on the other, human responsibility. 

The first side of the coin we looked at was the sovereignty of God in our salvation. That is, God is totally in control of our salvation from beginning to end. Why is that? So that no one may boast before him or anyone else. In my last blog, we were reminded from the Scriptures that God chooses who are his before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3ff).  Clearly our salvation has nothing to do with us if we were chosen by God before we even exist! 

God’s choosing us before the foundation of the world also means there’s great comfort for people in other parts of the world who have not yet heard of the Lord Jesus. Our salvation does not come down to where we were born, whether we are ‘good’ people or ‘bad’ people, if we were born in the West or in the majority world, if we are economically stable or less stable, if we are upper class, lower class, middle class or other class, whether we’re educated, uneducated, male or female;  whether I’m raised in a Christian home, Muslim home, atheist home, secular humanist home, materialistic home or whatever home. Our salvation comes down to the fact that God chose us before the foundation of the world and nothing more. 

The tension is clear. If God chose me then what’s the point in believing, trusting, turning to God in repentance and faith. Surely if God chose me then I can just relax and do what I want! It’s the classic problem of, “I believe but I don’t need to take obedience seriously. I don’t need to go to church, meet with other Christians, read my bible or pray.”  Enter the second side of the salvation coin – our responsibility…

The bible is equally clear that I must respond to Jesus. When I hear the gospel – the good news of salvation through Jesus, I must genuinely turn to Him in repentance and faith. I must turn from my own selfish pride and desires, and turn to Jesus, follow him and be obedient to him. If there is no repentance and turning to Jesus in obedience, then there is no salvation. There are plenty of verses that point to this reality of our responsibility to respond. 

The apostle Peter preached a brilliant Christ centred sermon (Acts 2). Imagine being there! We read that those who listened were moved deeply. “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (That is, what is our responsibility given what we’ve heard?) And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37ff) Of course, the Lord Jesus taught exactly the same thing. He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” That is, the Kingdom has come because the King of that Kingdom has arrived! What should I do? What is my responsibility? I must turn to the King by repenting and believing in him. 

The Bible is clear. God is sovereign over our salvation from beginning to end AND we must respond to that salvation. To be very clear: God is sovereign over our salvation and yet if I don’t respond rightly, then there is no chance of salvation (unless God grants salvation later). God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are the 2 sides of the salvation coin. God’s sovereignty never negates our responsibility and our responsibility never negates God’s sovereignty. How do we deal with this tension?

One of the best places we can go is John 3. In this famous chapter of the Bible, we learn about what it means to be “born again.” The notion of being born again is a controversial one because it has been used to describe fundamentalist Christians. You might have heard it said, “Oh, he is one of those born-again types”. I do sympathise with the critique against fundamentalist Christians. However, the reality is that Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) So, rather than running away from the ‘new birth’, we need to see what the Bible says about being born again not what our culture might say about it.

The idea of the new birth is a helpful way of handling the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Can I ask your question? How much control did you have over your physical birth? Clearly the answer is none. You had no control over your physical birth. So it is with our spiritual new birth. This is the case because, as we have already seen, God is sovereign over our salvation. 

The Apostle Paul talks about the new birth in slightly different terms. He writes in Ephesians 2, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved..” Here Paul talks about the new birth as being ‘made alive’. We were dead and now we are alive. That is something that God does, not us. Dead people cannot believe or repent. They can’t ask for life, nor can they reach out for help. God is the God of the resurrection and he gives life to the spiritually dead. 

What this means is that the Christian faith is not about making good people better but it’s making dead people alive. It’s not about self-improvement, it’s about people needing to be born if they are going to live and it’s about dead people being made alive. 

I wonder if you can see already how this tension of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility might be played out?  If God gave me ‘new birth’ or if God ‘made me alive’, then I start breathing spiritually – so to speak. If I’m given life, then I’m alive! Being alive clearly looks different to being dead! That’s when our responsibility comes into play. If God has given me life, then I need to choose to live with the life he has given me. That life is a life of repentance and faith. We read in Ephesians chapter 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one my boast.” Even our faith is a gift from God so that no one may boast! 

The Apostle Paul again put it like this, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). To put it simply, because God has given me life in him I now exercise my ability to believe and to live by faith in the Son of God. The only way I can do that is if God gives me life and faith first according to his sovereignty. 

Another text that brings this tension together is 1 Thessalonians 1:4. Here the apostle Paul writes, “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”. Can you see from this text the sovereignty of God in choosing his people? God chose them and so when the gospel came to them, it came with deep conviction through the Holy Spirit. The text goes on to show how this deep conviction lead to a profound transformation in the way that they lived. Paul goes on to write in verse nine, “For they themselves report… how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess 1:9-10) This transformation (v9-10) was clearly only possible because God chose them from before the foundation of the world (v4). 

There is a difficult pastoral question that comes out of this. Why does God choose to save some and not others? Why does God choose to give some repentance and faith and not others? What happens to those who God hasn’t chosen?

This is indeed a hard question. So here we go… 

The question to start with is not why God saves some but not others, but why God saves any of us at all! We have all deliberately sinned against God in thought, word and deed and therefore we are spiritually dead. That’s not God’s fault! That is the natural consequence of us trying to run our own lives as we please without reference to God. I don’t deserve salvation. I don’t deserve to see God face to face. If I’m honest with myself I see that I have separated myself from God. What this means is that God does not send necessarily send us to Hell. We walk there ourselves, by our own choice to live independently of God. God in effect says, “Ok, you choose independence, I will honour your choice.” Nothing can be fairer than that!

 It is really important to know, believe and trust that we have put ourselves in this position. And yet!… God in his great mercy has saved some. I don’t know why he chose some while letting others go their own way. I for one will forever be grateful to God that he has stepped into my life and saved me from my own choices. He gave me faith and repentance, life and new birth. 

Hell will not be full of repentant people who missed out somehow. The people in Hell have chosen to be there. That is, they don’t want God or his people and would prefer eternity that way. Sometimes my own free choice can be the most frightening thing imaginable. We desperately need God to intervene in our own free will, grant us genuine repentance and faith so that we can choose him. We need salvation. Perhaps even now you could ask him to give you ever increasing, genuine repentance. 

Our Anglican Prayer book outlines this theology brilliantly in our confession of sins: 

         Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed to much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against the holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us: but thou, oh Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders: spared thou them, oh God, which confess their faults, restore thou them that are penitent, according to the promises declared onto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord: and grant, O most merciful father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy name. Amen 

In the Confession, we see that the problem of sin is our own doing and God grants repentance transformed behaviour even as we genuinely repent. The words of the ‘absolution’ teach again that our genuine repentance which we exercise, actually come from God. “Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do at this present, and the rest of our life here after maybe pure and holy…. 

A picture image to finish:

Imagine that you walked through a gate that had a sign that reads, “Salvation” above it. You are genuinely walking through that gate exercising your own responsibility. Once you are through the gate, you look backwards. Above the gate you’ve just walked through, you read the same sign from the other side. It reads “Chosen”. There’s the tension of the salvation coin. One side says ‘repent and believe’ and the other side says ‘chosen’. The only way I can exercise my responsibility of walking through the salvation gate is if God has chosen me first. 

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.

Was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”  – John Newton 

How are we to live in light of this incredible salvation from God? As we sing in “When I survey the wondrous cross”:  Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life and my all. 

With love, Gus 

Safe at home where I belong

After bible study last night, I got home and watched the late night news. The CEO of FairTrade Australia and New Zealand was being interviewed. Once again I was tempted to despair as I was reminded of the evils of the chocolate industry. I was reminded that today there are more slaves than ever before in history, that children are still trafficked for harvest labour on the cocoa farms. According to Peter Whoriskey from the Washington Post, “Mars, Nestlé and Hershey pledged nearly two decades ago to stop using cocoa harvested by children. Yet much of the chocolate you buy still starts with child labour.” 

Last night on the news, I learned that Nestlé has decided not to do business through the FairTrade system. What that means is that for Nestlé, child labour will continue and the farmers will be paid less for their cocoa than it costs to produce. On the Nestlé website they say that they are the, “World’s leading, Nutrition, Health and Wellbeing Company”. 

I don’t think so, Nestlé. 

One of the harvest kids is quoted by Peter Whoriskey as saying that “he’s hungry, tired and he has a very sore back”.  Needless to say, there’s no Mum or Dad to bring comfort, food, rest and healing. No family for a sense of belonging and value. Just the next bit of scrub to clear. Just the next swing of the machete to look forward to. The kids hardly talk apparently. Their distinctive faces have the commonality of utter emptiness. Nestlé couldn’t care less about nutrition, health and the well being of those kids.  I think I’ve had my last ever KitKat and glass of Milo  – I won’t miss them a bit. 

I promised you that I’d write this blog on the biblical tension between God’s total control over our salvation and our need to genuinely respond. Why on earth would I start with the gut wrenching story of child labour in west Africa? Is it because I want to remind us of the job God has given us as a church family? To reach the ends of the earth with the good news of his Son Jesus Christ  and to seek earthly justice for the poor and the marginalised? Yes! Definitely. Arawang Anglican is not about us. Arawang Anglican has been put here for a purpose. That is, you and I have a purpose. We are here to make disciples of all nations and all generations. We are to seek first Christ’s righteousness in ourselves, in our community, territory, nation and world. As much as I am totally committed to that, it’s not why I started this blog with west Africa. 

I started the blog with west Africa because I was devastated to think of those kids not having any assurance of where they really belong and if they’re loved. Personal assurance is vital to our sense of well-being and health. Imagine if someone you loved deeply came to you and said, “Are you my friend/wife/husband/father/mother/brother/sister because I’m not actually sure that I am? That question would be devastating to both parties. 

See, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty over our salvation boils down to our assurance. Can I be sure that I’m loved, I belong and I’m a child of God? Can I be sure of that? Is there any chance the spiritual equivalent of west Africa could happen to me where I don’t know where my Heavenly Father is, or I can’t be sure even who my Heavenly Father is? I can’t be sure of where I belong because I’ve been taken from my ‘spiritual home’? 

God’s sovereignty is therefore not just abstract, geeky, philosophical, academic theology. If it remains like that, we’ve missed the point! God’s sovereignty over my salvation is about whether I know that I am safe at ‘home’. It’s about my assurance of my safety now and my safety in eternity. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it: “What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ…” I can be assured because God is sovereign, God is faithful and God keeps his word. 

In this blog, I’d like to start by showing you from the Scriptures how God is sovereign over our salvation. He is the initiator, he makes it happen and he will keep his people safe for ever and ever and ever. 

God is Sovereign over my salvation because he chooses who are his. Have a look at these select verses. There are plenty more I could use too: 

A “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Genesis 17:4ff

Here we see that God chose Abraham. 

B “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” Exodus 6:7

Here we see that God chose his people and saved them out of Egypt. 

C “All things have been handed over to me by my father, and no one knows the Son except the father, and no one knows the father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Matt 11:27 

This text shows us the tension between God’s choosing and our responsibility to respond. The text goes on to say, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” So God chooses us and therefore we ‘come to Jesus’. We cannot come to Jesus unless God chose us first. 

D Jesus said, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 11:27-28

Once again this text is helpful in trying to understand the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Jesus says that he has sheep that are known to him and he gives eternal life and they are safe. At the same time Jesus says that his sheep follow him. They are responsible for the action to follow. 

E Jesus said to Paul, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you or harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Acts 18:10

This text is important because we might be tempted to think that because God is sovereign over salvation and he knows where his people are, we don’t need to tell people the good news about Jesus. The opposite is true though. Precisely because Jesus said that his people are in Corinth, Paul is told to go and find them, speak and not to be silent. Paul didn’t know which one were which. I don’t know which ones are which, but God does! Imagine if Jesus said to you, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you or harm you, for I have many in Kambah, Tuggeranong and in Canberra.” I think there is truth in that and so we are reminded of the job we have to do in God’s strength. 

F Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Ephesians 1:3-4

G Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

H Paul wrote, “and you were dead in the trespasses and sins……But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great Love with which he loved us made us alive in Christ.” Ephesians 2:1ff

Christianity has never been about making good people better people. Rather it’s about making spiritually dead people alive in Christ as totally new creations. Needless to say, spiritually dead people cannot initiate salvation. We need to be made alive by a Sovereign Saviour. 

God is indeed sovereign over our salvation. From these texts we can see that God knows whose are his people since before the foundation of the world, he makes them known to Jesus who then sends his disciples out into the world to find them. When they are found, they come (not necessarily immediately) and their souls, even if their bodies die, are kept safe in God’s care for eternity. God never loses his sheep. Praise Him.

A good friend of mine, David Greeff was a missionary for many years in Namibia. He is now the General Secretary of the WA branch of CMS. David always signs off his emails like this:

“Until His nets are full,

David.”

I love this sign off. It reminds me that God is Sovereign over the salvation of his people. He knows how many fish will be in the net and he knows them by name – not one will be lost. David’s sign off reminds me that as Jesus called the first disciples to be ‘fishers of men’, we must serve and serve faithfully until all his nets are full. Some are teachers and pastors, some evangelists, some governors, some financially provide, some work behind the scenes. We all must play our part. Only then, when his nets are full, will Jesus return, roll up the pages of history and say “enough’s enough let’s all go home”.

There are important questions that arise out of this. What about the people who are not ‘chosen’, what must I do in response to what God has done? For those, you’ll have to wait until next week. 

Those poor kids in west Africa were taken from where they belong. They had no parents and no hope in this world. Because God is sovereign over the salvation of his people, this will never be the case for our souls. We can be assured. We will never be taken from where we belong. We will never find that our Father can’t be found. We are safe. God planned it, bought us, sealed and keeps us. Not one of God’s people will be lost and God keeps his promises. Eternal life means eternal life!

We will always know where we belong and we will always know we are loved. 

With love

Gus 

A heart warming and glorious truth

A glorious and heart warming truth
Over the next few blogs we are going to think about a glorious, heart warming truth. We are going to be thinking about the sovereignty of God. The reason why we’re looking at this now is because soon in Hebrews we are going to open a can of worms! That can is this: Can we lose our salvation? This question of our assurance and whether or not we can lose our salvation is akin to asking, “Is God sovereign over our salvation?” So over the next few weeks we’re gong to have a look at the sovereignty of God generally and then the sovereignty of God particularly as it relates to our salvation. I’m not going to be able to deal with this issue in full during the sermons and so I intend to cheat and use the blogs to help us out. I pray the sovereignty of God will be a glorious, heart warming truth for you too. 
I love that God is sovereign. I love that nothing takes him by surprise. I love that He is before all things and so never reacts to anything. I love that he is always proactive. I love that he knows what I need before I ask for it. I love that he knows my thoughts and knows what I need before I even ask. I love that he is totally in charge and in control. Nothing takes him by surprise and nothing will ever thwart his purposes. 
This is truly wonderful news. Imagine if God was 1% sovereign, or 80% sovereign or 99% sovereign. Imagine that he was only partly in control of what’s going on in our world, his plans for his people and his plans for the world. We would all be in serious trouble.  We would be in terrible trouble with no assurance, no real comfort and no hope. I truly love that God is sovereign. 
God’s sovereignty is tied to his Godness. Without his Sovereignty, God is not God. God’s sovereignty does not mean that he can do anything though. God cannot do anything that is contrary to his perfect character. He cannot do anything evil or that will thwart his purposes. There is wonderful comfort in this. It means that God is sovereign over the COVID crisis. He is sovereign over evil in the world, even if he cannot and will not ever be the source of evil. I love Genesis 50:20 which helps us understand this tension,  “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
I remember going for a bush walk with my family a few years ago. There was a particular point in the walk where the grass got taller that our Jo! She couldn’t see where she was going and it was impossible to see her! She had simply stopped walking. I approached her and held her hand and she was happy to keep pressing on. Why? Because she could see? No! The grass was still taller than her. She was happy to keep walking because she trusted the one who could see – me! We can’t often see the path as God’s people but we hold the hand of the one who can see, who is sovereign and good – and so we press on. 
God’s sovereignty poses a significant challenge for us though. If God is good and sovereign then how can he let bad things happen to good people? Boy! That’s a tough one. The only way I can get my head around this is by looking at his Son, the Lord Jesus dying on the cross. Why does God in his sovereignty allow bad things happen to Jesus – the ultimate good person? He died on the cross so that his people could be forgive. Jesus’ death was good. That’s why we call Easter Friday, Good Friday. How can Easter Friday be good? Because in the death of Christ we see the death of death itself. In the death of Christ we can have our sins paid for. Good Friday is indeed good. Jesus is a final fulfilment of Genesis 50:20, “as for you, you meant evil against me (to kill me on a cross), but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive (ransomed, restored, healed and forgiven), as they are today”. We often cannot see the good that God is bringing about by terrible events. Sometimes we can see it (like the death of Christ) but often we can’t.
The martyrs who have paid the ultimate price for their faith in Christ appeal to the sovereignty of God when they cry out, “‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longe, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were killed as they themselves has been.” (Rev 6:10) God knows there’ll be more martyrs! Those might include you. The might include me, who knows!  God knows and he is sovereign. I don’t know why he would allow this but I trust that evil people mean evil and God in his sovereign goodness uses evil for good. Praise Him!
Let’s be people who walk through the long grass – not by sight but by faith, trusting the One who can see and will fulfil his purposes for us. 
“To the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen”  – Jude 25

A year to pause, spend time lamenting, listening and trusting

I’d imagine that at some point during every generation, people would wonder  if things could get any worse. I’m reading the classic piece of Aussie literature, “A fortunate Life” by A.B Facey at the moment. ‘Berts’ life is so incredibly hard that I feel my own generation is just soft. Imagine working from dawn to dusk from the age of 8. No stable family, no place to belong. Serving in Gallipoli only to survive the Depression and to be profoundly impacted by the Second World War. Despite his life, Facey truly believed that his life was fortunate. 

Given the state of everything that is going on around our world and in our own country, how are we to  be thinking life? One way is to rest in pragmatism. Just do the next thing in front of us. For me that’s making sure Zoom church is organised,  people get visited and (hopefully) encouraged, phone calls are made, blogs and sermons get written, people and our Arawang ministry get prayed for, the bible gets studied, administration, planning gets done and there are always the next Zoom meetings to look forward to! Life is busy and by focusing on the next thing, I don’t really need to think about life. 

Pragmatism is a good thing but it’s not the main thing. When we are staring at storms and uncertainty we also need to stop from time to time and reflect on the things of God. How does God want us to think about life in 2020? Are we to see it as a waste of time? A year of survival and treading water? 

I think God would want us to lament. Around the world we see racial division, violence, economic hardship, sickness, fear of death and massive amounts of uncertainty. Biblical lament is when we cry out to God and ask why? We are not looking for solutions, we are just sitting with the fact of our broken world and asking why. When we lament we cry out to God out of need. It’s not a list of complaints but engagement with God in the context of pain and trouble. 

In the cultural West, we don’t do this very well because our culture wants to minimise pain and maximise pleasure. There’s no room for lament in that! Christian communities that are driven by pleasure, success, celebration and control do not want lament for our world because our lives are already in a good place – and if they’re not we simply ignore it and press on.  We need to be a people who challenge that. Our world is broken and we need to lament. As we lament more, church be a place of rest where Jesus would be people’s refuge. We don’t want to be pragmatists who withdraw from the world. We need to listen to the worries of our communities and lament with them.  Part of suffering is loneliness because of the busyness of brothers and sisters in Christ.

 I think God would want us to rest in the fact that he is our unchanging Heavenly Father. As we pray in the prayerbook, “Be present, O merciful God…, protect us so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may repose upon thy eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord”. We read in Psalm 102,

“ Do not take me away, Oh my God, in 

the midst of my days,

your years go on through all 

generations. 

In the beginning you laid the 

foundations of the earth, 

and the heavens are the works of 

your hands. 

They will perish, but you remain; they will 

wear out like a garment.

Like clothing you will change them

and they will be discarded.

But you remain the same,

and your years will never end.”

When we face storms and uncertainty, let’s create space to be with people so we can lament and listen . Let’s make time to pause and think about God. Let’s rest in the unchanging God who said never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” 

With love and the promise of my ongoing prayers,

Gus 

Thursday Blog – Lord increase my devotion!

In my life stage – with 4 kids, there are plenty of games. “Dad, would you like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini?” “Dad, if you were stuck on an island, what is the one thing you would take with you?” “Dad, would you prefer….?” 


Only a few months ago we had to think a little bit like this for real! We were warned by the SES that we might need to evacuate our home because of the fires. What would we take?  So, us Robbos diligently got things together, putting our valuables in the fire box. 


My one thing that will always find its way to the fire box is a gift that I received upon my ordination as a deacon in December 2010. I have treasured this book. It’s called “A New Manual of Devotions” and the copy that I own is the 17th edition, published in 1738. I’m not sure when the first edition was published. I’ve had a brief search, with no success. 

One of the reasons why I love this book so much is that every known ordained minister on one side of my family has been the steward of this book. My father, who sourced it from a family member in Canada put together a family tree highlighting all the holders of it back to 1740. It is signed Will Deane, 1740, W.H Deane (undated), William Deane, 1868. Others have had it since, but couldn’t quite bring themselves to sign it as I can’t! My link to the Deane family is through my Great Grandmother, who’s maiden name was Deane. 

PastedGraphic-1.tiff

I regularly use the book for my personal prayer time and I thought for this blog, I’d modernise a portion or two of today’s prayer for you. This morning’s prayer reflects some of the work of the Holy Spirt, who is she subject of our Sunday sermon. So I thought it might be helpful for you and me as I continue to prepare for Sunday.  I pray you find these very early prayers as rich and encouraging as I do. 

A Prayer for Thursday Morning.

Lord, the Creator and Governor of the World! You are of infinite power, wisdom and goodness, and your tender mercy is on display in all that you do. I, your unworthy servant find myself falling low on my knees before your Throne of Grace, to renew the offering of my life in humble praise and adoration to your great and glorious majesty. Blessed is your Name, O God, for sending your Son Jesus Christ into the world, to die for the redemption of mankind, and for all the benefits and gifts I have received as a result. I

I confess, O Lord, that I am not able to please you without your help. Since you have promised to give your Holy Spirit to all who humbly ask for it while trusting in your gracious promises, please help me and enable me to do my duty towards you and towards all people. Please give me a spirit of true and intense devotion to you my Creator and my Redeemer, with an honest, meek, and humble mind, in every condition and state of life, in which you have been pleased to place me.

Oh Lord convince me more and more of the worthless and emptiness of earthly enjoyments, that my heart being lifted up above the pleasures of this life, so it may be surely fixed where true and lasting joy are to be found. Please move me to seek your Kingdom and your righteousness first. Please move me to seek your favour and the testimony of a clear conscience before all things trusting that world could not v provide me with this. Please let neither hopes nor fears neither pleasure nor profit, be ever able to draw from me from my duty to you, being steadfast and unmovable, I may always give myself to the work of the Lord, knowing that my labour for him will never be in vain

And now Lord, I humbly pray that you would take me, and all that are near and dear to me under the care and protection of your good providence. We are safe as long as we are in your hands….”

As I pray these prayers, I am regularly reminded that these prayers were written in days where people didn’t take for granted so much that I do today. The writer will often give thanks to God for visiting him in the night past to protect him and to give him rest. The writer will often stop to give thanks to God for His provision of health and safety in a way that makes me feel that he was aware that his life could be taken at any moment. Hs prayers reflect a determination to express love for God, gratitude to him for his salvation and therefore a whole life devoted to God’s service. I find them deeply encouraging and I pray that you have enjoyed this one too. 
Here’s a couple of reflective questions arising from this prayer for your encouragement: 


If someone followed me around for a week, what or who would they say I am are devoted to?

In light of eternity, how might you feel about what they would say? 


If someone saw my bank statements, what would they say I am devoted to?
If someone saw me in my moments of rest and recreation, what would they say gives my heart rest? 


What do you think it means to seek the Kingdom and his righteousness? 
Do you think that people who know and love you most would notice that your life over the last 5-10 years reflects a slow and steady increase in your “spirit of true and intense devotion to God our Creator and Redeemer”? Or would they say you’ve being treading water and not much has changed? 


Now, may the God of peace Himself make you holy through and through. May your whole being, spirit, soul, and body be kept faithful to Christ at His coming  – whenever that may be.


With love and the promise of my prayers,
Gus 

The Bible: Can I be sure of what I’m reading?


Over the last two weeks we have been looking at the fact that God expresses himself through his Word. We can only know God because he expresses himself. You’ll no doubt remember that he has expressed himself in creation, in the bible, in the gospel and most fully in his Son Jesus. 
After last week’s blog, someone asked to me, “I believe that the bible is God’s Word, but how do we know that we are interpreting it correctly?” This is an excellent question and so I thought I’d write about it for the next few blogs. This question goes right back to Adam and Eve. Do you remember how Adam and Eve fell into temptation, sinned and were cast out from the presence of God? It all started from doubt being cast over the authority of the Word of God. We read, 
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1)
When the Serpent asked, “Did God really say…?” Adam and Eve became tempted to doubt the clarity and the authority of God’s Word. The result? They rejected God’s authority, did what they wanted and the rest is history as they say. People have been doing the same since and the consequences for us personally, for family and society as whole clear for the Christian person.  We might search and search for solutions to the problems we face but as long as we doubt the authority of the Bible, consequences will be the same. The question of whether we can trust the bible in what it says is therefore a vitally important question. 
There are many areas of Christian thought this question relates to: It relates to history as we consider how the bible was first written and then copied by scribes. Do we know that the bible we have today is actually God’s words originally given to the apostolic human authors? It also relates to biblical clarity. Theologians who study the clarity of scripture work in the doctrine of  the ‘Perspicuity of Scripture’. Or sometimes the doctrine is more helpfully termed the ‘Clarity of Scripture’.  Thirdly, this question relates to hermeneutics which is the discipline of working out what the text of scripture actually says and how to interpret them accurately as they are intended.  
For this blog, I’m going to deal with the first one: The historical question of whether we can trust how the bible has come down to us. 
As I hold my bible, how can I trust that the words I have in my hand are actually the words given to the apostles and prophets?  If the Word of God was given to the Apostles and there is a global case of ‘Whispers’, then what we have now might not be the Word of God anymore. How tragic that would be. The good news is that we can be very sure that the words we have have been faithfully passed down to us. The scriptures were indeed ‘God breathed’ as God carried the writers along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21). God did not simply dictate what they should write however. God used their personalities, backgrounds, cultures and history to shape what they would write. This is hard to understand but what it means is that humans genuinely authored the texts, while God was superintending at the same time. Like Jesus is fully man and fully God, the scriptures are genuinely written by men while they are genuinely and authoritatively God’s Word.

The question remains though: Is the lovely bible in my hand today genuinely the Word of God or has some been lost in translation through the generations?
An enormous amount of work has been done in this area. In fact one of my New Testament lecturers, Dr. Alan Mugridge who is also recognised as a Papyrologist studied how the early texts were copied with a particular focus on scribal practices. His work is deeply encouraging because it demonstrates how meticulous the early scribes were. Having said that, like in any discipline there were some scribes who were quite clumsy. Alan has a meticulous personality and so slowly and steadily studying copy after copy of the New Testament manuscripts was incredible. Us students often wished Alan wasn’t so meticulous when he was marking our work! We used to call him Captain Details. 
What this area of study teaches us is that we have a massive number of very early copies of the Bible. The discrepancies between copies are very small in number and in importance. In fact, you can read the discrepancies at the bottom of your own bible pages. You can read things like, “Some manuscripts have….”, or “The earliest manuscripts omit…” etc. We can be sure that 99% of what we read in our bibles is what the original human authors wrote. 
We can have some fun with this too. Alexander the Great (300s BC) is an undisputed person of history who had a whirlwind career. What we know about him is understood from 36 manuscript copies of Arrian’s Anabasis of Alexander, all of which depend on a single manuscript of the work copied out around the year 1200! That’s 1500 years after his death!  You can read about this in “Is Jesus History” by John Dickson. Dickson  goes on to say that “there are 5500 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament”.
Another example is Caesar, of whom we largely trust what we know. However, Darrell Bock who is a world leader in New Testament studies teaches that only 12 manuscripts are essential for determining the wording of Caesar’s account. The earliest manuscript is from the 9th century – a full 900 years removed from the events! You can read about this here:      
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/sources-for-caesar-and-jesus-compared/
The original manuscripts of the New Testament are within one generation of the actual events and the copies are literally in the thousands. Clearly the greater the number of manuscripts, the easier it is to detect a variant. From these experts and others, we can trust that we have a far better and more reliable text of the New Testament than of any other ancient work whatever, and the amount  of uncertainty is pretty small.
So in terms of history, we can trust that when we read the Word of God, we are reading the words that we are meant to read. Where there is doubt, we have notes to allow us to study the differences and we’ll see time and time again that the variances make no real difference to the plain reading of the text.
Next week we’ll explore the ‘Clarity of Scripture’ and simply understanding the plain reading of the words on the page. For now, my prayer for each and every one of you is that God might strengthen your faith in His trustworthy Word. I pray that we would follow the Psalmist in “delighting in [God’s word] and meditating on it day and night” (Psalm 1:2)

Your brother in Christ,

Gus 

2nd May 2020

The God who expresses himself – part 2

Last week we began exploring what the Biblical notion of ‘Word’ means. The Bible asserts that God has spoken and revealed himself. He has done that through his Word. We saw that we all express ourselves using words and God is no different. God has expressed himself first when he  created the heavens and the earth by speaking his Word. Secondly, God expressed himself through his Son, the Word of God made flesh. This week will see the other two ways that God has spoken. First,  through the written Word of God found in the Scriptures and second, through the ‘Word’ of the gospel message itself.

God has spoken through His Word, the Bible

I remember when I was at theological college, I learned for the first time that about 3000 times in the Old Testament we read, “Thus saith the Lord”. The Old Testament clearly asserts that God has spoken through the Old Testament Scriptures. Indeed the prophet Isaiah opens with the words, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken…” and again further on in verse 10, “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom..”. As we arrive at the New Testament, Jesus affirms the authority of the Old Testament. We read Jesus responding to the temptations of the Devil by quoting the Old Testament scriptures: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. (Matt 4:3, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16) The point is clear: As a body needs food to survive, so the soul needs the scriptures to survive. When Jesus reinstates Peter as a pastor, he commissions him to feed God’s sheep. The role of the pastor then is to feed the souls of God’s people with the Word of God. 

An important question follows. We can see easily see that the Old Testament is the Word of God by which God reveals himself and speaks to his people. How can we be sure that the New Testament is equally the Word of God? Firstly we need to look at Jesus words. In Luke 5:1 we read, “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing on [Jesus] to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake…” The New Testament writers, therefore, saw Jesus’ words as the Word of God. Jesus himself saw his words as the Word of God. After Jesus spoke, he said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Jesus also makes the claim in John 10 that as the Good Shepherd, he leads God’s people to eternal life via his word. In the first 5 verses of chapter 10,  the word ‘voice’ is used 3 times. The shepherd leads his sheep via his word – the Word of God. 

So we can see that the Old Testament is the Word of God. Equally, Jesus’ words are the word of God. What about the rest of the New Testament authors? For this, we need to go to Jesus’ words to the original disciples. In John 16, Jesus speaks to them about the role of the Holy Spirit. One of the outcomes of Jesus’ death is the coming of the Holy Spirit – The Spirit of Truth (John 16:12). The Spirit of Truth will “guide [them] into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell [them] what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you…That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and maker it known to you.” Here we read that God’s Spirit will give the original disciples the ‘Truth’. One of these original disciples was Peter who later wrote, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophets’ own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21) 

The role of the Holy Spirit in ‘carrying along’ the New Testament writers is affirmed by the Apostle Paul when he writes to his apprentice Timothy: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work…. Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out season; correct, rebuke and encourage  – with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5). The word God-breathed is literally “God Spirited”. In Old Testament Hebrew there is a wordplay on ‘spirit’ and ‘breath’ which has been carried into New Testament Greek. We see this again when we read that the Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12 and Revelation 1:16).

From this brief study, we can see therefore that the Bible – the Old Testament and New Testament alike are God’s authoritative Word to his people.  To listen to God is primarily to listen to the Bible as we read it. God may well lead, prompt, or urge subjectively through peoples’ consciences, but he authoritatively speaks objectively through his Word – the Bible. 

God has expressed himself in the gospel as the Word of God.

As we move to much of the New Testament, we read that the Word of God is not only the words of Jesus or the bible but the actual message about God’s work of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We see this in James 1:18: “He chose to give us birth through the of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all that he created”. James is deliberately ambiguous here about what aspect of the Word he’s writing about. Is he referring to Jesus, or the Bible or the gospel? The reality is he’s writing about all three because we hear about gospel Word of salvation in the Word of God the bible as we read about Jesus the Word of God made flesh!  Again Peter helps us see this: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through. The living ad enduring word of God.” 

As a preacher and teacher of the bible, one of my favourite passages in the whole of scripture is 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself… and has committed to us the message (Literally, ‘word’) of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” What does God express of himself through the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus? He expresses his great love for people (Romans 5:8), he expresses his justice as the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23), he expresses his mercy as Jesus takes that punishment in our place as our substitute (Isaiah 53:5; Hebrews 9:27-28; Mark 10:45). 

Well that’s a long, 2-week answer to a short question, “What does the Word of God actually refer to?” A foundation of the Christian faith is that God has spoken and expressed himself via his spoken Word when he created, through his Word, Jesus through His Word the Bible; and through his Word the gospel. God has spoken! 

The only question for us is, will we listen? Let’s join the songwriter Stuart Townend and pray:

Speak, O Lord, as we come to You

To receive the food of Your Holy Word.

Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;

Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,

That the light of Christ might be seen today

In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.

Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us

All Your purposes for Your glory.

Teach us, Lord, full obedience,

Holy reverence, true humility;

Test our thoughts and our attitudes

In the radiance of Your purity.

Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see

Your majestic love and authority.

Words of pow’r that can never fail—

Let their truth prevail over unbelief.

Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;

Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—

Truths unchanged from the dawn of time

That will echo down through eternity.

And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,

And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.

Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built

And the earth is filled with Your glory.

Songwriters: Townend Stuart Christopher Andrew / Getty Keith

Speak O Lord lyrics © Thank You Music Ltd.

The God who expresses himself – Part 1

Dear sisters and brothers of Arawang,
Last week someone from our church family asked the question: “What does the biblical word, ‘Word’ actually mean? It’s a great question and so I thought I’d use this question as the basis for my blog this week.

At one level, it’s a really easy answer: the biblical word ‘logos’, which we often render ‘word’ means exactly what we would expect: the noise we make or the letters we write to express information. The Oxford dictionary defines a word as ‘a single, distinct, meaningful element of speech or writing’.  

The word ‘express’ is important when understanding the biblical idea of ‘Word’. In all of life, words are used for expression to make oneself known. The bible is no different. I’ll give you an example: You can know that I’m tall, big, married with 4 kids, am a parish minister, etc. You can know all that about me without me speaking to you. You can find that about me in any number of ways. However, you can only know me personally if I express myself to you using words. Our culture acknowledges this. When asked if we know someone, we might respond “I know of them”. Knowing ‘of’ someone is not the same as ‘knowing someone’. The difference between the two is whether or not the person in question has expressed themselves to you. Only then can we say, “we know someone”.

In that sense, being known and knowing someone is one of the great privileges of life. When someone knows me, it means they know my likes, dislikes, hopes, fears, strengths, weaknesses, motivators, goals, directions, reactions, damage, vulnerabilities, trigger points, and much more. They can only know me if I express myself to them using words. As someone expresses themselves to us, it means that we are honoured such that we are deemed worthy of receiving that information. 

We are to understand the biblical word, ‘Word’ in exactly the same way. God has expressed himself to us. We mustn’t lose sight of the enormous privilege we have in this. God has chosen to express  himself to us.  This is the essence of the concept of God’s Word in the Bible. 

So, how does God use the ‘Word’ to express himself to us? God expresses himself to us in four ways: 1, In his creation;  2, in His Son, Jesus; and 3, in the Bible, 4; in the gospel. In this blog, we’ll look at the first two. Next week, we’ll look at the last two. 

1 God expresses himself in creation:

In the Genesis 1 Creation story we read, “And God said….” before something came into existence.  We could comment on that by saying. And God ‘expressed himself, saying…” One of the best passages to understand this is John 1: 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him….”  I could legitimately comment on John 1 by writing, “In the beginning God expressed himself, and God’s expression was with God and God’s expression was God. All things were made through him….”

What this means is that God expressed himself in creation because he created by his word. When he spoke ‘his Word’, he created. What did he express of himself in creation? God expressed that he is good, powerful, generous, he loves beauty, he is organised and loves order, he wants to be known and glorified as Creator. The Apostle Paul, put it like this, “For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made” (Romans 1: 19-20). 

God does not express himself as moral or just in creation though. For that, we need to go to the other 3 ways God expresses himself. 

2 God expresses himself in his Word Incarnate – Jesus.

God expresses himself most clearly in his Son, the Word made human. John goes on to write, “And the Word (expression of God) became flesh and dwelt among us…” (v14). When we read the gospels and we see Jesus, we see what God is like. Jesus is the “exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). We can not only know about God but we can know him! We can personally know that God is moral, kind, compassionate, just, righteous, merciful is on the side of the weak and the vulnerable is good, etc. As Rico Tice, the evangelist put it, “When we see Jesus, all our questions about God, stop”. 

John closes his prelude to his gospel by writing exactly this. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Jesus is God’s Word who expresses God perfectly. Indeed, Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?”’ (John 14: 9)

We all want to be known and loved. It is one of the deepest human needs. Even though God is totally satisfied relationally within Himself as “Tri-Unity”  – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God wants to be known and loved by us too. So he could have a relationship with us he spoke and expressed  himself to us by his Word, Jesus.  

I have chosen the idea of ‘expression’ to explain the idea of Word. There are others that are helpful also. One of the most popular is ‘thoughts’. The Greek word Logos that we translate word is the word that brings us the word logic. So theology means Theos (God) + Logos (thoughts/word). Theology is, therefore, the  discipline of thinking about God, hopefully logically. 

Next week we’ll have a look at the last two ways God expresses himself. The third is through his Word, the bible and the fourth is through the Word as the gospel message.

May we join Paul and grow and pray that God may give us “the spirit of wisdom and of revelation (his expression of himself) in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you know what is the hope to which he has called you…” 

Yours in Christ,

Gus 

17th April 2020

How can we experience true spiritual rest?

A Bible translating missionary in South Africa had great difficulty translating the word ‘faith’. He resolved to leave a gap every time the word came up while he thought about the best way to communicate what ‘faith’ meant. One day a runner came sprinting in with a very important message from the next village along. Panting, the runner handed over the message, then collapsed into a hammock utterly exhausted. The missionary was excited. “What was it that you just did in the hammock?… What did you just do?” The word that the runner used to describe being able to collapse into the hammock, knowing it would hold him up, was the word that the missionary used to translate the word faith.

We can rightly see from this illustration that faith and rest cannot be separated. Our world, our lives, our worries and even our religiosity can leave us feeling ready to collapse into a hammock exhausted. Faith in Christ will lead us to experience rest and contentment. In our sermon for this Sunday, we’re looking at the notion of rest. 

I don’t know about you but I am a fan of rest! And even though the thought of rest is a nice and simple one, rest is actually a complicated area of Christian theology. I know I can’t possibly deal with it all properly on Sunday morning, so I thought I’d cheat and write a bit about it here! Let’s have a brief look at the Bible’s idea of rest.

The notion of rest begins right back at the beginning, at the original creation of the universe. The picture that God has given us is that the creation happened in 7 days. As we read Genesis 1, we notice quickly that day 7, which is all about rest, is the only day that has no beginning and end. It is missing the refrain that all the other days have had, that ‘there was morning and evening, the [day of the week]”. This hints that the end of creation is therefore ongoing and eternal rest. And in our passage this week, God refers to heaven as rest. So rest came on the final day of creation and rest is to come on the final day. We can enjoy rest now and look forward to complete rest in heaven. As scholar Graeme Goldsworthy puts it, “The end of creation is not Adam and Eve in the garden, but Christ and the gospel”. The end of the Bible’s story is the new creation in which God and his redeemed people live together at peace, at rest.

So does that mean that rest is the goal of life? Maybe you know someone who lives for rest here and now in this life? Someone who makes all their decisions so they can maximise their recreation and downtime? Well, the Bible says that to live for rest here and now in this creation misses the whole point of life. It’s why I find aspects of our retirement culture so devastatingly tragic. To live our lives for the sole goal of a strong retirement is to miss the point and will ultimately end at worst with us feeling empty or at least, being distracted from what we have been called too. That’s not to say that recreation or downtime are bad things, or things that we need to avoid. After all, God himself rested on the final day of creation and directed us to rest regularly when he gave us the commandment to “Keep the Sabbath”. The problem comes when we take those good things that should be a part of our lives and make them the whole point of our lives.

When God commanded us to rest regularly by keeping the Sabbath, he was giving us a weekly reminder that eternal rest is on the way. As we were reminded last week, we are pilgrims saved by Jesus on the cross and we are lead home via His Word. He is our shepherd who leads us by his voice or his Word (John 10:4-5). 

Does this mean that we can’t get a glimpse of real rest until we’re home with Him in the new creation? Not at all! Jesus gives us a beautiful invitation that has become one of the most popular verses of all time: “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). According to Jesus then what is this rest? The only way to a proper understanding of what Jesus is talking about is to look at the context. The verses above read, “All things have been handed over to me by my father, and no one knows the Father accept the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”  He then goes on to invite people to come to him for rest. There is therefore an inseparable link between spiritual rest and knowledge of the Father. We could go as far as saying that “spiritual rest is knowledge of the father though Jesus”. 

Does that help us understand more about what our rest is going to be like in the new creation? It’ll be a rest that comes from a perfect relationship with the Father through Jesus. Not just knowing about God but knowing him personally through Jesus. That’s the point of our Sabbath rest! To spend a day a week particularly devoted to stopping work so that we can know God! Our knowledge of God won’t be perfect until the eternal rest in the new creation, but I can know God genuinely now, even though it’s limited. As I exercise my personal relationship with God through Jesus, in prayer and Bible reading and the means of grace like the sacraments, my soul finds true rest. 

The more we know God, the more we will trust him and in turn, the more soul rest we’ll find. No longer burdened with heavily loads but content, as though collapsing in a hammock after a tough days work. How do we know God in increasing measure? You’ll have to wait for the sermon… See you on Zoom!