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. 

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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!

"Corona" comes from crown: who's actually King?

“Corona” comes from crown: who’s actually King?
I pray this finds you all well given all the changes we’re facing. I have been praying the evening prayer:
“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”.

I find it fascinating that the Coronavirus is so named because under a microscope the virus looks like a crown. There are constant contenders for the throne of God’s Kingdom.  As Christians we know there is a real King with a crown – Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The Kingdom of God is indeed at hand because the King has arrived!  As I’ve written before, the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who has the scrolls of history in his hands and knows us by name. Even though Jesus is God’s King who sits on the throne, we do see ‘wannabe’ competitors to the Crown constantly – the Coronavirus is only one. The writer to the Hebrews puts it aptly, “Now in putting everything in subjection to [Jesus], he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” Isn’t that the truth! There are pretender crowns and kings all over the place. Coronavirus is one, I am all too often one and I suspect I’m not alone.  I am reminded of the words of the general confession in the Anglican Prayer Book,

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we have strayed from your ways like lost sheep,  we have followed too much  the devices and desires of our own hearts,  we have offended against your holy laws.”
When I follow the devices and desires of my own heart, I am pretending that I have Jesus’ crown on my own head.  This image helps me remember what sin is.  How good it is that the Crown is already being worn by the God’s son, the Lord Jesus Christ! The one who forgives those who repent, take their false crowns off and put them back in their rightful place – on the head of Christ. The elders in Revelation 4 do this: “They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,  to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev 4:10-11)

Ultimately we need to remember that these crown pretenders – the Coronavirus, and many other ‘crowns’ though they pretend to hold the world in their hands, they don’t.  It has been allowed to thrive by the Lord Jesus himself so that God’s good and perfect purposes might be fulfilled. We see this clearly in the book of Job. 

God gives permission for Satan to inflict Job. God says, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him, do not stretch out your hand.” As you know, the Satan is trying to prove that the only reason why Job worships God is because God has blessed him with earthly health, wealth and success. Take Job’s health, wealth and success away and surely Job will curse God! (1:9) The good purpose for which God allows Job to suffer is to prove that God is God. If Job worships God because of earthly health, wealth and success, then health, wealth and success are Job’s god! God will not share his glory with health, wealth and success or any other pretender to the throne and so he allows Satan to take them away. The consequence? Job suffers terribly, but according to God’s instructions for satan, Job never loses his life. Did Job worship God because of what God gave him? No! He worshipped God even after he had lost everything! He bends the knee again – and acknowledges God to be God: “…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes have seen you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6)

We know that eventually in the new creation Jesus will have removed this pretender crown: “He will wipe away every tear from [his people’s] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, not crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making everything new”. Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  (Rev 21:4) 

Jesus wears the crown and our hope is sure! Let’s be a people who are diligent about loving our neighbours in this time of crisis, while we acknowledge Christ the King as our Lord and God.  

Your brother,Gus 

Home Church Hubs

Dear Sisters and Brothers of Arawang,

Yesterday our Diocese had a communication from Bishop Mark that following the Prime Minister’s measures to combat the COVID-19 virus the Anglican Bishops of NSW/ACT had decided that no public church services will be held until further notice. For us, this is effective immediately. For rural dioceses and smaller rural parishes this comes into effect next week. You can read Bishop Mark’s communication via the Diocesan website https://anglicancg.org.au/cessation-of-services/

In this communication, I would like to: 

  • Encourage you that this is not new for followers of Jesus Christ,
  • Set a way forward for us so that we can still meet together around the Word of God to sing his praises, pray, care for others, be cared for ourselves and serve our community;
  • Update you about the City Bible Forum (City Legal) mission. 

The people of God have been meeting in weird and wonderful ways since the very early church. The Apostle John wrote to one of his little churches, saying, “Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not write with pen and ink; instead I hope to see you soon, and we can talk together face to face.” (3 John 1:13). This church was likely a house church. For John not meeting face to face was a grief and for us it will be too. I would much rather not use keyboard and screen but see you face to face! However sometimes second best becomes best because of the circumstances we find ourselves in. 

Of course the persecuted church have been meeting “underground”, in small secret groups, since New Testament times. According to OpenDoors, North Korea has been the most dangerous place to follow Jesus since 2002. Believers face violence and extreme levels of pressure in all areas of life. Despite this, the underground church in North Korea is alive! We are asked to pray for the church there that “God would strengthen and encourage believers in prisons, labour camps and remote areas and that God will be preparing and equipping the underground church to be salt and light in [their community]”. 

Of course we are not stopping gathering because of persecution but because of the COVID 19 virus. God willing we will be strengthened as a church family because of this strange season we find ourselves in as we continue to meet together in creative ways. It is vitally important that we continue to meet because we are saved into a body of relationships. Just like coals in a campfire: they all burn brightly when they’re together, if one rolls out into the dirt, the whole fire is weaker for it and the coal on its own will grow dim and shortly go out. This is why God says through the writer to the Hebrews: 

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not 

neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Let’s not allow any coals to roll out of the ‘campfire’! 

So that the Arawang ‘campfire’ can burn brightly, I propose the following way forward:

Church Hubs over Zoom meetings:

I have worked hard to create a series of smaller groups of people from within our church family. My intention is that these groups (or “Church Hubs”) will meet together on Sunday mornings in the home of their group coordinator. According to the directive from the Bishop, each group needs to be around Bible study size. Each group would have a coordinator, access to a computer and a strong internet connection. Each group will then connect together for church via an online Zoom meeting. Each meeting will sing, pray and listen to the sermon online via the online presentation. I will be in contact with each coordinator before Sunday to make sure we are organised and ready to go. 

While we are meeting in this way, we will be having one combined live online service beginning at 9am. I apologise for any inconvenience this causes, however I believe all of us meeting together at the same time and connected online, even if we are in different locations, will aid our sense of togetherness in this time of “isolation”.

Each group coordinator will be in contact with their group members soon. For now, it’d be good for you to plan that you’re off to a church hub on Sunday morning and expect a phone call or email from your group coordinator letting you know where.

Of course these groups can be missional too. Feel free to ask neighbours and friends to join you. It’s always easier to invite someone to a home church than a traditional church building! Maybe when we meet together at the end of all this, God would have grown his kingdom and strengthened his people! I pray so. 

Please be up to date via our online presence

Please do keep informed via our Facebook page, which you’ll find here, https://www.facebook.com/Arawang-Anglican-Church-1330667650409954/ and our website which you’ll find at https://arawanganglican.com.au. I will be continuing to meet with and visit people as usual. Please be in touch if you would like to meet.

Please continue your regular Bible study meetings

There are several Bible study groups currently meeting and they will continue to meet. I will remain in contact with Bible study leaders.

The City Bible Forum City Legal Mission

In light of the Bishop’s direction to stop gathering in church, I have told City Bible Forum that the mission will no longer go ahead as an Arawang partnership. So, the dinner and Bible talk tonight are cancelled and the meeting in the Diocesan Offices tomorrow is also cancelled. 

However, City Bible Forum are still coming down and the brekky is going ahead at the new venue (‘The Murdoch Room’ in the Hotel Kurrajong, 8 National Circuit Barton). The time remains the same – 7.20-8.20am. If you have registered for this event you should have received an email already. Please feel free to honour your registration privately, as I will be. Perhaps I’ll see you there. 

A guide for us in decision regarding meeting size is a maximum of 15 people together as long as we are able to maintain social distancing measures (see below). I prefer the term physical distancing because we need to be socially close in any way we can! 

For Bible study meetings, Church Hub meetings or the CBF breakfast please follow social distancing advice:

In line with the latest government advice, we are asking that we all follow these sensible precautions at our gathering on Friday: observe social distancing of 1.5m; greet people without handshaking; don’t come if you have any cold or flu-like symptoms; don’t come if you must self-isolate due to travel or exposure to someone with Covid-19; don’t come if someone you live with is in a high-risk category

Church Finances

Finally, Jesus spoke a lot about the relationship his people have with money. As a pastor, I feel uncomfortable speaking about money, especially knowing that I am the beneficiary of much of your giving in my pay, but because Jesus did, I need to. It is going to be harder to financially contribute to Kingdom work while we are not gathering as usual and so here are some thoughts for you:  Money is not directly an idol because money is provided by God for our good. So why did Jesus speak clearly about money? In short Jesus spoke a lot about money because money shows us very clearly who and what we worship. Money will show us where our idols are.  It’s why he said we cannot serve both God and money. 

There is currently a gap between the funds required and our giving at church. We are highly dependent on funds from investments. My goal is to have us 100% funded via the church plate, so that we might use the investments to resource, strengthen and grow our Arawang ministries. So I’ll take the opportunity here to ask that you please reconsider your tithe to the Lord in the coming weeks and continue your offerings. 

There are 2 ways to give in these new circumstances:

1 Consider a regular direct debit (the better option) to BSB # 702389 Account # 05202597, Account Name: Arawang Anglican.

2 Bring your offering to your Church Hub. At the end of the meeting two people are to count the offering, document it, bag or envelope it, give it to a warden, me or Catherine Dive directly.

I am always encouraged as I read Revelation 5. The Lord Jesus remains on his throne and has the scrolls of history in his hands. The people of God cry out, 

“You are worthy to take the scroll

and to open it’s seals,

For you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed people for God, 

Saints from every tribe and language,

people and nation; 

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God…” (Rev 5:9ff)

Let’s keep serving Him with joy through this unusual season, knowing that though we may be apart for a time, He is always with us and He has united us in His body.

With love,

Gus 

Weakness in serving Jesus

Gus’ blog  – Weakness in mission 

Some of you might be aware that I am doing some research at the moment. I’m a few years in and I have a few years to go. My subject area is “The inefficiency of God and vulnerability in Christian leadership”. It’s a provocative title but I pray that by reflecting on the way that God works in his world, we might as his church, be less burdened as we seek to serve him. I don’t feel very efficient – in fact I feel quite broken. I have a stutter and I suffer from depression. So how does God use someone like me? Maybe you’re tempted to ask a similar question. 

The agency for God working in the world is through the local church via his Spirit and his Word. God is surprisingly inefficient in this I think. We know that Paul the great Apostle, pastor, missionary and church planter showed that God works significantly in human weakness. It seems crazy! Paul writes of himself, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech is of no account” (2 Cor 10:10). Paul is afraid of the governor under King Aretas and so escaped through a window by being let down in a basket! Paul goes on to write, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” I wonder if Paul applied for a pastoral job, whether he’s actually get it! He summarises his thinking by quoting Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in human weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

That’s why he boasts in weaknesses, because he trusts that’s how God works. We see that most clearly at the Cross where God demonstrated his love, mercy and justice, saved his people, defeated death, gave us an example of love and began the new creation all at the death of his Son in human weakness and then His resurrection 3 days later.  It is clear that our worldly idea of efficiency and God’s notion of efficiency are quite often very different!  

Why do I write about that here? Because in our weakness, though God’s Spirit and Word, God has said that he will grow his people and build his church. You might feel weak in that and that’s a good thing! That’s when God acts – in human weakness! So as we prepare for our upcoming City Bible Forum mission, trust that God is the God who will work through our weaknesses to accomplish his purposes. You might not feel very efficient or shiny as we invite our friends, family and colleagues, but that’s a good thing. If everything is humanly strong and there is no weakness, then where does the power of Christ show itself? 

Let’s be praying in our weakness about the people we might invite to the mission breakfast in particular. David Robertson is speaking on ‘Is there any reason to follow Christ in modern Australia? What a great opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those in our lives. 

With love,

Gus

This is my beloved Son, listen to Him

Gus’ blog

 Introducing our Lenten Sermon Series: ‘The Superior Christ’ from Hebrews 1:1- 4:13

On Wednesday night at our bible study leaders’ meeting we spent a moment or two looking at the  Thessalonian church. Paul speaks very highly of it. I imagined as we were reading it together that Paul came to Arawang. What would he say about us? 

In chapter 1, Paul thanks God for the Thessalonian’s faith, love and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul explains that the reason why they show such great faith, hope and love is that the “gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit with deep conviction” (v 4,5). Their transformation as a church family did not come via the power of human effort, but by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit as they received the word of God. Their transformation into a church marked by faith, hope and love was very obvious. Paul mentions that they imitated Paul, Silvanus and Timothy and were joyful in affliction (v6). They not only imitated Paul, Silvanus and Timothy but they also became examples to others and their faith went out everywhere (v8). Their transformation included a rejection of idols to worship of the one, true and living God (v9) and they waited diligently for Christ to return (v10). What an encouraging report! Thessalonians 1 is one of many texts that show that God’s people are transformed by the Spirit of God as people read the Word of God in all its fulness. I suppose that’s why Paul says to the Ephesian church that he “did not shrink from declaring the whole council of God.” Acts 20:27). 

In light of such thinking, Parish Council and I have agreed that we move away from preaching through the lectionary and I preach systematically through books of the bible. What this means is that I will write my own lectionary. We will still have an Old Testament,  a Psalm, a gospel and an epistle reading and so practically not much will change unless you’re reading the lectionary in detail before church. 

The reason for this change is so that:

1 we can look at the whole council of God (Acts 20:27) as it was originally intended, trusting that by God’s Spirit, He will continue to transform his people.  I would like to bring the church closer to the mind of the human author, preach in context and according to the literary structure of each book and fit each passage into into the unfolding story of God’s redemptive plan. 

2 we can build through the book each week which I believe people would find rewarding. It is also rewarding for the preacher.

3 we move slowly towards linking the children’s ministry into line with what the parents are studying. I love the idea of children and parents studying the same thing and having conversations about it around the dinner table. This would be down the track though. 

4 finally and importantly, we can get excited about delving into a part of the bible in depth. We can promote the next series and look forward to it as a church family. 

My idea is to preach around the school terms and we’d have a major Old Testament series and a major New Testament series each year. These major series would be broken up into probably 7 or 8 weeks each. In between each major series, we’d have mini series of 3 or 4 weeks each. I have often preached ‘summer psalms’ in January because they’re isolated and so as people are coming and going for holidays, they wouldn’t miss out on part of a series. 

Our first series, ‘The Superior Christ’ will be a lenten series from 1st March until the Easter weekend and will cover Hebrews 1:1-4:13. Can I encourage you all to be praying that as we delve into God’s Word in greater depth, the Spirit might quicken us, transform us and grow us as a family. 

With love,

Gus