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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