Marriage, Plebiscites and Being Godly

Dear Friends,

The Same Sex Marriage Plebiscite has arrived – not as many had hoped through compulsory means conducted by Australian Electoral Commission but as a non-compulsory ‘poll’ through the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

This is not new news! My Facebook feed is almost solely devoted to the issue and every form of media is littered with polls, stories and opinions.

How as Christians do we dissect this whole thing? Here are my six thoughts:

  1. As Christians, God urges us to be courteous and respectful of all views, to listen well and speak kindly. We must be those who exemplify love of others, thoughtfulness in speech, care for the vulnerable and respect for those with whom we disagree. James 1:19 comes to mind. If you cannot do that, please don’t enter debates online or in person. Pray for yourself.
  2. Pray for our nation and for the grace and wisdom to accept whatever decision is made. Know that God’s mission will carry on no matter what happens: he will work through the gospel witness of Christ’s church, calling people out of darkness and into the light of his kingdom.
  3. Read widely to understand what is at stake in this decision. The issues are so much bigger than Marriage and run to self-identity, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and Christian education. These are massive issues for me and strongly inform my decision on how to vote.
  4. Grab a copy of the Diocese booklet “What God has put together” from the Welcome Table at your congregation. Consider following the Coalition for Marriage on Facebook. Our diocese is one of the four partners supporting this organisation.
  5. Talk together at church and in your GG about this with eager ears and careful tongues. There will be a variety of opinions among church members.
  6. We won’t be preaching on this in church over the next month but we may arrange for an evening on which the key issues are canvassed and discussed. We will hand out a variety of helpful articles over the next month for you to read, think over and pass on.

If you’d like to talk through the whole thing or think about how to answer questions people ask, make an arrangement to come and have a cuppa and a chat with one of the staff. We’d only be too pleased – as always – to help.

God bless.
Nigel

National Church Life Survey

Dear Friends,

The results of the National Church Life Survey have arrived. You may remember that we participated in the survey with all the churches across Australia in late 2016 to assess our vitality and health. The survey results focus in on nine core qualities that have been shown to be central to the life of a vital church.

The Parish Council has had the opportunity to look at the results and as a staff we have begun to do some analysis but we need your help!

The nine core qualities seen in a thriving church are:

An alive and growing FAITH;
A vital and nurturing WORSHIP;
A strong and growing sense of BELONGING;
A clear and owned VISION;
Inspiring and empowering LEADERSHIP;
Openness to imaginative and flexible INNOVATION;
Practical and diverse SERVICE;
Willing and effective FAITH-SHARING; and
Intentional and welcoming INCLUSION

The results indicate that we have improved in some areas and dropped back in others.

In order to process all of this, we are inviting you to join us in some short focus-group discussions.

At St Andrew’s, Jason and the Wardens will arrange a meeting soon to give you the opportunity to comment on the results.

At St Peter’s we will be arranging five focus-group meetings centered on what the results say for each of our 5Ms – Magnification, Mission, Membership, Maturity and Ministry. This will help us continue to plan in accordance with our vision. You are invited to join us for some of the five or the lot!

The Ministry Meeting will be held on 10th September, 2017 at 12.30pm
The Mission Meeting will be held on 24th September, 2017 at 12.30pm
The Maturity Meeting will be held on 22nd October, 2017 at 12.30pm
The Membership Meeting will be held on 5th November, 2017 at 12.30pm
The Magnification Meeting will be held on 26th November, 2017 at 12.30pm

If you would like a full copy of the results please email me (nigel@campbelltownanglican.org) or call me
(4625-1041) and we will get them out to you.

Between now and then, here are two observations from the survey.

1. The aspect of church that you value the most is “sermons, preaching or Bible teaching”. That a majority of church attenders indicated that listening to God speak to us is valued more than anything else is cause for great thankfulness. This has spurred us on to work harder at this!

2. Two of the aspects of church life that you would most like to see given greater attention in the next twelve months are “building a sense of community” and “spiritual growth”. This is really helpful for us to hear what you are thinking!

Please pray for staff as we analyse the results and prepare for our focus group meetings.

In Christ
Nigel

God’s Big Picture Plus

Dear Friends,

The Old Testament is freaky, weird, difficult to understand, from another world, complicated and troubling.

It is also all about Jesus.

More than half our Bible remains impenetrable for many people but our staff team are committed to changing that and turning the Old Testament into a series of books that delight, enthral and keep you coming back for more. It’s all part of being devoted to maturing in Jesus.

To this end, I want you to come and do God’s Big Picture+ on Sunday afternoons starting on the 27th of August. Here’s three reasons why.

First, you will learn how to get the most out of the Bible so you can keep maturing as a Christian. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work!” What is incredible of course is that when Paul wrote this, he was probably speaking about the Old Testament and the 4 gospels. Little of the New Testament would have been counted as “Scripture” by then but Paul knew how crucial the Old Testament was for faith and Christian growth. It’s still crucial for you!

Secondly, you will learn the storyline of the Bible and how it all points to Jesus. Over and again, Jesus says the Old Testament is all about him and even his disciples worked this out. In John 1 Phillip tells Nathanael that Jesus is the one Moses wrote about in the law and about whom the prophets also wrote. Later on, Jesus is said to begin with Moses and all the Prophets to explain what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

One of the great threats to good Bible reading is taking passages out of context and God’s Big Picture+ helps you put the whole story of the Bible together so you know the whole story in context (like viewing a forest from the ground) and are able to see the way it is all about Jesus (like viewing a forest from the air). If you open the OT and feel lost straight away, this is a great opportunity to fix that.

Third, you will have the chance to ask all those difficult questions. Who doesn’t have questions about warfare and massacres, the extraordinary ages of people, the purpose of Song of Songs and what happened after Malachi? Here is your chance to begin to get your head around all this and to improve your capacity to listen to God with joy and challenge as you read the Old Testament.

I hope I have convinced you to come!

As a young Christian, coming to understand the story of the Bible and how it all points to Jesus completely revolutionised my faith. The revolution awaits you. Register using a Next Steps Card, calling or emailing the office or by speaking with a member of staff. 

In Christ
Nigel

Puppies, Mess and Endurance

Dear Friends,

The rumours are true. We bought a dog.

I know that I mentioned in a sermon a few weeks back that I had little intention of ever getting a dog – and I didn’t – but there you go. Jethro is a cute black little furball with a white stripe from his chin to his tummy. You’ll notice that I said “cute” there and I will admit that he has brought real joy to our family.

But he has also brought destruction and mess.

You see, Jethro is a puppy. He knows nothing except eat and destroy. He has eaten through a soft toy that survived our 4 children. He has torn clothing. He has ripped up paper. He has eaten who knows what from the floor. And – it is hard to find a polite way to write about this – he also does his do-do about 50% of the time on his Puppy Pad and 50% of the time in places where Marth Gardner’s Wool Wash must be applied afterwards.

Just this morning I found myself growing in frustration and wishing he would learn to come, go, drop, sit, stay, stop and where to do do-do, more quickly!

This whole do thing is going to require endurance.

And then it occurred to me – we have a great opportunity with this puppy to be reminded of what it is like to be a Christian.

Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:11 – “But you, man of God, flee from all [these evil desires and griefs], and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”

As Christians, we are called (among other things) to learn to bear with difficult situations without giving up. We are called to endure.

We may have to endure suffering – either illness or the work of evil against us.

We may have to endure opposition – from those who have no interest in Jesus or even despise him and his followers.

We may also have to endure our own sinfulness and temptation, fighting against it day by day in the power of the Spirit.

In our world today, there is a lot of giving up – you might say there is a lack of resilience. It’s not just that people give up more easily but that they are not given the opportunity to struggle and fail and get up again and have another go. Children particularly are being taught that there is no need to endure difficulty as they are either rescued too quickly or overly protected from trial and struggle. This is not good news.

Learning too quickly to give up doesn’t bode well for Christian growth.

So yes, I am a little frustrated with Jethro but I am seeing this as an opportunity to grow in endurance that I might apply it to my relationship with God. Eventually the dog will be trained and will be a bundle of joy and it will all be worth it!

Jesus is coming soon too but between now and then, struggle on and don’t give up. Endure! It will be worth it!

In Christ
Nigel

Domestic Violence is a Serious Problem

Dear Friends,

Some Christians are aggressive and violent towards their family. Fact.

This week via the ABC there have been articles and news stories detailing the tragedy that Christian people, even ministers, abuse their families. It is primarily men who are the abusers and their wives live in fear that as night falls and their husband comes home that the violence might start again.

It’s unacceptable. It’s ungodly. It’s horrific. It’s got to stop.

What can we do?

First, knowing that such behaviour is contrary to the Gospel and knowing that it is abhorrent, we must call out those who hurt their family. Of course, you can only do that when you know each other well enough to know what is happening in our families; so, ask more pointed and personal questions of people in church. More than “How’s your marriage?” Dig deep with people. Ask the awkward questions about parenting, finances, sex and violence. If you have concerns, don’t ignore them. It is loving to ask. It is loving to rebuke.

Second, in our church we need to work hard to create a strong culture of grace and forgiveness in the face of failure. People are going to fail to meet the ideals for life proposed in the Gospel. When they do, will they feel they can talk to their friends or pastor, or will they feel condemned and rejected? Jesus managed to both condemn sin and eat with sinners. There is an ideal to aspire to, and aspire we must to patiently, carefully, lovingly correcting and rebuking. A friend once said, marriage is “one of the first things and most hurtful things gossiped about in churches. At the moment the last place I would go for marriage help is the church”. I’d love to hear our church members saying the exact opposite.

Third, while some pastors have taught and encouraged people to stay in abusive relationships, we need to affirm that the Bible does not justify, endorse, encourage or support any abuse of anyone by anyone. No one should ever be forced to stay and submit to abuse. Some men use the Bible to justify their treatment of their wives, pointing to Ephesians 5:21-33 but they’re wrong. The problem is not the Bible, the problem is their inability to read it and believe it!  Challenge each other if you hear that someone has their teaching on marriage warped.

Our response to domestic violence among church members and the erroneous teaching of some pastors cannot only be institutional, committee led, enquiry based and happening later. Our response must happen now. And it must happen from the ground up. In our church, from every pastor and every church member, let us talk to each other with Scriptures in hand, humbly, lovingly, carefully but urgently.

And if you need help, please, just ask.

In Christ,
Nigel

When Heroes Fall

Dear Friends,

I grew up being a massive fan of Max Lucado, John Stott, Jim Packer and Don Carson. These authors were my Christian heroes. I devoured their books and believed everything they said. Six Hours One Friday was my go to book for Easter. The Cross of Christ was my go to book for understanding salvation. Fundamentalism and the Word of God was my go to book for understanding the Bible. A Call to Spiritual Reformation revived my prayer life!

Things were going along merrily until the day I heard that John Stott was toying with annihilationism and was suggesting that hell may not be what we thought it was. #mindblown

And now, Eugene Peterson…
In an article for an online newspaper, Peterson was asked,
If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?

EP: Yes.

He also said,
I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned. (http://religionnews.com/2017/07/12/eugene-peterson-on-changing-his-mind-about-same-sex-issues-and-marriage/) 

No doubt this will rock many people and make them question everything he has written and perhaps even everything they have believed. If he was on my list back in the early 90s it would have made me question everything.

But I learnt something back then that is super helpful and of utmost importance: our heroes should point us to Jesus and not themselves. We ought to be encouraged by our heroes to see more of Jesus and cling more tightly to the truth of God’s Word than their thoughts. So if you find yourself reading or listening to more of your hero’s words than God’s Words, then your hero has already fallen. If a book or a talk does not drive you to listen more to Jesus, it has failed.

Joe Burrows died this week. “Who” you may ask! Joe was a clergyman in the church I grew up in and was a friend to both Leanne and I. He taught me to preach to people older than me and modelled a firm faith given through trial. Everywhere he went he had a Bible in his hand and he never failed to open it and point people to Jesus. He never wrote a book and is not well known but he pointed away from himself to Jesus. The same Jesus he’s rejoicing with right now.

In Christ
Nigel

Please note that after this blog was published, Peterson appears to have retracted his comments. You can read about it here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/july/eugene-peterson-actually-does-not-support-gay-marriage.html
The end result of this is that there are now a million blogs all discussing this including some from pro-gay Christians disappointed that he has been forced into a retraction by his publishers.

My point still stands – our heroes should point us to Jesus and not themselves.

 

6 Important Things to Know

Dear Friends,

The first 6 months of the year have gone by in a bit of a blur of Christian growth and ministry opportunity. It has been a delight to see people devoting themselves to gathering with others to mature in Christ and being mobilized for ministry. My highlight of the year so far has been our Summer Ministry Training Week. If you missed it, we will be running it again in 2018.

As we run into the back end of the year, there are 6 things I want you to know:

Growth Spurt – Saturday 22nd July, 7.30pm
Growth Spurts are opportunities to dig deeper into various theological topics. This month our topic is “Where did the Bible come from?” Simon will be helping us unearth the way we should think about the Bible. Just turn up!

Begin Well – Sunday 23rd July, 12.30pm for lunch
Begin Well is a lunchtime gathering for people who are new to church or who have been around a while but feel disconnected and are keen to get involved and get growing. Everyone is welcome but let us know you’re coming at beginwell@campbelltownanglican.org or text 0414262477.

Safe Ministry Training – Sunday 30th July, 12pm
Our trainers Carol and Nicole will be running Safe Ministry Training for 1st timers and those needing refreshing. Safe Ministry Training is instruction on how to do ministry with children and the vulnerable and is compulsory for people involved with children at our church. Register via the office at office@campbelltownanglican.org or 4625 1041.

Interested in fulltime Ministry Meeting – Sunday 6th August, 12.30pm
If you are considering working in Christian ministry in the future, we would love you to join us for lunch to meet one of the lecturers from Moore College who will challenge your assumptions and cast a vision for a future serving Jesus. We will also launch our network for people thinking about fulltime ministry on the day. Let Nigel know you are keen to come on 0429 939 410 or nigel@campbelltownanglican.org.

Visit from Rev. Emil Bou-Rizk – Tuesday 22nd August, 7.30pm
Rev. Emil Bou-Rizk is an Anglican clergyman living in Lebanon. After leaving Tunisia where he had ministered for eight years and upon arrival in Lebanon his family were appalled at the treatment of Syrian refugees. They witnessed children as young as 4 being forced to work in fields all day. They witnessed first hand the squalid conditions refugees were living in. Together with his wife, Emil began changing the lives of these the children. Come and hear the story of his ministry and the impact of Gospel shaped love on Syrian Refugees.

Megachurch – Sunday 29th October, 9.30am
Once a year we gather all our congregations together for church to express our shared vision and fellowship. It’s always a great day and includes lunch and fun for the kids.

Hope to see you at some of these events.

In Christ,
Nigel

Opportunity Knocks

Dear Friends,

The reporting this week on the release of the 2016 Census results has taken me by surprise. You’d be excused for thinking that the entire Census was driven by the need to know what the Australian people’s religious preferences are. Article after article and front page after front page reported on the rapid decline of religious affiliation and the rise of “no religion”.

In 1966, 34% of people said they were Anglican, 26% said they were Catholic and 0.8% said they had no religion. In 2016, 30% did not declare a religion, 22% said they were Catholic and 15% claimed to be Anglicans.

The anti-SRE brigade and many others have jumped on this and made claims of the irrelevance of religion today and the need to eradicate spirituality from our public discourse. I’m suggesting something completely different.

As I see it, for us Christians, opportunity knocks.

It is of no surprise to me that the number of people claiming to be Anglican has reduced. Just look around at church and ask yourself, have we ever had 34% or even 15% of the population in church? No! Many of those who claim to be Anglican or even Christian have been giving an indication of a cultural position or familial ties. They were baptised or schooled in the Anglican tradition.

For some, the massive reduction in 50 years will be seen as a threat to survival. I think it is exciting because the reduction in those claiming to “be Anglican” is an indication that people are thinking about what they believe rather than just religiously ticking a box. People are deciding to have a view and indicate what is really going on for them spiritually. Australian people are taking personal ownership of their beliefs.

For this reason, it is no time to panic! This is the moment opportunity knocks and provides a chance for us to have good conversations with our neighbours and friends. The newspaper articles and stories in the media give us all a chance to ask “What did you put for religion in the Census?” Or, “Have you changed what you put for religion in the Census between 2011 and now?”

This can only lead to great conversations about what people actually believe and why. It gives you the opportunity to share what you believe and why. It might give you an opportunity with someone who did claim to “be Anglican” to invite them to something Anglican and try it out again!

The move from cultural, nominal, familial belief thinking to personal, individual belief thinking is a watershed moment for evangelism.

I share this with you because the Macarthur Advertiser will be running an article on religion and the Census next week. You and your neighbour will get the same paper on the same day and you will have a real opportunity to start a conversation with them. Perhaps you could start praying for them now and for courage to take the opportunity that knocks.

In Christ
Nigel

The Porn Epidemic

It’s time to talk about pornography.

It’s time for parents to talk. Friends to talk. Spouses to talk. It’s time for our church to talk about the new drug that 90% of 12-17 year olds have been exposed to. It’s available everywhere and it is killing friendships, marriages, future marriages and whole lives.

Let’s listen to Monica Campo, Senior Researcher at Child Family Community Australia.

Research indicates that children and young people are accessing pornography at increasing rates, with boys aged 14-17 years being the most frequent underage consumers of pornographic material. A recent senate inquiry looked into the effects of pornography on children because a growing number of parents, children, teachers, psychologists and other professionals working with children and young people voiced concerns about the ease of access to pornography online, and the proliferation of increasingly violent pornographic content. 

While pornography is not a new phenomenon, the volume available and the way people are accessing it has changed. For example, improvements to Internet downloading speeds and the use of handheld “smart” devices have made accessing pornography easier, faster and more anonymous than ever before. The ease of access to pornography online also contributes to the greater likelihood of children’s accidental exposure. 

Studies suggest that the effects of frequent and routine viewing of pornography and other sexualised images may:

    ▪       reinforce harmful gender stereotypes;
    ▪       contribute to young people forming sexist views of women and sex; and
    ▪       contribute to condoning violence against women. 

There is also evidence to suggest an association between frequent viewing of online pornography and sexually coercive behaviour exhibited by young men. Pornography consumption by young people may also normalise sexual violence and contribute to unrealistic attitudes of sex and sexuality. 

I’ve invited a group of people to join me for a conversation about the porn epidemic in a few weeks’ time. We’re going to seek to answer the question:

What should our church be doing to assist families and individuals to protect themselves and fight against the pornography epidemic? 

I would love to hear your thoughts or answers to this question. Please let me know as soon as possible and we will include your thoughts in our conversation.

Click here to email me. Alternately, text me on 0429 939 410.

Let’s talk!

Nigel

The Future of the Church

Dear Friends,

“The Anglican Church of Australia is at a crossroads.  For over thirty years it has been slowly declining and the time has come for a revolution if it is to be a strong and sustainable Church for the future”.

These were the first words of a report presented to the Anglican Church of Australia in 2014. And no one disputed them.

The Viability and Structures Report was tabled at the National Synod Meeting in Adelaide and it made for sobering reading. More than half a dozen dioceses were on the verge of bankruptcy, others were training no clergy and still others were shrinking at an alarming rate.

Through a strange twist of fate, I found myself on the national committee given the task of making and implementing recommendations for change. It has been an interesting journey that finished last Thursday. Sadly though, for a variety of reasons, I fear that we have spent our time simply rearranging the furniture while the house is on fire.

One of the clear thrusts of the report is that viability will rely upon evangelising large numbers of the population but that we lack the ability to proceed with imagination and courage.

Missiologist Bob Jackson in his latest book, What Makes the Church Grow?, addresses the future of the Anglican Church:

“The absolute core Church activity is to worship God. But mission or evangelism leading to the growth of the Church is not a second order optional extra for enthusiasts. If we are overwhelmed by the love of God for the world then we overflow with the love of God to the world. That is why David Bosch said that it is not the Church of God that has a mission to the world but the God of mission who has a Church in the world. God’s mission of saving love to the whole of creation is at the heart of his being and agenda. It flows out of him both to and through the Church. The Church is not the only route by which God’s missional grace flows into the world, but he has chosen and appointed the Church for this purpose.” 

I heard the David Bosch quote at another event recently and it really resonated with me. The work of evangelising large numbers of people is not the plan of the church, it’s the plan of God who is on mission in the world through his church.

Now before you give thanks that we have Mick Bullen on staff at Church to do this mission as our Mission Pastor, keep in mind that when we use the word “church” here we are not talking about an institution or organisation, we are talking about God’s people. You are the Church. And God’s plan is to use you to reach the world for Christ.

The future of the church is in God’s hands but he has given us the responsibility to do his work with imagination and courage. So what could you do to evangelise the large number of people in Campbelltown who don’t yet know Jesus?

In Christ
Nigel