Expect the Unexpected

Dear friends,

Imagine you are driving down the freeway towards home. It is a wet day but the roads are good and the traffic is light; having driven the road a 1000 times, you feel safe. The expectation of returning into the arms of loved ones wells up in side you and you can begin to feel that welcoming cup of tea in your hands.

Suddenly, as you cross a bridge, the road beneath you collapses and you are no longer driving towards home but plummeting towards death. You will never be held by those arms again. You will never savour a cup of tea again. Your time on earth has quickly come to an end.

This was reality for dozens of Italian citizens this week on the Morandi Highway in Genoa. The bridge they were travelling on collapsed. While some are arguing it was expected, those driving along the road clearly did not expect to meet God in that moment.

But this is what life is like. One minute you have a fully functioning right shoulder, the next, not so much. One minute you are driving home, the next, you are meeting Jesus.

And this is why you need to ensure that you have your relationship with God right.

Psalm 90 confronts our mortality. It starts with a reminder that God is eternal and we are those who will return to the dust. It moves on to acknowledge that every breath we take is in the hands of God and that our years pass like a flash in the pan, often filled with sorrow and trouble. Coupled with this is the reality that our years are (ironically) characterised by secret sins that God knows completely and that his wrath will be poured out on all such sins. The picture if that of hopelessness.

And yet, the Psalmist turns that hopelessness on its head saying, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” The call is to recognise every day as a divine gift and to turn to God, fearing him, and glorifying him, for in such things is wisdom. Wisdom is not found by sucking the marrow out of life or by seizing the day; wisdom is found by knowing the one who controls the days and life itself. By knowing God and knowing his favour.

The Psalm finishes with the assured hope that the favour of the Lord may rest upon us as we number our days.

Expect the unexpected: it’s a good motto for life. But in the midst of that life, cling to and trust in the mighty Saviour, Jesus. Then whatever happens, you’ll be safe and secure for eternity.

In Christ
Nigel

We’re all Searching for Something

Dear friends,

Over the past few weeks I have been listening to some podcast stories while walking the dog or doing exercise. It’s been a delight to delve into the world of creative imagination again but it has also made me sharply aware that the world we live in is lost and confused. Couple this with some recent hospital trips to visit people who are in the last moments of life and I have come to a fresh appreciation that many are searching for something that is clearly available in plain sight.

In Lif-e.af/ter we meet a man who desperately wants to reconnect with his dead wife. He gets through his days only by listening to old voice messages and cannot cope when they are disconnected. Through the story he is offered entirely fictional pathways of hope to find everlasting life and in his grief and pain he is more than willing to risk it all to take them.

In Limetown a whole community just disappears; 327 people, into thin air. An investigative reporter tries to tell the story of what happened and as she does she discovers a web of pain, deceit and lies that flow from a lost utopia. Survivors were promised a life that was to provide meaning and a connection to the afterlife but what they found was vacuous and dissatisfying.

In the hospital, I am reassured by a person I visit that no one can know what lies beyond and all that matters is that you’ll be reunited with loved ones later. Noting the irony that he somehow knows what he claims no one can know, I ask if he would like to meet the man who has been beyond and returned. He’s disappointed when I tell him the man’s name is Jesus.

Our temporary and finite existence as humans appears to me to be increasingly present in our minds at this time. Over time you can track movements in human thought through fictional writing (think George Orwell’s writing) and whether it is coincidence or not, I feel that this is the time when people are searching for something permanent. Searching for life beyond this life. Searching for something that can make sense of the way life is now.

That something is Jesus. And he is clearly available in plain sight. And yet, people ignore him.

Jesus promises permanence.
Jesus promises life after.
Jesus promises meaning in life.

The Jesus you know is the Jesus the searchers around us need to know.
He’s lord of the world even though the citizens of the world appoint their own kings and rulers.
He loves the world even though the citizens of the world ignore him.

If you’re a citizen of heaven, please take the opportunity to point someone to Jesus this week. Your friends are lost and confused without him and he’s available in plain sight.

In Christ
Nigel

Praying for Sosthenes

Dear friends, 

Sosthenes was a synagogue ruler. He was in charge of the building, the activities that went on inside it and it was his job to ensure that all the arrangements for worship were made ahead of time. He was the manager or in Anglican speak, the verger.

Synagogue rulers were tough nuts. They had to be disciplined in their management of affairs and often discipline others who were not following the rules or compromising Jewish worship. They were exactly the sort of people who (you would expect) would not become Christians.

Sosthenes predecessor became a Christian. 

You can imagine that the teachers and elders of the synagogue would have been outraged at this and may have been determined to appoint a new ruler who had greater conviction in Jewish belief. History does not tell us exactly what sort of man Sosthenes was but we might imagine he was a man of greater conviction. 

One day a Christian preacher came to his town and began calling on people to worship God through Jesus Christ. This upset the Jews in that town and they tried to have the preacher charged on the grounds of preaching false religion and encouraging false worship. But their legal challenge failed and in the process of looking for someone to blame, they turned on Sosthenes. Perhaps they expected he would have kept this preacher away or perhaps he was the one who lead the failed charge against the preacher. Either way, Sosthenes was beaten and the government did nothing about it. 

You might know some hard nuts like Sosthenes; people who you think might never become Christians. Your mum or dad? A neighbour? The Muslim man down the road? It is hard to pray for people like Sosthenes but you should. For God is faithful to his word, he breaks hard hearts through his Spirit and he opens the eyes of unbelievers that they may see the Glory of Christ. 

History only tells us one more thing about Sosthenes. He became a Christian. More than that, he co-authored a book with that same Christian preacher. The book is called 1 Corinthians. 

How wonderful and powerful is the grace of God!
How low are our expectations of God? 

How easily do our hearts think negatively about the likelihood of hard nuts becoming Christians?
And yet God is more powerful than their unbelief and our lack of faith. 

Sosthenes was the sort of person you would expect would never become a follower of Jesus but he did.

Is there a Sosthenes in your life you should be praying for? 

In Christ
Nigel

8 Things to Know

Dear friends,

Often at the start of a new term, there are a myriad of things happening and we want to ensure we communicate broadly and clearly. To this end, here are 8 things it would be good for you to know!

  1. We will be studying 1 Corinthians 1-10 together for the remainder of this year. It promises to be a wonderful series that will drive us further towards Christ. The church in Corinth appears to have gone wild and Paul is seeking to draw them back to the faith. There are encouragements and warnings for us to hear and heed. We will turn our minds to chapter 11-16 in 2019.
  1. Now is a great time to consider joining a Growth Group. The start of a new term and a new series provides a nodal moment to join a small community and begin doing life together with others. Speak to a member of staff or a friend if you are interested. If you are in a group, why not invite others along?
  1. There are a few changes happening at 8am Church. We are changing the Prayer Book we use and we are establishing a new Care Team that will seek to provide ongoing support to the congregation. Please make sure you have picked up a letter from Leanne about the Care Team.
  1. You may have noticed that we have become more present on social media. We are seeking to catch up with the technology in use around us to improve our mission all engagement with the community around us. You can help us do this by sharing posts, checking in to church and events and using church related hashtags for your posts. We’re seeking to reach the community where they are.
  1. We have had a significant problem with parking around St Peter’s Church over the last 12 months. New signs are going up saying “Private Property – No Parking”. Church members should feel free to ignore those signs as you are welcome to park on church grounds for church activities at any time.
  1. During this term we will send out information for children in Year 2 and 6 about transitions to new ministry activities. Our Afternoon Kids Club is for children in Year 3-6 and Youth Group for children Year 7-12. We transition both groups in Term 4.
  1. We have some very specific serving opportunities available right now. We need someone who is comfortable with uploading files and navigating WordPress. We need a few people with a keen eye for photography. Contact a member of staff!
  1. There are a myriad of ways to serve week by week in church. From casual cleaning to handyman work, picking up parcels and gardening, paperwork and filing. And more. In our community, the spirit of volunteering is diminishing but God has gifted us all to serve and calls us to. We’d love to set you free to serve but sometimes the roadblock is the first conversation. Why not email or leave a message for a staff member and line up a chat?

There is always lots going on but more than anything, we urge you to pray.

With thanks for our partnership,
Nigel

Life: As it really is….

A friend of mine who has lived with the crippling results of childhood meningitis says that in his experience, Christians seem to have difficulty accepting the reality that life is hard. Life has excellent moments, but the overwhelming reality is, life is hard.

Of course, we know this because this is what the Bible teaches! Our world is broken. People are flawed. Relationships are a mess. There are glorious moments – but the trajectory of all things is hardship. This began when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden. Work became hard. Childbirth became hard. Marriage became hard. Life became hard. And death became our only certainty.

Life outside the garden is characterised by death. But this is not what God intended. He wanted us to live eternally and peacefully with him, and the Bible makes it very clear where the responsibility for death and all this brokenness lies – it lies with us. This is the world as we have made it.

No matter how fervently we may wish it were not so, life is hard.

Thankfully, Jesus deals with all the consequences of our sin and brokenness in his death but there is for us only a slow-release of the enjoyment that flows from the cross. While we are forgiven and presently God’s children we are not yet free of the world or our bodies. Despite being sinless in the eyes of God because we are in Christ, we still sin. Despite being a new creation in Christ we still get sick and die.

Jesus says…..
25 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”.

If we had it all now then we wouldn’t sin and we wouldn’t die but sin and bodily frailty are still part of this life. The clearest demonstration of the reality that we do not yet enjoy the full fruits of Christ’s death is the fact that a Christian still dies bodily. We eagerly await the fullness of our inheritance – the resurrection of the dead.

It will not be until our Lord returns that sickness will finally be done away with and at that time there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:1-6). As Glenn Davies, our Archbishop said to me once, “the ultimate act of healing is death!”

Many in our community are grieving and suffering. Our prayers of comfort and hope are with you. Our arms are around you.

Prayerfully,
Nigel

The God/s must be Crazy!

Dear friends,

I vividly remember my mum taking me to see the 1980 South African comedy film The God’s Must be Crazy. When the Coke bottle landed in the sand and was picked up by a Kalahari Desert bushman I giggled. It felt like a simpler time – not just because I was young but because the movie captured the wonderful cultural naivety of Africa’s tribes who were immune from the ills of the West and the complications of a capitalist driven economy.

But we all grow up and life never stays simple. Suffering and sadness will be the lot of all who draw breath in this world. So what is God/s doing about it?

I was fascinated by the comments made by Thailand’s Army Commander this week about his prayers for the boys and the rescue mission. He said he was praying to Phra Pirun, the “rain god”, but only for three days of no rain at a time for “if I ask for more, he may not grant it”. A more indulgent prayer could upset this “god” and he may not grant any dry spell at all. You may be right to ask, what sort of God would send rain when the world is “praying” for their survival? A crazy one?

We pray to the one true God of the universe and yet, sometimes there is rain when we don’t need it, suffering when we can’t deal with it and sadness when we can’t overcome it. We know God is sovereign over us but what do we do when it doesn’t feel like he is sovereign for us?

I want to encourage you to look to Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. Read Luke 19:28-48 again. Jesus’ eyes are full of tears. He is the Son of God. He knows he is about to die a painful death but he will come back to life again. He knows this is God’s plan and he has willingly chosen to be a part of it. He knows this is the outworking of the love of God and that God is in control but he weeps for those who will be lost and later for his own plight.

This is a wonderfully helpful picture. Your belief and trust in our sovereign God doesn’t mean you can’t cry or cry out. It doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real. It doesn’t mean you have to ignore the pain and suffering of life. And it doesn’t mean God has stopped loving you or gone mad.

What we see in Jesus is that even in suffering, God’s love and compassion is not overridden or eliminated by his sovereignty. Jesus both knows God’s love, trusts God plans and weeps. It’s a picture of the reality that God is good and cares for and loves you even when life is no longer simple. So what do we do? We keep walking, with tears in our eyes, trusting in the love and sovereignty of God.

Many in our church are struggling – life is not simple – please know you are not alone. Our staff are only too willing to visit and pray, to read the scriptures with you and remind you of the love of God and to weep with you as we give thanks for the love and sovereignty of God. Please, just ask.

With prayers,
Nigel

Worship, Prayer Books and the Future

Dear friends,

Over the last 50 years, the word Worship has been taken hostage by some of the Christian world and unhelpfully redefined. These days, when we speak of Worship what most readily comes to our minds is singing in church; and yet, according to the Bible, our Worship of God is to be so much grander.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1 

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice (worship) of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:15-16

Submission to Jesus as Lord and Saviour is the fundamental act of worship. Attending and participating in congregational gatherings is a necessary ongoing expression of that but we also need to see afresh that sharing the gospel with unbelievers is worship, financially supporting gospel work is worship, offering help (physical, material etc.) to those in need is worship and serving God in the workplace or wider community is worship.

In this context you can understand why I have a gut-wrenchingly negative reaction against the wrong use of the word. Our lives are to be lived in worship of God and there is no compartmentalisation of our lives into worship (90 mins on Sunday) and life (166.5 other hours).

Of course, this does not mean we undervalue our congregational gatherings – they are an earthly expression of our future heavenly reality and provide us with the best opportunity in a week to submit to and learn from Jesus and to love, learn from and encourage each other. Church is a weekly treasure with vertical and horizontal dimensions!

At Campbelltown Anglican we seek to express that treasure in different ways, recognising that people are different and if you do the “same old” things in the “same old” ways you just keep reaching the “same old” people. That is why all our gatherings are different. Some use a Prayer Book, some don’t; but they are all Anglican because the reading of God’s word and communal participation in prayer and praise are at their heart.

As I am sure you know, from August we will start using a new Prayer Book at church. This change will be felt most profoundly at St Peter’s 8am and Wednesday 9.30am but the prayers we say together at other services will change too. The use of a Prayer Book helps us ensure orderly worship and right doctrine and provides for unity with those around us. This new (to us) Prayer Book is already used in the majority of Anglican Churches in our Diocese and is the 5th one authorised for use since 1962. As language changes we need to provide for fresh expressions of the truth found in our foundational Book of Common Prayer (1662).

Thankfully, neither God nor His Word ever change!

In Christ
Nigel

 

Gafcon – Part 7

Greetings from the land of the birth, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. The third Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) was held in Jerusalem in June 2018, a decade after the inaugural Gafcon in 2008. Gafcon 2018, one of the largest global Anglican gatherings, brought together 1,950 representatives from 50 countries, including 316 bishops, 669 other clergy and 965 laity. A unanimity of spirit was reflected throughout the Conference as we met with God in the presence of friends from afar. We celebrated joyful worship, engaged in small group prayer and were inspired by presentations, networks and seminars.

We met together around the theme of “Proclaiming Christ Faithfully to the Nations”.  Each day began with common prayer and Bible exposition from Luke 22-24, followed by plenary sessions on God’s Gospel, God’s Church and God’s World.

We renewed our commitment to proclaim the gospel of the triune God in our churches and in all the world. Our Chairman reminded us in his opening address: “God’s gospel is the life-transforming message of salvation from sin and all its consequences through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is both a declaration and a summons: announcing what has been done for us in Christ and calling us to repentance, faith and submission to his Lordship.” It involves the restoration and reaffirmation of God’s original creative purposes. It is addressed to men, women and children and it is our only hope in the light of the final judgment and the reality of hell.

Yet faithful proclamation of this gospel is under attack from without and within, as it has been from apostolic times (Acts 20:28-30).

External attacks include superstitious practices of sacrifices and libations that deny the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. Some religions deny the unique person and work of Christ on the cross, and others are innately syncretistic. Secularism seeks to exclude God from all public discourse and to dismantle the Christian heritage of many nations. This has been most obvious in the redefinition of what it means to be human, especially in the areas of gender, sexuality and marriage.

Internally, the “prosperity gospel” and theological revisionism both seek in different ways to recast God’s gospel to accommodate the surrounding culture, resulting in a seductive syncretism that denies the uniqueness of Christ, the seriousness of sin, the need for repentance and the final authority of the Bible.

Tragically, there has been a failure of leadership in our churches to address these threats to the gospel of God. We repent of our failure to take seriously the words of the apostle Paul: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” (Acts 20:28-30).

We dedicate ourselves afresh to proclaiming Christ faithfully to the nations, working together to guard the gospel entrusted to us by our Lord and his apostles.

This is an excerpt from the Gafcon Letter to the Churches from the Conference. The whole letter can be found at gafcon.org.

Gafcon – Part 6

Dear friends,

Almost 2000 years ago, on the stairs of the temple, the apostle Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed an enormous crowd saying: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘ “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.””
Acts 2:14-21

Not long after, 3000 people decided to start following Jesus and they were baptised.

Today, 2000 people who have called on the name of Jesus and are determined to “preach Christ faithfully to the nations” (Gafcon 2018 theme) sat together to do church on the temple stairs. We sung and prayed together and heard of the great sermon Peter preached. It was a wonderfully moving time – to think, we were doing church on the actual steps where Jesus walked into Jerusalem.

What was most incredible though, was that we were surrounded by Muslim and Jewish people who were listening. Listening to the good news of Jesus Christ being proclaimed. A whole Muslim family stood looking out from a window in the wall. It was a beautiful moment where the theme of this Gafcon was being played out in the providence of God.

All this made me very excited and reminded me of Campbelltown. We do not need to go far from our church to preach Christ to the nations. Walk down Queen St. Go to the Anglicare Mobile Pantry on Wednesday. Come to ESL on Thursdays. Take a look around in your street! The nations are among us. Let us take up Gafcon’s urging and together, preach Christ faithfully just as Peter did on those stairs.

 

In Christ
Nigel

Gafcon – Part 5

Rwanda was the home of a powerful revival in 1929 which spread spontaneously during the 1930’s and became known as the East African Revival. So it would seem to be an unlikely place for terrible violence. Archbishop-elect Mbanda, himself forced to flee his homeland as a child after a massacre broke out in 1959, has reflected deeply on this paradox.

A particularly shocking feature of the genocide was that many were murdered in churches. ‘Rwanda now has a history of bloody sanctuaries,’ Mbanda writes. ‘Pastors, influential lay people and top denominational leaders were often implicated in the tragedies.’ But the core of the problem was a widespread failure to nurture converts so that they become disciples. This inadequate understanding of mission was to have tragic consequences; too often, the killers were church attenders who would even perform rituals intended to stop the spirits of their victims disturbing them in future.

In other words, if converts do not become disciples, they will drift into syncretism. Mbanda writes: ‘We must remember that the impetus of the Great Commission is to make disciples. An initial commitment to Jesus Christ is crucial, but it is an early step in fulfilling the Great Commission; the church’s task demands comprehensive discipleship’.

The Rwandan Church has learned from its history and its leaders have a particular sharpness of spiritual insight. It is not coincidental that Bishop Mbanda’s predecessor as Bishop of Shyira, John Rucyahana, was the first to ‘boundary cross’ in 1998 when he took an orthodox Episcopal church plant, St Andrew’s Little Rock in Arkansas, under his wing. As Rucyahana once explained to me, the West stood by as genocide devastated Rwanda, but the Rwandans were determined not to stand by as spiritual genocide took hold in the West.

The parallel may seem extreme, even offensive, but it does capture the determination of Anglican revisionists in North America to rid their churches of those who would not accept their agenda. A veneer of civility has masked the process on this side of the Atlantic, but it is wearing thin. As Anglican church leaders increasingly accommodate to the post-Christian culture of British society, the lesson of Rwanda is that we need to form Christian disciples who love Jesus enough to resist the challenge of syncretism, whatever form it takes and even when it becomes established in the church.

Despite the failings of church leadership, there were ordinary Rwandans at the time of the genocide who were deeply committed disciples of Jesus and their living faith shone brightly as they died. Mbanda recounts that ‘Those who survived church slaughters testify that the victims often spent time in prayer and adoration. They gave their lives to Christ and died’. The Anglican future belongs to such as these.

Article written by Canon Charles Raven, Membership Development Secretary for Gafcon.