Finding Identity and Love

Dear friends,
I have just finished reading Stan Grant’s latest book Australia Day. I have been devouring his books in the last three months, prompted by his thinking on identity.

Our world is in love with identity. Having a sharp definition of who you are is said to provide you with greater understanding of and comfort with yourself and a place to stand in the world. Sexual preference, gender selection, family position, occupation, racial history and a myriad of other factors can all be used to define your identity. You only need to look at our fingerprints to know we are unique, but a sharply categorised identity ensures you can proclaim that uniqueness to the world. I heard this week that Sam Smith (famous singer) has asked all his fans to use “they” or “them” when referring to him from now on. His identity is now de-gendered and corporatised.

Stan Grant takes a contrary and profound view to the current cultural milieu. And it is fascinating given he is proudly a Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi man. Grant’s view is that pursuing our own sharply individualistic identities will only divide us from each other. He constantly critiques the (well meaning) identity warriors and draws on a myriad of historians and philosophers to make his case. The more we define the “I”, the more I am separated from the “us”.

In Australia Day he shares the story of the 30 steps that exist between the Australian Constitution and the Larrakia Petition delivered to the Queen in 1972 requesting a treaty in Australia. Those 30 steps are paradigmatic of the way identity as currently formulated divides us.

Grant calls us to eschew the unending grievance that is caused by separatism, and to get on with the “serious business of healing the memory of wounds, resolving the Australian settlement and connecting us all”. Elsewhere, he points to the need for synthesis through struggle; I think that’s how Grant would describe his own Australian identity. He is in an ongoing self-battle to be neither black, nor white but Australian. He also suggests that pursuing love as our paradigm will bring us together. His are wonderfully challenging and profound books and I would commend them to
anyone wanting to know more of the mind, experience and life of indigenous Australians. I think he is close to helping us chart a course through the rampant racism that still exists in our time.

What’s interesting is that the teaching of Jesus is littered throughout his books. He loves the mandate to love and the way Jesus was towards outsiders. Sadly, Grant misses the most profound point that flows from the Gospel – when we recognise that we are all united by our being made in the image of God, we find our true identity in the one who is love – Jesus himself. If we were all to come to Jesus as loving King we would find both truth, identity and love. Ultimately, being united as Australians would be good, but being united in Christ is best.

In Christ
Nigel

Protecting the Vulnerable

(This piece was written by Archbishop Glenn Davies)
There is no doubt that the subject of abortion is an emotive topic. When discussing this issue we need to be mindful of those who have had an abortion. It is never an easy
decision, and it is one that we should only discuss with compassion and care for those
who have chosen to have this procedure or are facing the prospect thereof.

Yet, it takes two to conceive a child, and therefore in my view it should not be the decision of the mother alone. The child is not part of her body, as some would argue with the misleading and vulgar slogan of “My uterus, my choice!” The baby in the womb is a distinct, genetic entity temporarily living in its mother’s womb.

This is where we all began – in our mother’s womb. We were vulnerable, but safe; we
were alive, but dependent; growing but not sufficiently grown; awaiting the day of our birth and our entrance into the outside world.

The intentional death of a child outside the womb is not just a matter for the mother or father to decide; it is a matter that concerns all society. A few months’ difference in gestation does not change this perspective.

The Bible is very clear about the value to God of a child in utero. The psalms speak
eloquently of our formation in the womb and of God’s knowledge of us.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:13-16


Likewise, David recognised not only his personhood from conception, but also his
culpability as part of rebellious humanity (Psalm 51:5). There are dozens of places where the Scripture regularly uses the same language of those in the womb as would apply to those already born (cf Genesis 25:22; 38:27ff). We do the same when we declare: “You’re having a baby”.

Christians have long recognised that where the life and safety of the mother is
jeopardised, then the removal of the baby, the unintentional aggressor from within, justifies abortion. While some Christians may wish to expand the categories of exceptions, the inherent value of the unborn must not be minimised, even if the child does not fit the expectations of a “perfect baby” without chromosomal deficiencies.

Life is God’s gift, and the taking of life should be in God’s hands alone. We honour God in the public arena when we reflect his virtues and stand up for the most vulnerable in our society, and in this case, the voiceless and unseen.

Baptism Sunday

Dear Friends,

At the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, after his resurrection, he said to his disciples:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Matthew 28:19-20

One of the things that disciples of Jesus do is get baptised as a public and visible sign of the grace of God that is towards them in Jesus. Simply, people who are Christian get baptised.

For many people, we were baptised (christened) when we were children as we gathered with the church to hear the Word of God. And this is a good and right thing! As a child of Christian parents you are introduced to Jesus in the same way you are introduced to your grandparents. Jesus is not an optional extra, he is real and he is your King and you are his child who will get to know him more and more each day.

I was baptised as an infant and I thank God that all the time and effort I put into that special day serves as a memory of all the time and effort I put into being saved by Jesus. Perhaps you have the same memory! Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solis Christus!! Of course, baptism doesn’t save you but it is a moment to look back on and give thanks for as it reminds us of the grace of God. Somewhere I have a silver baptism mug. I was also baptised in a dress! The dress was used for our three girls as they too were baptised as infants. We spared our last born from wearing the dress!

For many others, you were not baptised as an infant and having become a Christian as an adult, perhaps you would like to be baptised. We would love to give you that chance.

On Sunday 3rd November, we are holding a Baptism Sunday. This is an opportunity for anyone who has never been baptised to declare their faith publicly before their church and family and friends. We will have baptisms at St Andrew’s, 10am and 6pm.

If you are keen to be baptised, please contact a member of staff or speak to your Growth Group leader. We would love to rejoice in the work of God in your life with you in November.

Some people wonder if they can get baptised a second time or wish they had the opportunity to be baptised as an adult. I respond to these enquiries by asking, “How many times did Jesus die for you?” I do understand the appeal of being able to declare your faith publicly and going through Confirmation is one option for people baptised as children. We will have confirmation again in 2020!

I look forward to a great Sunday rejoicing in the grace of God.

In Christ
Nigel

Have you sprayed your Bindii?

Dear friends,

I simply do not understand weeds. Nothing is growing anywhere in Campbelltown at the moment due to the lack of rain – except the weeds! And at the Rectory they are prolific and amazing. The colours and designs are an incredible array of tragic beauty.

The weeds are growing through tiny gaps in the concrete and bricks. The weeds are growing where the ground is so hard you need a pneumatic drill to get through it. The weeds are growing next to plants that are dying. The weeds are growing in places I sprayed last year and thought nothing would ever grow there again! They are insidious and annoying and I will have to spend a lot of time getting rid of them! Aargh

But I ought not complain as I look out my back windows, but rather give thanks for a reminder about the world we live in.

In Matthew 13, Jesus teaches a parable about weeds. A farmer plants out his field with wheat but weeds grow up and sprout in their midst. The servants suggest pulling them all up but the farmer says to wait and divide them at the harvest time lest they damage the wheat. So the weeds and the wheat exist together in the field. 

Jesus explains the parable saying;
“The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭13:38-39)‬

Jesus point is clear. In this world in which we live, there will be people who follow the Kingdom of God and people who follow the Kingdom of darkness. The consistent challenge for those who will live following and being a part of the Kingdom of God is that evil will surround us throughout all our lives. There will be temptation on every side, all the time. There will be the constant voices of those who do not regard Jesus as anything more than an idea telling you to turn from him. There will be a constant stream of such things that look healthy and delightful (like so many weeds do) until the end of time when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead. 

This helps shape our expectations of life. Life will not be easy just because you follow Jesus. Life will be a constant battle between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of darkness that wants to draw you into its shadows. We need to stand firm and keep trusting Jesus. Where else have we to go. Jesus himself finishes the parable saying, Whoever has ears, let them hear! 

May we be those who see our weeds and hear the reminder that life till Jesus comes is going to be a challenge; so keep walking, trusting Jesus and he will strengthen you to persevere. 

In Christ 
Nigel

PS. Jesus parable does not count as horticultural advice. Go and weed your garden!

Why You Should Have Protested Against Abortion

Dear friends,

Upon reflection, we should have attended the protest against abortion outside Parliament House last Tuesday night. We should have joined with 1000’s of others to make a noise and let our State know we cared. Living in Campbelltown gives you 1000 excuses to stay away – it’s too far, it’s too late, it’s too cold. Our culture gives us 1000 reasons to stay away – I’m too busy, protests are useless, I’m tired, I’ve got other things on. But there is one compelling reason we missed – Life is that important.

I wish I had gone.

Christians have been at the forefront of protecting the vulnerable and bringing about social change since the time we were first called Christians. In the first century, Christian people picked up disabled babies left on the street to die, rejected by a culture that demanded infantile perfection. Christian people started the first hospitals. Christian people drove change to slavery laws. Yes, Christian people have done some evil things too, but it is in our spiritual DNA to care for the vulnerable and protect society from itself and point people back to God’s wisdom and God’s ways (James 1:27).

The proposed changes to Abortion law in NSW are barbaric. There is no other word for it. Under the cover of decriminalisation our parliamentarians cheered their decision to allow babies born alive after a botched abortion to lay on a table and die. They cheered their decision to allow perfectly formed 35 week old children to be killed. And many Christians, me included, stayed home or did other things last Tuesday night. I’m not saying you don’t care; I’m just saying we could have cared more.
A few thoughts to ponder:

  1. We should have protested because our State should know that more than 1000’s are appalled by this new law. The majority of people don’t know a Christian person and don’t know what Christians think on any issue (except perhaps homosexuality!). Here was an opportunity for us to say together with a loud voice, “Life is that important”.
  2. We should have protested because silence or inaction is always interpreted as agreement or adiaphora. In our families and amongst our friends, do people know what we think on abortion? Going to the march says something. It says we stand for vulnerable individuals and we oppose the autonomous culture of our age.
  3. We should have protested because we need to wake ourselves up to the importance of keeping ourselves from being polluted by the world. Here was an opportunity to actually say with our time and energy “I am against your thinking!” Here was an opportunity to show real concern; to move beyond hitting the like button. To be countercultural and stand for something.
  4. We should have protested because it would have provided us with gospel opportunities galore this week and greater credibility for sharing our point of view.

So, I wish I went. Life matters.
What have I done instead? I have written to every member of the upper house. I have purposely tried to engage in conversation with unbelievers with respect and curiosity. I have tried to encourage Christians to stand for stuff they believe.

How about you? Will you join me next time?

In Christ
Nigel

9 Things Worth Knowing This Week

Dear friends,

From time to time, important things can get missed! We like to keep everyone in the loop so here are 9 things worth knowing this week.

1. We have had many people campaigning on various fronts against the NSW Abortion Bill. I was so glad to go with three women from our church to see Greg Warren MP two weeks ago and hear their stories. Seeing the Gospel in action as we seek to protect the vulnerable is wonderful.

2. James Massey recently took over from Nick Ford in directing Friday Night Youth. James has been a part of the team for about 5 years and is both a qualified teacher and is studying at Youthworks College towards his Advanced Diploma of Theology. Please pray for James and the team.

3. The Wardens of St Andrew’s have begun a fundraising campaign for Olivia Greenwood, a young member of our church with a rare cancer. A fundraising event will be held on Saturday 24th August at 5pm at St Andrew’s. All welcome. $10 entry.

4. The Wardens of St Peter’s are continuing with complex and intricate background work on a potential building project on the St Peter’s site. A recently completed heritage report has been sent back to the Master Planning Architect for consideration. It all takes time but our Wardens are being careful and frugal.

5. The Parish Council recently agreed to take on a Student Minister from Moore College in 2020. We will hopefully be making an offer to a current student to take up this training position in the week ahead. 

6. We are hoping to make some announcements about progress towards a Youth and Children’s Ministry Pastor next Sunday. Thanks to all those people who have pledged towards this campaign thus far. We are hoping to make an appointment with a view to 2020 but more about that next week!

7. We have begun Ministry Planning for 2020 and are really excited about all the opportunities that God has laid before us. We particularly want to see people’s gifts used for ministry in whatever way that is possible. If you have ideas for how you would like to be serving in church, or just know you want to but don’t know where, speak to a member of staff!

8. MEGACHURCH is always a highlight of the year and we will be gathering as one on 20th October at 9.30am. I am so thankful for this annual event where we all do church together. There are no other services in our church that day!

9. As a church, we are starting to engage more significantly with the online world. We recognise the dangers that exist there but we also recognise that many people use social media to start and drive relationships. We want to allow the Gospel to be present there so that people might start and drive their relationship with God. We now have a weekly Sermon Extra and other projects that are about to launch.

Thanks for your prayers and partnership in the Gospel in Campbelltown.

In Christ
Nigel      

Domestic Violence is a Serious Problem – Part 2

Dear Friends,

Prompted by a short but poignant book by Natasha Stott Despoja called On Violence, I wrote last week about the problem with the solutions offered by the world. Essentially, the world needs Jesus if it is going to solve the problem of Domestic Violence.

But we also need to remember that simply being a Christian does not stop or prevent domestic violence. We need to proclaim the Gospel to each other but we must also do more.

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.

If you are the victim of a family member’s violence, please speak to police, a trusted friend or me. If you are the one being violent. Please stop now. Please seek help. 

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.

Domestic Violence is a Serious Problem

Dear Friends,

I have just finished reading a short but poignant book by Natasha Stott Despoja called On Violence. It sits in the Little Books on Big Ideas series and argues that the global pandemic of violence against women and girls is possible to eliminate. The solution she articulates is for the whole of our society to produce cultural change by speaking out against sexism, gender inequality and violence. Essentially, if we all get on board against it, it will disappear. Stott Despoja is right but her solution is also impossible.

Earlier in the book, we are reminded that the World Health Organisation states that
violence against women ‘is not an intractable part of the human condition’ but the product of complex, yet modifiable social and environmental factors’.

All this makes me want to weep. The book wants humans to speaks out and act but despite acknowledging the problem with this solution the author (nor the WHO) will label the real issue: the human heart. Stott Despoja and others who have written on domestic violence are trying their hardest to hold onto the intrinsic goodness of humanity but to do so is to try and hold a cloud in your hand.

At some point, those who commentate on the world we live in are going to have to
acknowledge what the Bible has been teaching for thousands of years:
There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands; there is no-one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11)

Domestic Violence began in Genesis 4 and there are examples littered through the history of the world since then. The answer to it all is complex and multifaceted to be sure, but it has to begin with new hearts and minds that are only available through the supernatural power of the Spirit of God and the work of Jesus Christ in our lives. Only Jesus can truly change hearts. Only the Spirit can truly reshape lives to be full of peace and self-control. Our world, the violent in the world and everyone else, needs Jesus.

That’s not to say that Christians are never guilty of domestic violence. Tragically, some
Christian are aggressive and violent towards their family. It’s unacceptable. It’s ungodly. It’s horrific. It’s got to stop.

So what should we do?

Keep speaking the Gospel to people. Look around your church and be reminded of the
incredible power of God in transforming lives. Talk to each other about this. Encourage
each other in this. Remind each other that there is no other solution for the world’s ills
than this. And then proclaim the good news of Jesus death for sin and rising again for the salvation and transformation of the world. Proclaim this to Christians and unbelievers. Remind each other to keep in step with the Spirit.

To many such words are nonsense or the stench of death but to those who are being saved they are the power of God. Don’t underestimate God’s capacity to turn violence to peace.

More next week!
In Christ
Nigel

Saving the World

Dear friends,

What are you doing to Save the World?

Have you noticed this language being used about climate change again recently? I have seen it on billboards and in newspaper articles. I have seen it in web searches and online articles. In a recent student march it featured again.

We need to save our world!

Slogans such as “Wake up and Save our Future” are becoming increasingly prevalent (again). They roll off the tongue of Christians and atheists alike as many have genuine concern for the the impact of human life on our planet. My concern is that the eschatology that goes with it is completely contrary to biblical thinking. My excitement is that this language provides you with an easy opportunity to share the Gospel.

Eschatology (put simply) is “what’s going to happen at the end”. Climate change eschatology says that humans are determining, by their inaction, when the planet is going to die and humans, by taking action, can stop that from happening. Salvation by human works. The Bible teaches almost the exact opposite.

All time is in God’s hands and he determined both the beginning of earthly life and he will determine the end. Moreover, this planet we live on will be done away with by God at a time of his choosing (Matt 5:18, 2 Peter 3:10-11, Rev 21:1-4). We cannot save the planet and we cannot ensure our future on this planet. Those decisions are all in God’s hands and he is being patient with the world so that more people might be saved (2 Peter 3:9). God’s focus, God’s greatest agenda for the world is that he might be reconciled with humans. Salvation by God’s will and grace.

To this end, climate change can be one great opportunity for idolatry, error and misguided decision making. Christian people need to be careful that they don’t hide God’s greatest plan for humanity behind humanity’s current greatest plan. Perhaps this might start with choosing different language to use about why you are concerned about the climate. Please stop using “save” language and please never call God “Mother Nature”! It may also mean we need to think carefully about our individual purpose for life on earth and not buy in thoughtlessly to climate change ideology.

But all this excites me. Have you noticed that many, many people are talking about saving the world. Given that is God’s agenda for the world (John 3:16) the opportunities to introduce the Gospel into conversations about climate change are endless. You could inject Jesus into a conversation by saying: “Do you know the bible teaches that God also desires to save the world?” or “God’s plans to fix our world are bigger than ours could ever be!” or simply, “Where do you think God’s plans fit into all this?”

Can I suggest you begin shifting your thinking about all this? I know there are various views about whether climate change is something to worry about – my concern is that whatever your view, Christian people will end up promoting a Gospel that is no Gospel at all by adopting the climate change language or ideology the world promotes or never taking opportunities to share the Gospel with those concerned about it.

Let us be those who promote Christ – his works, his world, his wisdom.

In Christ
Nigel

Safety and Security of Children and Young People

Dear Friends,

As a church we work with many children and young people and it is important that we treat them appropriately with kindness and Gospel-shaped grace. It is of course important that everyone is treated in this way, but children can easily be forgotten or hurt.

Churches are still coming under fire following the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In many cases around Australia, including Sydney, adults who were given responsibility to care for children in church settings have used and abused them. We have people in our own church who have suffered under the hands of evil men and women who used religion and religious networks to hide their horrific actions. This must not happen again.

In recognition of this, the Anglican Church requires all people involved with caring for and ministering to children and young people to do two things.

First, all people involved in caring for and ministering to children must do the Anglican Church approved Safe Ministry Training. Many professions require you to do Safe Working with Children programs however, such programs cannot be accredited to replace the Anglican Church Safe Ministry Training. Once completed, a refresher is completed every three years. The full course is now completed online. If you are unsure as to whether you should do the training or where you are up to in the three year cycle, please contact the office. If you are not Safe Ministry Trained or your certificate expires, you will not be able to start or continue with your ministry to children or young people.

Second, all people involved in caring for and ministering to children must apply for a Working With Children Check (WWCC). You start this process by going to www.kidsguardian.nsw.gov.au. You make an application and they send you a WWCC application number. You must then go to the RMS and identify yourself again after which the check takes place and clearance (or otherwise) is provided. You must then provide the church office with your WWCC number for verification. If you do not have a WWCC that has been verified by our office you will not be able to minister to children or young people.

There are some very limited exceptions to both of the above arrangements and if you wish to discuss those, please speak to me or our Safe Ministry Representative, Kerry Olsen.

The best way to protect our children is for everyone to be trained. It is actually our preference that everyone in our church does both the Safe Ministry Training and acquires a WWCC. This not only creates a helpful culture of transparency but also a culture of understanding. The more eyes that both see and understand, the better. If you have any questions about this, please speak to me or one of the Wardens.

Finally, if you see something strange, please say something!

In Christ
Nigel