One of my favourite biblical images of growing in our faith and our relationship with Jesus is that of a tree. The prophet Jeremiah, when giving a message to the Isrealite people to hold onto God said this…
“Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.
They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
The very first Psalm reinforces this imagery.
“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3)
One of my aims and hopes for my own Christian walk is to always be growing into something like the majestic River Red gums that line the creeks of Burnside rather than a prickly weed growing in a desert. I usually begin each year around this time spending some time quietly in prayer, usually in a National Park, asking God what do you want me to focus on this year? What do you want me learn? Speak Lord your servant is listening! Sometimes I get a clear focus very quickly, other times it takes a while to get clarity, but I trust that every year the Holy Spirit will reveal some theme for the growth or fruit to come from my discipleship tree. I wonder what area of your life is God prompting you to grow into this year?
Your brother in Christ,
What a joy and privilege it is to be serving as the minister here at Burnside City. I’m enjoying getting to know people’s stories and more about how we as a church operate. If you’re new to BCUC like me and my family, welcome! I am confident you will be met by a generous and loving congregation who are passionate about this place.
Colette reminded me of a scripture during the week from Exodus 33:7-11 when Moses would go into the “tent of meeting” and inquire of the LORD. V11 says that “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”
As I meet people, one of the question’s I have is how is your relationship with Jesus going? Would you be able to describe it in the same way as Moses, speaking to the LORD as one speaks to a friend? Is it growing and flourishing or is it stagnant? What helps you get closer to Jesus? Worship, preaching, prayer groups, house groups, serving, personal devotions, bible reading?
In this week’s reading Jesus is about to call some of his disciples, he’s preaching to the crowds from a boat and he asks the local fisherman to go and fish out in deeper water. Although they expect to get nothing they find they catch more fish than can fill the local Barnacle Bills. Jesus has a tendency to layer spiritual meaning over practical things. What does is mean for us at BCUC to push out into “deeper water”? I wander how are we growing deeper in our relationship with Jesus? I’m certainly not Moses but would love to have that same deep intimacy with the creator of the universe. What about you? As it says in James 4:8 “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” As we begin a new season at BCUC what steps can we take individually and together to push out into deeper water and draw closer to God.
Why not look up one of my favourite prayers from Ephesians 3:14b-21. Try and memorise this prayer during the week and use it for yourself, your family, someone at church and a friend or neighbour.
LOVE IS ………
The thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians is probably the favourite wedding text of all time – and with good reason.
A wife came into a counsellor’s office full of hatred toward her husband. “I don’t only want to get rid of him, I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has me,” she cried. The counsellor suggested an unusual plan “Go home and act as if you really love your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him. After you’ve convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that you’re getting a divorce. That will really hurt him.” With revenge in her eyes, she smiled and exclaimed, “Beautiful, beautiful. Will he ever be surprised!” And she did it with enthusiasm, acting “as if.” For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving, reinforcing, sharing. When she didn’t return, the counsellor ‘phoned her. “Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?” “Divorce?” she exclaimed. “Never! I discovered I really do love him.” Her actions had changed her feelings. Motion resulted in emotion. The ability to love is established not so much by fervent promise, as often repeated deeds.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour – act as if you do. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love them. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking them more. If you do them a good turn, you will find yourself disliking them less.”
…… THE GREATEST
Body of life
In my final week here at BCUC it is apt that the Corinthians reading is about the body. As a minister I have always known my task is to help the church be healthy as the Body of Christ.
This does not happen when I am successful. It happens when I do things that allow the Spirit freedom to work in the lives of the congregation members. If I preach well and you say nice things I feel good. If through the door my preaching opens, one or more people go deeper in their relationship with Jesus, then something important has happened. As the body of Christ in this place, all are called to go deeper in Christ, all are called to deeper discipleship, all are called to deeper service, and all are called to share in the glorious liberty of the children of God.
The Holy Spirt is at work in the people of the congregation, and that is where the church is, so the measure of the church is not the minister/pastor but the spirituality and discipleship of the members. I like Benji and I hope you will also. Remember though, that he is not responsible for the success of the church, YOU are. He is not the Saviour, there is only one, Jesus Christ. So do not put too many expectations on Benji, let him be what he is, a man committed to serving Jesus as he follows his call.
And you should also seek to follow your call as disciples and give the Spirit free reign in your lives and the life of this congregation.
In July last year, the national Assembly of the Uniting Church, agreed to mark the Sunday before Australia Day as a Day of Mourning in which Uniting Church congregations across Australia reflect on the effect that the arrival and settlement of Europeans has had on Australia’s First Peoples and our identity as a nation.
As the President of the Assembly, Rev Dr Deirdre Palmer explains:
“Remembering our history is an important part of our journey toward reconciliation as First and Second Peoples.
Our declaration of a Day of Mourning allows us to stand together in remembering the truth of our history, and honouring the culture of Australia’s First Peoples, their families and the next generations.
I will be joining Uniting Church members in lamenting, saying sorry and asking for forgiveness, for the past and current impacts of colonisation and dispossession of Australia’s First Peoples.
As the Uniting Church we affirm that ours is “a destiny together” acknowledging the wrongs of the past and the present and committing ourselves to take action to bring about a more just Australia.
As the Uniting Church we hear Jesus calling us into the light of reconciliation.
I pray that our Church and our nation will continue on this journey of confession, forgiveness and working toward justice and healing”
The full text of the President’s remarks can be found at https://assembly.uca.org.au/day-of-mourning
Sometimes I feel there should be a law against January. You know, the post-Christmas and New Year’s blues; the recovery from overeating and still failing to go on a healthy diet; over-spending and the dread of facing all those bills; maybe the feeling of guilt for having not contacted someone; along with the struggle to motivate yourself enough to get on and do the things that need doing. In addition to all our ‘inner-personal’ struggle, there’s still our awareness of all those ‘outside struggles’ in the larger community, as well as in the wider world. When we combine all these and other pressures, anxieties, and struggles, no wonder we sometimes feel a tad ‘down in the dumps’ at this time of year.
Isaiah 43:1-7 focuses on the Israelites who were ‘down in the dumps’; they were depressed; they were fearful. Their hopes and dreams of the future had all but dried up and disappeared. But then comes a wonderful, uplifting message of Good News from God, overflowing with love and hope, restoration and deliverance, affirmation and acceptance:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. I will be with you… For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. …you are precious in my sight, and honoured – and I love you…
What a fantastic message – uplifting and full of hope! God comes to Israel in one of their most depressed, vulnerable moments. God comes when they feel down and out and fearful. God assures them that they have not been forgotten; they are indeed very special to God; they belong to God; they are loved by God; they need not fear.
Often we need to be reminded that God remains vitally interested in us; that even if we can’t see Him at work in our lives, we can be assured that God is still at work in us by his Spirit, and will bring us to Christian maturity – for that is his promise. At the beginning of this new year with its uncertainties, remember – we are loved by God and God is with us.
God – the Keeper of Promises
When I was a little child, my mother loved to play ‘Can you keep a secret?’ with me. Her tickling of my soft palm, followed by the underarm tickle, always caused me to giggle loudly, evidence that as a keeper of secrets I was hopeless! I have to write in my defence that I’ve improved considerably over the years!
Another Williams’ family virtue taught by my parents became a part of me. It was that we kept our promises. ‘Don’t make a promise that you can’t keep’ was taught with an explanation of the effect broken promises had on the one to whom the promise was given, as well as on me as the promise-maker. Unkept promises make for fractured relationships.
Two of our readings for today contain promises which God has kept. In Micah 5 : 2-5a we hear God promising that out of Bethlehem will come a ruler, strong in the Lord, shepherding his flock to bring peace and unity to his people.
Luke 1: 46–55 is Mary’s response to the angel’s news that she will become the mother of Jesus – ‘the Son of the Most High’ – that he will stand in the line of King David, that he will rule forever and that his kingdom will never end. Verse 55 of Mary’s Song – ‘.. just as he promised our ancestors ..’ – links back to the promise in Micah and God’s promises and covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis chapter 12. It is through Abraham’s descendants, the tribe of King David, that God promised to bring the world his eternal blessing of Jesus, our Saviour, God with us.
These two promises are about God’s love relationship with us – God working throughout history to ultimately draw people like us to himself through the promised One whose coming we celebrate at Christmas and whose coming again in glory we await. Truly we can sing ‘Glory to the newborn King’ as we celebrate his birth. God has kept his promises to us – and all people.
Peace and Harmony
It is said of beauty contestants that they always want world peace, it has even been used in several movies as a comedic device. We all want peace. At Christmas time there is often tension not far below the surface. Relatives who don’t get on, some whose behaviour can do a good impersonation of the Christmas Grinch, others who just are not socially adept.
So we would often just hope and pray that everything goes well, that no new feuds are begun. If we were to think of harmony at Christmas that would seem a bridge too far. Yet harmony is in fact a closer representation of what Jesus offers than just “getting through” Christmas.
Harmony where everyone is really close, where relationships are all positive is the promise of “Shalom”, the word for peace in the Bible. It is a positive concept, where we are at one (in harmony) with ourselves, others and God. It starts when we deal with the discordant parts of ourselves, when we allow Jesus transforming love free reign in our lives, and allow him to truly bring our lives under his control.
It continues when we allow ourselves to love as Jesus did, seeking the best for others at every opportunity. When that love is not determined by our agenda, but is determined by God’s purpose in each situation, and happens in a way that we are enlarged by that love as well (love your neighbour as you love yourself).
This shalom is the purpose of Jesus at Christmas as he came to begin the journey that ended in his death and resurrection. It was a journey of transformation as the relationship between humanity and God was changed forever on the cross. It is fully expressed when we seek Jesus transformation in our lives, for this is true peace!
Heard any good news lately?
Once upon a time, before every home had telephones – yes, ‘telephones’ not mobile phones – a young, pregnant woman awaited the birth of her first child. Their neighbours, an elderly couple, insisted that when the time came, their telephone was to be used to call the hospital, no matter what the hour of the day or the night.
And so the time came for her to be delivered (sound familiar?). Stuck to the wall above the neighbour’s telephone, in very large numerals, was the hospital’s telephone number. Thus the process began, culminating in the birth of the couple’s first-born son.
Over the next 48 hours, the new father visited many, many friends and relatives, each conversation beginning with the words “I’ve got some really good news for you!”
Luke 2:15-20 records the appearance of an angel of the Lord to a most unlikely group of men – shepherds, among the outcasts of their society – looking after their sheep on the hills above Bethlehem. “Don’t be afraid – have I got some really good news for you!” could be a paraphrase of his greeting. Not only did they hear his greeting but also the good news that Messiah – the long awaited, anointed One from God – had been born. He was to be found in a stock feeder wrapped up nice and tight in the little town below them. Being curious by nature, the shepherds hurried down to Bethlehem to discover things were just as they had been told.
But the shepherds didn’t stop there. They had heard some good news, they had seen for themselves it was true and they spread the word to amazed townsfolk and anyone who would listen to them – good news from most unlikely sources.
Now is a great a time for Christians to ask, “Have you heard the Good News lately?”
Advent – How do we measure it?
Scientists and governments love to measure things. This week there was a new shock and horror campaign about ICE and its effects. The government agencies said it wasn’t evidence based and the organisers cleverly asked back about the evidence base for the “Grim Reaper” ads about AIDS.
This got me thinking about people measuring Christmas. Do we measure it by the size of presents we are given? You know how it goes – an expensive present means he/she loves me more. Or perhaps it’s the quality of the food – NO-ONE makes better mince pies than I do, or my turkey stuffing is the best, or the lights/decorations (our roof leaked one year after our daughters took down the many lights they put up in such a way that one of the tiles was half off) are the very best in the street. There of course many others we could add.
We could take a step in the right direction and measure how much we love others. Back in the eighties I remember getting a call about 3pm on Christmas Eve from a young man I had married in the spring. He was a courier driver and he and his fellow workers were sitting around celebrating and decided they needed to do something for others, so they passed the hat around and raised over $500 – which was a lot for a bunch of courier drivers. He was the only one with any contact with someone who might be able to do something – so we did.
We could measure our own response and decide to do even more; maybe volunteer to serve Christmas lunch at a homeless shelter, or pack Christmas Hampers at Uniting Care Wesley Bowden or another agency, or invite a lonely person to share our family Christmas in a non-patronizing way.
But perhaps the best way is to think about the measure of God’s love, who put at risk his only Son, who sent him to a situation where he would be misunderstood even by those close to him, face constant harassment from those opposed and then to see him betrayed and crucified, and the Father choosing not to intervene and save him. That is the best measure of Christmas and I encourage you this Advent to use this as your measure!!