Today we come to the final topic in our series on Prayer – Confessing Prayer – and it’s also Australia Day.
The key reading for today is Nehemiah 1:1-11. Nehemiah was a Jew who had risen to a prominent position as cupbearer to the Persian emperor Artaxerxes I, part of the Jewish minority living in Persia. As the king’s cup bearer, he tasted the wine before the king drank.
Nehemiah inquired from his brother about the situation back in Jerusalem (vs2-3), empathized with those who were hurting (v4), humbled himself before God (v4) and prayed (vs5-11), expressing adoration to God (v5), confessing and sharing his nation’s sin to the Lord that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of many to Persia (vs6-7), and petitioning God for help (vs 8-11). God stirred the heart of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That story begins with our reading this morning.
However, in verse 6 we read: I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you (God). Nehemiah was aware that his nation had broken the covenant with God and they were being punished accordingly. Strange? Someone in exile confessing the sins of his nation to God and seeking God’s help to restore Israel’s relationship with God and rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem. And it happened.
Nehemiah had a sense of individual and corporate responsibility which many people lack today. He identifies with his people and his nation historically in a way that we don’t identify with the church and our nation. We don’t confess the failure of the church or of our nation as if we are the ones who have sinned, failed, or fallen short. We’re more likely to say, “It’s not my fault. I didn’t do it. I wasn’t even there.”
On this Australia Day, to pray a prayer of confession like Nehemiah did on behalf of our nation and our church may seem too difficult. However, maybe we will be encouraged by Charles Swindoll who writes in Hand Me Another Brick, “I plead with you—as you go before God in prayer concerning any unresolved… conflicts, have the attitude reflected in these words: ‘Lord, I bring before you these areas where I have caused an irritation. This is my realm of responsibility. I can’t change (the other person – situation). But God, I can tell you that this is my part in it; please forgive me‘”.
Confession prayer begins a renewed relationship with God. Knowing ourselves forgiven, we can better forgive others and pray for them, thus renewing our relationship with them, including our church and our nation.
This Sunday we continue our series on prayer with a focus on prayers for others. In the reading from Ephesians 6:18-20, Paul is in prison and chained day and night to the wrist of a Roman soldier. In wanting to talk to the early church about defending themselves against the temptations of the world he draws inspiration from the soldiers’ armour. There was the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals to show readiness to spread the Word, the helmet of salvation, the shield against temptation and the sword which was the word of God. He then comes to the greatest weapon of all – prayer. He makes three points about prayer: It must be constant; it must be intense and it must be unselfish.
Then we come to the story in Job 42:7-10 who prayed for his friends. God clearly wanted him to pray that his friends escape God’s punishment. God not only answered Job’s prayer but after that prayer, God not only restored Job’s fortunes, which had taken quite a beating, but doubled them.
Many studies have been done of prayers for others and they have led to interesting insights. However, in the end prayer is a matter of faith. Prayers for others show God what is in our hearts. Further, if our prayers align with God’s purpose, they will be granted because of his Grace towards us. The pinnacle of prayer is “Thy will be done”, and prayer leads us to discover what that is for us, and for the others for whom we pray.
Finally praying for others is good for us. Not that we should expect a reward as was granted to Job, but in focussing on the needs of others, and not being self-obsessed, it can put our issues into perspective and allow us to achieve a clarity about our personal challenges.
In Ephesians 3:16-19, Paul is praying for the new Christians in Ephesus. There are many prayers for his new converts sprinkled throughout Paul’s writings, but in this one he is praying for two things: that the Ephesians may be strengthened with power in every part of them, as Jesus makes himself at home in their whole being – body, soul and spirit.
And secondly, that they be given the ability to eagerly possess the multi-dimensions of God’s love, and to know it by experience, not just head knowledge.
There is a closely allied prayer in Ephesians 1:17, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
Power to know. This is a great prayer, and one (or 3) that we can readily pray for ourselves, or for the people we love and regularly pray for. Because we and those we love need to know the reality of God’s truth in our whole beings.
There is great power in praying the words and truths of scripture. We can know with absolute certainty that we are praying according to God’s will. Our own prayers are often slanted by self-interest, or lack of vision and understanding. Not seeing the full picture as God sees it. But by praying scripture we are re-programming our minds and attitudes with God’s mind and attitudes. 1 John 5:14 tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.”
Many of us are concerned about our children or grandchildren, and this is a great way to pray for them. There are many passages in the Bible that are suitable for adapting; simply personalise it by adding the person’s name, or if you’re praying for yourself, put it into the first person. Here are a few to start with: Philippians 3:14, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17, plus the three above, but the possibilities are endless!
Everywhere we look, we see signs: street signs, advertising signs, signs on the roadway, signs telling us how long we can park or whether we can park there at all. If we take notice of them most assist us, some confuse us – but we need to see them and follow what they say.
The Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle of the Christian Year is full of signs. The prophet Isaiah announces a sign to king Ahaz that ‘a young woman will conceive and bear a son and shall call his name ‘Emmanuel” – God with us.” Matthew builds on this as he tells the story of the birth of Jesus: “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet – ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son ….’
The angels were busy. They surprise the shepherds with the announcement of the birth of Jesus – Messiah – by telling them: “This will be sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” So they go to Bethlehem and it’s just as the angels had told them. They told everyone they met what they had seen.
One of the more obvious signs comes with Epiphany – the visit of the Magi from the east to the young child Jesus. They followed a star to a house in Bethlehem, presented their gifts and worshipped him.
I hope you have allowed yourself to fully enter into the love, joy, hope and peace celebrated in our times of worship throughout Advent, this time of looking forward to celebrating again the birth of Jesus, Messiah, and anticipating his coming again as King of kings and Lord of Lords.
Love, joy, hope and peace are not only gifts Jesus brings to us but gifts we are called as Christians to share within our families, with our friends and with all we meet. These are signs of Jesus’ presence in us. Let’s make sure they are seen.
Do you like waiting in lines?
Queuing up at shop counters, waiting for several difficult customer to finish being served while you only need to pay $2.50 for a newspaper?
Waiting in traffic? Waiting to find a park? Waiting in line to speak to a real person on the phone?
When it comes to these things I’m pretty impatient and usually find other things to do instead of waiting, only to miss out on whatever it was I was waiting for.
Jesus said, the prophets predicted, and all the New Testament writers wrote about Jesus coming back in glory to once and for all establish fully the Kingdom of God, the new heaven and the new earth. Trumpets will sound and Jesus will appear. So in the mean time we wait… but with patient hope.
It’s a little challenging to get our heads and hearts around. We think, ‘well Jesus said this and the early disciples believed this nearly 2000 years ago. It obviously hasn’t happened yet. So lets just ignore this and get on with living a Christian life in the here and now rather than concerning ourselves about the not yet and the seemingly never’. It’s like me getting bored in a queue, ducking the queue and missing out.
“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” James 4:7-8
My first date with my now wife Nicole was going to the movies during the December uni. holidays at Marion Shopping centre. It was busy, very horribly busy. I couldn’t find a park. I drove slowly and with ever increasing frustration around the whole car park three times. I could not find a park. I was getting close to giving up, but in the days before mobile phone use, I realised I could be patient and wait for the park to appear or drive on and miss out on the date with Nicole, possibly forever. I waited and found a park. Thankfully Nicole had waited at the cinemas for me too. We could’ve got bored, given up and missed out on each other. Instead we have since then barely been apart. Jesus is coming. We can get bored with waiting and miss out. Or wait patiently for Jesus to come in glory and make all things new.
Advent is the season of waiting and preparing. You, like me, may have been confused about what we’re waiting for. Often we think its about preparing Christmas, the time when God chose to become like us… Emmanuel (which means God with us). The Christmas carols we sing, the trees, the advent calendars, the parades, the Christmas parties, the decorations in shops and offices all seem to reinforce the same message: Jesus is coming/has come to us as a baby at Christmas, let’s celebrate. If you do some research into the church calendar and what’s called the Revised Common Lectionary (set Sunday bible readings for each year on a 3-year rotation used by many mainline denominations worldwide since its revision in 1994); you discover that advent is waiting and preparing not for Father Christmas or Christ coming as a baby. That happened over 2000 years ago. Rather, it is Christ’s coming again in glory. The ’second coming’. Some writers and commentators who enjoy a strict adherence to the church’s liturgical year get quite upset about what they see as “the Christmas creep” of advent. Christmas carols and decorations are for Christmas and the period after, not before. As a result, Christmas for them should come in sudden flurry! At BCUC were mixing it together a bit. We can see both Christmas coming and elements of preparing for the time Jesus comes again. Up the front of the church we add each Sunday a golden trumpet. As Jesus described his return: “he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” Matthew 24:31.The flags have a letter of the four traditional advent themes: Love, Joy, Hope, Peace. Their colour is purple: the usual colour of advent that represents both royalty (the sovereignty of God) and penitent preparation. The black background represents the pre-dawn. As Christians we live in the time between Jesus death and resurrection and his return, the darkness is nearly over. As we progress through the weeks we will see more light and life (including in the flowers). The bible in front of the cross symbolises the primary revelation of Jesus (come along at Christmas and you will see the word made flesh). It’s not the bright tinsel and trees that you get at Burnside Village, its about showing Jesus return. We hope these visuals will enhance the message and your worship experience as we ask ourselves: are we prepared for Jesus to return?
It’s the first Sunday of Advent! Maybe you have kids like mine who woke up this morning and opened their cardboard windows to find a Christmas themed sliver of cheap European chocolate to eat. A sure sign that Christmas is coming, Jesus is near, the countdown begins. However, the church season of advent has not been just about counting down to Christmas Day. The lectionary readings are often focused on the theme of Jesus is coming… again. Scholars like to call it the apocalyptic texts. Things such as:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
Today’s reading says: Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Matthew 24:42-44
This line of Christian thought has historically attracted the attention of the religious fringe. With all sorts of speculation about exactly how and when the second coming, the great tribulation, the rapture or the apocalypse will occur. For example recent history tells of a group of people who sold everything they owned and built a makeshift grandstand to watch Jesus come walking in through the heads of Sydney Harbour, which must have been rather embarrassing for them when he didn’t show up.
You may be like me and have observed this kind of behaviour and talk then wanted to distance yourself from it. Our loss is that we ignore and even dismiss a vital understanding of the Christian faith. Over the next few weeks we will address this gap. Keep in mind the condensed understanding of the second coming of Jesus that Dean Brooks recently explained to me.
- Jesus promised he will return. Human history is linear. There is an alpha and omega, a beginning and an end with Jesus in control of both.
- We don’t know when it will happen. Even Jesus on earth didn’t know. There will be signs like windows in an advent calendar, but we don’t know how many windows there are. Just trust and wait.
- Live your life now as if it is imminent. As the bumper sticker says: “Look busy, Jesus is coming”. Be reconciled to the people around you, sort it out, get a clean slate now with God and with others, don’t wait, just be ready and follow the Scout Motto “Be Prepared”.
(In keeping with this theme the Christmas decorations this advent will be minimal compared to those you find in shopping malls. We will emphasise the coming of Christ like the darkness of the earth giving birth to a new day. Look out for decorations highlighting the trumpet call of God.)
Who/What is the Centre of your universe? I’m not asking that question in any planetary sense but very personally.
There are many people and/or things around which our lives revolve.
Youth today plunge into deep anxiety when parents ban the use of electronic gadgets for misdemeanours. The confiscation of their mobile phone is second only to death!
Adults are not immune from placing things and people in the centre of our lives. Various forms of media, people and fashions compete for our devotion under the guise of being a friend, or an aide to life. They promise home, body, spiritual, retail and technological renovation. Who or what truly deserves our devotion? Who/What is the centre of our universe? This is St. Paul’s basic question in our reading from Colossians today. And his answer is – Christ alone
He (Jesus) is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. Colossians 1:18
Today we celebrate the last Sunday in the Christian Year – the Festival of Christ the King through which we affirm that Jesus is the One who is at the very centre of our lives – our universe.
The Lord God, through the prophet Jeremiah proclaims
The days are coming, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour. Jeremiah 23:5-6
I was surprised to discover that there are some 43 or 44 countries in our world today that have monarchies. There are many images that came into my mind when thinking about this – vast palaces, pomp and ceremony, wealth beyond imagining.
However, we need to know that Jesus is not a far-removed king on high but one who bends himself to our brokenness so that we might be saved. He displays his kingship in service to others and his death on the cross. In this servanthood and life-giving love, Christ reigns. His presence is to be found in the difficult, struggling and painful places of our world.
This King deserves my love, my allegiance, my service in this world with him in the places he is and calls me to be.
King Jesus is worthy to be the Centre of our universe.
Wow a lot happened last Sunday at church. To hear the unique stories of the life-changing difference a relationship with Jesus makes reminds me of the joy of ministry. Thank you Graham, Jaime and Greg for your courage and honesty.
Thanks to all those involved last Sunday from the details of the service including the Church Council with the launch of our vision and three year direction “Raising Children of God”, to those involved in the re-affirmation of baptism to the music, the membership and the behind the scenes office work required to get over 200 personal certificates printed (please pick yours up if you haven’t yet) and then finally the generous hospitality of the international lunch to follow. It was a wonderful preview of the great heavenly banquet Jesus talked about. Thanks Joy for the vision of the international lunch and all the many people who pitched in to help with providing food, serving, setting up, the kids who served others and those who cleaned up. It was a great team effort which created a family buzz of Christian fellowship for over 200 people. Thank you.
This Sunday Colette and I will talk about the five-fold ministry mentioned in Ephesians.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:12-13
It’s a list that Paul gives in a general letter about church. There is debate as to whether this is an exhaustive list of the ministries in the church or not and since writing in the first century there are now broad ways of understanding how this can apply to our church today. The apostle is like the church planter or entrepreneur who begins lasting church movements, the prophet listens to the voice of the spirit and responds, this can be calling out injustice or being able to see God’s plan for others, the evangelist shares the message of the gospel to encourage faith, the shepherd is those who pastorally care for the flock and finally the teacher is the one who explains Jesus to others. Some argue that everyone is one of these five, others would argue it’s a specific list.
There are a number of online “five-fold ministry test” to see who you are.
Mike Breen from ‘Building a Discipling Culture” talks about having a “base” ministry, which is our natural default. The one we find easiest. We might go through phases of each of the others to help deepen our base. The final focus is that each of the ministries need to work together as the body of Christ, not independently. Their purpose is not to lift and build up the ego of the believer but rather to humbly equip others in ministry and build the wider church up. So may the Holy Spirit help us to equip the saints for ministry as we raise children of God.
Jesus left Earth and his disciples with a vision: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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.” (Matthew 28:19-20). Then he gave them the action plan “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, (local) and in all Judea and Samaria, (regional) and to the ends of the earth (global).” Acts 1:8.
This year we have been asking the question “why does BCUC exist? What is our purpose?”. Following discussions at our Church Council retreat, getting a ‘feel’ for the place, after much discussion, prayer and observation about the great strengths, aspirations, hopes and prayers for BCUC, plus based on survey results and the open prayer time, we kept coming around to the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”, it takes a church community to raise a child of God. We settled on our mission and vision statement, our primary purpose as a church being: “raising Children of God”.
Raising: this is the work of discipling, it is the main work of the church with the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit.
Children of God: a New Testament term for those who are loved, known and know Jesus. This is our primary, eternal identity which can never be taken away. We become brothers and sisters in Christ. By being called “children” there is humility and loving obedience to God. We are all still growing like children in our faith.
For the next three years at BCUC what does this look like? What is our action plan?
- “I Can’t Wait Worship” Develop worship times and services that best match what God is doing in and through BCUC to provide passionate/engaging/meaningful/God honouring worship for ALL the children of God at BCUC and those yet to come. Includes creativity, engaging all-ages and intercultural worship.
- Raising Disciples With significant impactful small group ministry, regular alpha groups, loving prayerful pastoral care, healing ministry, raising leaders (gift development), development of a teaching school (e.g. apologetics/ preaching) and beyond ourselves ministry (local, national, international) including focusing our mission funding on large Uniting Church national and international projects.
- Preparing the ground Developing BCUC values as a whole congregation. Having clear and simple pathways for membership and service with clear and simple decision-making structures and integrating modernised online systems (Elvanto, worship, finance).
- Raising local’s With the challenging aim of having a congregation that matches the demographics of the community “the children of God= the people of Burnside”. Currently youth and young adults are our biggest gap. To help us we aim to employ youth/young adults pastor 0.4 from 2020 and then a families pastor 0.4 from 2021.