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.
It began as Jesus left the disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit to give them the power to love each other, their neighbor and God in revolutionary ways while spreading the good news of Jesus, growing the church and enduring great suffering.
The perfect picture we have is in Acts 2 where people devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, fellowship (community), breaking of bread and prayer. As it grew, the early church writers tried to find images and metaphors that could describe this new group of people. They talked about the church as a building with a solid foundation, a temple of the Holy Spirit built of living stones, a vine, a bride and flock of Christ.
The body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4) has been one of the most enduring metaphors. It helps understand the ideal of the church universal, the Uniting Church and the local congregation, e.g. BCUC. Reading it in Corinthians, this was an image given to a church in conflict, full of jealousy and ‘us and them’. The image was given to help it stay united in Christ.
At its basic level, we’re all knitted together with Jesus as the head. Expand on this image and things get interesting.
- A human body is dynamic, growing, changing, moving, resting, organic, eating, excreting, full of amazing potential to build gardens, run marathons, construct airplanes, heal others, wrap people up in love, create and destroy, love and hurt, do much or do very little. But a body is not a fixed building or a monument. That’s a statue. The bible doesn’t say the church is a statue. It is the same way with our church.
- We all have different roles. Encourage each other, don’t envy or look over your shoulder or get annoyed at the other. Very different bits and organs of body work together not separately. Celebrate your uniqueness and that of others.
- When one bit hurts we all hurt. When all bits work well things can really move.
- We can increase the fitness, strength and health of a body.
- Jesus is the head. More specifically, the brain and the central nervous system. Giving electrical impulses to the rest of the body in a feedback loop.
At its best the local congregation is a beautiful expression of the body of Christ. Healthy, dynamic, creative, healing and bringing light to a broken world. I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to knit us together at BCUC to be a great example of the body of Christ. —Your brother in Christ, Benji
On Sunday November 10th at 10:00am, we are having a single service at BCUC to celebrate membership. This is an opportunity to publicly and formally declare your commitment to the work of God through the life of BCUC.
I am loving being a part of BCUC. Not only is this where God has called my family and me to worship and serve, it’s the place where I can follow Jesus in loving God with everything and love others as I love myself. It’s where I am being raised as a Child of God. Formalising my membership according to church regulations won’t really affect that. You won’t even find formalising membership in the bible. So why are we encouraging you to formalise your membership with us? Well it’s really useful for a range of reasons:
- The Bible calls us to worship in an orderly way (1 Cor 14:40) and membership is an expression of good order.
- It helps the leaders lead. The elders have responsibility in Christ to shepherd the flock. It’s really helpful for us to know who the flock actually are (1 Peter 5:2).
- It’s a way of publically confirming your belonging with us. It’s saying “yes” to serving Jesus, and being part of the mission of God through BCUC. Like other public covenant acts (baptism, marriage) membership can give you hope to hang in there when things go rough and is a symbol of God’s promise to lead us through together. And that’s a great witness to the gospel (John 13:34-35).
- You can help us make decisions. By becoming a member of BCUC you are saying publically “I get what BCUC is about and I want to help us get to where God is calling us”. According to the current ordering of the church, you won’t be able to vote on decisions if you’re not a formal member (e.g. on Church Council or at Meetings of the Congregation).
Yes, it can seem like a rigid formality. But part of my joyful submission to Jesus is my submission to the people whom he calls to serve me (Romans 13:1-3). That can be scary because they are flawed like me, but as Jesus is the one who builds and governs his church it’s OK for me to submit to the human structures he puts in place (Hebrews 13:17).
(adapted from Simon Dent at CoroUniting)
Today in worship we begin a 3 week series on Membership. The focus today is ‘I believe in the Church’, an understanding of the nature of the universal church of Jesus Christ. This will be followed by a look at the Uniting Church and the Biblical Vision for the future, touching on our church’s Basis of Union. The 3rd Sunday looks at who we are and what we are doing as Burnside City Uniting Church.
This series will bring us to November 10th when, in a single service, we will share in a Celebration of Membership and launch the church’s new vision and direction. This will be followed by a shared International Lunch acknowledging the nature of our congregation as one growing in its international diversity.
This afternoon our Pastoral Contacts will gather for a time of fellowship and learning together. Benji will lead a time focusing on ‘Confident Caring’. We have 67 of our congregation providing a pastoral contact with all those who have a sense of belonging to BCUC. Some of these are spread across almost 20 aged care facilities. Pastoral Care needs are growing across our congregation. Our Pastoral Contacts and Ministers respond to all the age groups represented at BCUC and their pastoral needs. These may include hospitalisation, immediate family crisis, death of a spouse or other family members, loss of a job or the need to work through the implications of an impending transfer in one’s job, support for those caring for a wider family member in a particular time of crisis or simply letting someone know that they are valued for what they are doing to enhance our life together at BCUC.
Being the Church of Jesus Christ links those who are the church (membership) with those in need (pastoral care). Jesus calls us to love one another as he loves us. This is a great privilege – encouraging and building up one another in love through caring for one another.
This Sunday Jenny Olver is preaching at the Cafe service about the value of encouragement in a Christian community by first looking at the story of Barnabas whose encouragement of Paul led to him being one of the greatest church planters and writers in history. Rev Charissa Suli will be speaking in 9am and classic service from the lectionary and also about the importance of mentoring the younger generation.
The book of Acts is like a bloggers journal of the birth and spread of the early church from Jerusalem to the capital of the Roman Empire. By chapter 9:30-31 we have these beautiful verses that say the early church experiences a period of peace and grew in numbers thanks to the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. As we seek to grow and raise children of God at BCUC let’s draw on that same spirit of encouragement.
Last Thursday I had the privilege of preaching at the induction service of Rev. Tim and Rev. Sil Hein at Malvern UCA. As I was about to get to the pulpit many memories of my involvement in Malvern came flooding back from my first sermons, kids talks, choir singing, weddings, dramas, nearly burning down the church in a creative worship service using way too many candles and more… I was grateful for the encouragement and the risk that the congregation and leaders had taken to raise me up as a child of God, equipping me for mission and ministry. I imagine that without their encouragement I might still be spreading bacteria in a lab somewhere wondering if there is another calling for my life. Have you been a “Barnabas” to someone or had a “Barnabas” encourage you?
Jenny asks a number of very valuable questions:
- what would BCUC be like if it was not just a welcoming church but rather an encouraging church?
- Are you open to responding to the Spirit’s leading?
- Are you prepared to step up and approach someone?
- Are you ready, like Barnabas, to relinquish a role, its praise, its past and maybe even the historical memory of your contribution following successful encouragement of others?
We can all exercise the gift of encouragement. Take a risk, look beyond yourself and your own ministry areas, who is God leading you to encourage today?
We are living in extreme times. People have been turning their back on God’s way in droves, and doing whatever seems good to them. Many children today don’t even know who Jesus is, don’t know even the most basic stories about him. Christians all over the world are being persecuted. Here in Australia, while we are not yet dying for our faith, we are being persecuted in other ways and our freedoms are being steadily eroded.
And yet there is a great hunger in the world, a spiritual hunger, for peace, meaning, and purpose. We, who belong to the King of Kings, know what it is, and who it is, they are looking for. But we hold this treasure in clay pots, always mindful of our human frailty, our inconsistencies, and what we consider our inability to be effective witnesses for Jesus.
Having just completed the Alpha Course where the last topic was on sharing our faith, several things emerged:
- While people are becoming suspicious of Christians, they usually don’t have anything against Jesus.
- People will be happy to listen to you if they sense you are motivated by love.
- Most people are happy to be prayed for.
- No-one can argue with your personal story of what God has done in your life.
- The gospel is the power of God for salvation.
Romans 10:17 tells us, “…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”
We need to write God’s word on our hearts and experience it fully, so that we can, with real conviction, share it with others.
“…my word… will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
Over the next three weeks we will focus on mission, with the privilege of hearing from three guest preachers who have seen first-hand stories of 2019 missionaries from very different contexts.
Sunday 29th Sept: Rev Sue Ellis, Moderator of the Uniting Church in SA will speak about her vision for the church over the last three years as Grow, Nurture, Flourish with a special emphasis on the work of Frontier Services in SA. This is mission in the regions of SA.
Sunday 6th Oct: Luke Telfer, the president of Gideons Association (also a young farmer from the Eyre Peninsula) will share the amazing impact of giving out bibles to people in schools, hotels, on the streets and personally to friends and family. This is personal, local mission.
Sunday 13th Oct: Rev. Charissa Suli a second generation Tongan Minister working as a consultant for the Assembly with a special interest in mentoring young people and inter-generational, inter-cultural ministry. This is mission with an international flavour.
What is mission? Jesus said “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations.” Wesley said “The world is my parish.”
From the 16-1800’s many western churches from Europe sent missionaries to the new world to spread the gospel. Their fortitude and perseverance was astounding as they found themselves in villages and cities that they could not have prepared for, with languages and cultures that would’ve been to them completely alien. There was no way of googling it before hand. Although today’s historians look back with mixed perspectives, I know personally the ongoing local churches in places such as India, China, Africa and the pacific who still hold these missionaries in very high regard.
But the word ‘mission’ today has a much broader meaning than planting churches and making disciples in far-flung places. Its local, regional and international. Its both social justice and evangelism, two sides of the same coin. David Bosch described the mission of the church as “A community of people who, in the face of tribulations they encounter, keep their eyes steadfastly on the reign of God by praying for its coming, by being its disciples, by proclaiming its presence, by working for peace and justice in the midst of hatred and oppression, and by looking and working toward God’s liberating future.”
I am drawn to the “incarnational” approach to mission. Jesus was sent to earth, he took on the form of the locals (flesh, a human body, the baby Jesus- God incarnate) lived and breathed with the locals, loved them, taught them and showed them who God was, and what God’s purpose and desire was for them, then gave his life for them only to be resurrected. If we use the same approach, then we are sent (to our families, neighbours, work places, shops), we get to learn and love the people and culture, we show them who God is and God’s purpose for them with a love that is sacrificial.
Enjoy these learning and being challenged these next 3 weeks. I will.