Can we understand the Bible as a whole?

It is great to have you with us at St Augustine’s today. I trust that you are made to feel welcome! Please let any of us know if there is any way our community can support you.

Last Sunday I preached on the Parable ofthe Sower from Matthew 13. (You can listen to it again on our website any time www.staugs.church/sermons). Jesus challenged us to be the sort of soil in which his word flourishes. His word to us is more precious to us than we can imagine, because it is the way we grow in faith and confidence in him. It also points to aspects of our lives that he would like us to reevaluate. Repentance should be a normal and regular response to hearing God’s word.

However sometimes it is hard to make sense of parts of the Bible. They can be complicated, culturally distant, and sometimes seemingly contradictory. And there are parts of the Bible that can be simply difficult to believe.

I think one of the things we struggle with most is understanding the Bible as a whole. It’s almost as if we need a map to help us know where we are, because the bible is an unfolding story, not just a random collection of writings. The events of Genesis form the basis for the events of Exodus, and so on.

For this reason, over then next 7 weeks I would like our sermons not just to look at the passages for the day but to start at the very beginning and work our way through the first 11 chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1-11 lays the foundation for everything else in the Bible, and helps us to see the arc that actually ties the whole of our Scriptures together.

Genesis 1-11 also contain things like the 6 day creation account, Noah and the flood, as well as other things people find difficult to reconcile with modern science. So I would like to address these issues as well and show that we can absolutely depend on the word of God, but we do need to be asking the right questions.

One of the other benefits of a structured sermon series is that the topics will line up with the content of the Growth Groups. So if the sermons raise questions, you can go along to the group and think it through in more detail.

I am looking forward to opening the Bible at the very first verse with you, commencing next week (30 July). May God enrich us all.

Painting for proclamation

Welcome to St Augustine’s. So glad you can join us today!

Last Sunday afternoon, I got a delightful surprise. I turned up to church at about 4:30pm in preparation for our Sunday evening Growth Group at 5pm, and I saw that the Church Hall door was open. I knew that Samuel Chan and a few others had started work on painting the hall a few hours earlier, so I thought I’d drop in and see how things were going.

The staff had made a decision a few weeks earlier, in consultation with the finance people at Diocesan Office, to paint the hall to help spruce up the interior after we moved the Op shop to the Old School. Samuel got quotes from professional painters, but both were more than we could justify under the current financial pressures. But we were able to source paint for a discounted price. So Samuel bought the paint and other equipment, and started prepping the walls!

We want to use the hall to expand the ministries of the church, and to hire out to the wider community. We want to think of ways to serve the local community. And it seems to me pretty important to make this space as inviting as we can, with the modest resources we have at our disposal.

As I walked through the door, I saw a group of people standing in a circle and I suddenly recognised Mee Ping’s voice… he was leading in prayer. I quietly walked over to the group, closed my eyes and joined in the prayer. He was praying in a very upbeat manner, confidently asking God to bless our use of the hall and asking that Christ’s name would be proclaimed there. As I prayed, I could smell fresh paint, and wondered how much work they’d done, but thought I really should wait until he’d finished praying before I opened my eyes and looked around…

Well sure enough, the prayer finished, we opened our eyes and I saw every single wall painted! A little bit of touching up was needed the following day, but otherwise, it was done.

So THANK YOU to the huge group of over a dozen volunteers who painted all afternoon last Sunday, and ESPECIALLY to Samuel for amazing hard work, initiative and leadership. Come and check out the hall as soon as you have a chance!

The Trinity: Why Stick With A Bewildering Doctrine?

Welcome to this morning’s service at St Augustine’s. We are delighted to have you with us.

Today is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is definitely one of the more tricky Christian doctrines, and so this is one of the more complex pew sheets for the year!

  • Not three Gods, but one God: Father, Son and Spirit.
  • Not one God who changes from Father to Son to Spirit depending on what he’s doing. Rather, God who is Father in relationship with Son in relationship with Spirit in relationship with Father.
  • Not one God with three different heads that pop up at different times. Instead, the Triune God.

Is this supposed to make sense? And how do we make Christian belief simple and easy to communicate to a desperately needy world if we insist on doctrine that seems to contradict itself?

Interestingly, the Trinity is not explored or even mentioned in the Bible. What we do find though are these sorts of things:

  • From today’s OT reading, Deut 6:4, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (“oneness’ is a key concept).
  • Psalm 24:10… who would the King of Glory be, entering Jerusalem to defeat God’s enemies? Yahweh Almighty himself! (yet it is Jesus who comes).
  • Jesus is described as God in numerous ways (e.g. “The word became flesh”, “The exact representation of God’s being”, “The Lord of Life”, “The [visible] image of the invisible God”.
  • Jesus refers to God as The Father, and himself as The Son, and talks about himself as having come from the Father’s side (John 17:5). And he promises to send the Spirit once the Son has gone… so in some way God is relational, even though there is only one God.

Yes this is complex. But why do we want God to be simple? What makes me want to explain everything about him, or draw a diagram to depict him?

God wants us to seek him. And he has made himself seekable in the pages of Scripture. But the Bible’s picture of God describes a glorious, unapproachable, incomprehensible, eternal being, who is the source of all life and wisdom. Put simply, I am merely a created being, and my wisdom is therefore limited. The doctrine of the Trinity is the best attempt by theologians to explain how God describes himself in the Bible. And in fact all the doctrine can do is show us what we can and cannot say about God.

So rather than leading us to speculation or cynicism, may the doctrine of the Trinity lead us to humility and worship!

Archbishops Old and New

Good morning! It is a great pleasure to have you with us today. Please let me know if there is any way I can be a help to you, or if there is any information you would like.

In the church calendar, last Friday was the feast day of Augustine of Canterbury, missionary and bishop (died 604). Augustine was a Benedictine Monk sent on a mission from Rome in 597 by Pope Gregory the Great to Britain, with the task of Christianising the land. An opportunity for mission had arisen with the marriage of King Ethelbert of Kent to Bertha, a Christian, who (it was hoped) would be able to help persuade Ethelbert to convert.

On the one hand, the mission was a great success: Ethelbert became a Christian, and so did thousands of others in a very short space of time, perhaps through the influence of a newly converted king; perhaps through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Augustine became the first “Archbishop of Canterbury”, a role that predates the existence of the Church of England, but which today is the highest office in the Church of England, and in the Anglican Communion worldwide.

However, it turned out that there were already many Christians in Britain before the arrival of the official party from the Church of Rome. It’s a reminder to us that we are all servants of one higher than any popes or archbishops. We are servants of the One who is building his church in both visible and invisible ways through the unstoppable power of his Holy Spirit.

In light of this, I was greatly heartened at Clergy Conference this week to hear from the brand new Archbishop of Adelaide on this very topic of growth. Archbishop Geoff Smith talked about a 4-fold growth that he is hoping to see in our Diocese: growth in numbers, growth in faith, growth in serving, and growth in generous giving.

But it wasn’t just a motivational speech telling us all to get busy. He has perceived a certain air of defeat in our Diocese… a fear that our church is slowly declining and there is not really much we can do about it. In contrast, he urged us to remember that God can provide all the necessary resources for growth. He said, “God will lead us if we are prepared to follow and to trust.”

There are many steps to this. But Archbishop Geoff was adamant that the first step is prayer. Start praying for growth (if we haven’t yet) and confidently expect God to answer these prayers.

So as we reflect on the ministry of the first Archbishop, let’s take the lead of our own Archbishop and commit our Diocese to prayer; then eagerly work for and expect God to flourish the ministry of the gospel in our city.

 

Child Safe Ministry: Why? Who? What?

Welcome to St Augustine’s! It’s a joy to be able to meet together: long termers, visitors, as well as recent new members.

Child Safe Ministry: Why? Who? What? You may have noticed that recently we’ve mentioned courses, checks and processes. It can get us more than a little frustrated, bewildered and even offended by being required to fulfil certain expectations and face scrutiny.

Firstly, why does our church require us to have Child Safe Ministry? In a word: love. We believe that children (both younger and older) must be safe in our church. We love our kids… it’s that simple.

You don’t have to look far in the media to uncover the abuse history in Australian churches. Our Diocese has spent years responding in a way that befits the church of Christ. It has been a very costly process, led by former Archbishop Jeffrey Driver, who met face to face with numerous survivors, listening to them and crying with them.

The Diocese has placed certain requirements on all Adelaide Anglican churches to ensure that history never repeats. But I urge you not to consider this an authoritarian over-reaction. We need to embrace this, simply because we love the vulnerable. It is the very character of God to lift up the lowly; Jesus was adamant that children be welcomed AND protected.

Secondly, who needs to go through the processes? Anyone who is ever likely to be in any space on our site with anyone under 18. This doesn’t include being in large crowds (eg church) with kids. But if you’re involved in the kids program from time to time, if you take groups on tours that include under 18s, if you are in any kind of leadership in the church, then the Child Safe Ministry processes are for you. Additionally, any person in the church may attend the courses free of charge.

Those required to do child safe checks for other organisations (eg a schools, nannying, etc) simply need to provide evidence. Eg, if you’ve been on a mandatory reporting (Child Safe Environments) course before, please send us a copy of your certificate. Same with any police check you may have done within the last 3 years.

Thirdly, what is involved? There are 2 tiers of people: check the website for more details (adelaideanglicans.com/saferministry). At the lower tier, you need to familiarise yourself with the “Faithfulness in Service” document, which outlines Diocesan policies in this area, submit a police check, and attend the Ensuring Safer Church Communities (ESCC) course.

At the higher tier, in addition to these, you need to fill out a questionnaire (which includes a local and national screening process), plus attend an extra course: Child Safe Environments (CSE).

All of this process needs to be renewed every 3 years, and there are shorter versions of the courses available for those renewing. We are now keeping records of compliance and dates, to ensure we’re fulfilling our obligations.

Folks, I know in some ways this isn’t pleasant. And there is inconvenience. But remember we do it because we love our children.

Good motherhood

Welcome to St Augustines, and happy Mothers Day! It is great to have you with us today, whether you are a visitor, a guest or a regular.

Our Western society is pretty skilled at commercialising a good thing, and Mother Day is no exception. It seems we can’t have a good celebration without buying things, and we can’t buy anything without a whole lot of advertising.

But I guess if anyone deserves a gift of appreciation, it’s a mother. Having seen the immense commitment and hard work of my wife in the bringing up of our three children, I now have an additional perspective on mothering.

It’s not just the hard work providing for a whole range of needs for the kids, and being willing to sacrifice in a whole range of ways. It’s also the fact that mothers seem to be deeply wired in their application to the best interests of their children. That deep wiring never seems to get disconnected, although it can so easily be neglected or forgotten by the beneficiaries and life companions!

Today there are 3 aspects of this on which I find myself reflecting: First, I am deeply thankful not only to my own mother as well as to the mother of my children for their deep commitment, hard work and dedication, but also to other mothers around me. I’ve often reflected on the fact that our community needs great leadership… well there’s no better leadership than to give yourself wholly and sacrificially to the best interests of your children, a leadership that is not only intense, but also long-lasting. The impact of mothers on our future as a society must never be underestimated. Let us be a community of thankfulness and appreciation.

Second, I am aware that for many there is a level of pain associated with the notion of motherhood. Whether it be the loss of a mother, breakdown of relationship with a mother, or the unfulfilled desire to be a mother, we must not underestimate this. Given the enormous potential of motherhood for good, and the seeming natural preparedness of women for motherhood, it should not surprise us if there is a great deal of soul-searching when expectations are dashed. Let us be a community of compassion, seeking each other’s comfort and support.

And third, I reflect on our heavenly Father, the one who made us male and female, wiring us as we are. The one who demonstrated in an ultimate sense the notion of sacrificial parenthood. Our Father has shown his love to the whole human race in giving us life, sustaining our lives, and then in redeeming us through his Son, Jesus, whose life was laid down for our restoration. Through being joined to God’s Son, we may call God Father. Let us be a community of praise and thanks to God, drawing our inspiration from the source.

Is baptism spiritual insurance?

Good morning! Welcome to St Augustine’s. What an honour it is to have visitors with us, especially for special events like a baptism. It is of course Asher Peterson’s baptism this morning, and we welcome family and friends, as well as any others who are visiting today.

Many people consider the baptism ceremony to be a kind of spiritual insurance policy for kids, a way to ensure that they are counted as Christians. Parents want the best for their kids, and may want them to be Christian, even if they themselves have little or no interest in Jesus.

This raises a big question: does water baptism achieve some kind of spiritual result? Many people assume it does. However this is not the message of the New Testament. Although it was a command of Jesus’ to his Disciples to baptise people, baptism is not the thing that saves us (or our kids). It is Jesus’ actual death and resurrection that saves us.

When we repent of our sins and put our faith in him, we are counted as being “baptised into his death”, (Romans 6:3) meaning that we are joined to Jesus, and benefit from the fact that he died for sin. The sprinkling or immersing of people into water is simply an outward sign of this connection to God.

So what does this mean then? First, it means that repentance from sin and faith in Jesus is what it is all about. Baptism is a wonderful celebration of salvation and entrance into God’s family. But if we are baptised without having repented of sin and putting faith in Jesus, then the baptism achieves nothing. It’s a nice family day, but has no spiritual effect whatsoever.

Second, parents can baptise their children on the basis of their own repentance since the promise of God for salvation is for all ages, even those who cannot yet make a response for themselves. The key verses are Acts 2:38-39, where the Apostle Peter says:

38 “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

This is why the Baptism service for infants places such an emphasis on the intention of the parents and sponsors to be faithful, because until children are able to make their own decision, we play a representative role for them.

So it’s is great cause for celebration. But even though today is a day for focussing on Asher and his life, it is even more a day of thanks and praise to God for what he has done for Asher through Jesus, our Lord.

Growth groups (and why we need them)

Good morning and welcome to St Augustine’s! We are always glad to have visitors amongst us, and those who may be considering joining us regularly. Please let me know if I can be helpful in any way or provide you with any information.

Growth groups. What are they? What do they have to do with church? And should I join one?

What are they? Well, even though our congregation is small, it is also enormous. Far too big to be a place of deep, open and honest conversation. Of course, our goal is that the content of our services will be deep, open and honest! And yet to grow in our dependence on Jesus, and to deepen our knowledge and love of God, we need each other in a more intimate setting than a public worship service. Growth groups are there to help us to grow, as we build relationships of trust and openness with one another.

What do they have to do with church? Well put simply, our church (like any church) needs to grow. Of course, we want to grow numerically: all of us would love to see vibrant Sunday gatherings, full of new people exploring the things of God. But just as the growth of a garden requires attention to each and every plant, so too does the growth of a church.

I don’t think our faith should be an add-on to our lives, like a membership of an association or a hobby. Our faith is a core aspect of who we are as persons. Faith in God is only one of many “faiths” that we have in life. And I’m not talking about other religions! We put faith in the brakes and steering systems of our car when we are on the road. If we didn’t trust them, we wouldn’t get behind the wheel. We put faith in builders who put 20 tonne rooves over our heads, in doctors who prescribe chemicals for us to ingest or inject, even in chairs we slump our weight into. We put faith into more things each day than we care to consider.

The big question is: what does it look like for us to put our faith in God? Do I trust in the things or people he has created more than I trust in the One who created them? Well yes, often I do. And this usually doesn’t become apparent unless I have open, focused conversations about these very things.

Should I join a growth group? Another way of putting the question is, do I need to grow? Growth is intrinsic to life. No growth and we shrivel. Are you open to the idea of building relationships, studying God’s word, and reflecting with each other on what it means for our lives? And to committing the details of your life to him in prayer with others?

I’d love to encourage everyone to think carefully about whether you might join one. Would you consider it? No matter what our stage in life, I know that God will bless us if we humbly seek to grow in our knowledge and love of him.

What is an Australian Easter?

Thank you for joining us, especially if you are not a regular church attender… we are honoured to have you with us, and trust that our time together is encouraging, welcoming and thought provoking.

What is an Australian Easter? It’s a bit different from Christmas, with its strong family associations and big lunches or dinners. Easter does mean chocolate, mostly eggs and bunnies.

But I think the Easter most Aussies think about is the holiday. The 4-day week-end, just long enough to get away for a few nights or to get out into the garden. And the weather is often great.

It fits well with the Aussie way of life: we like getaways and outdoor activities, and ironically sometimes need to be forced to take time out to do these things.

What place then does the Christian message have? It’s actually pretty jarring. Good Friday represents the cruel death of the one we call the Son of God, literally thousands of years ago, and literally on the other side of the planet. This part of Easter probably struggles for RELEVANCE for many people. So remote in concept, time and place.

And then on Easter Day there is the claim of resurrection from the dead. That this Son of God remained dead only for a few days and then appeared to his followers. This part of Easter probably struggles for BELIEVABILITY for many.

How about you? In the end, the Christian message is not about telling people they must go to church instead of going on holiday. It is a message that requires a personal response. What do you YOU make of Easter? Do you believe that these events actually happened?

The impact of Easter involves coming to terms with these extraordinary things that God did in our world. We may want him to take away our illnesses, our financial struggles, or our relationship difficulties.   And yet Easter challenges us to ask whether God himself might have some kind of agenda for the world.

After all, if he allowed his son to be nailed to a cross, he must have been doing something important. Likewise, if death itself is reversed at the first Easter, God must have some kind of agenda for the world… what is it?

My family and I wish you a happy (and reflective!) Easter.

Palm Sunday: laying out the green carpet

Welcome! We trust that you enjoy your time today at St Augustine’s. We’d love to connect with you in some way if you are up for it. Feel free to chat to me after the service, or to contact me using the contact information on the pew sheet.

Today is Palm Sunday and we remember the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. In our Lent Bible Studies we looked at this recently in Mark 11. It is often called the “triumphal entry”. Why do you think this is?

There was certainly a big crowd. Many people spread out their cloaks on the road. Others had cut leafy branches (or palms) and laid them out on the road. So Jesus had a kind of ‘red carpet’ welcome, although it was more likely a green carpet!

In addition to what they did, it is important what they said. In Mark 11:9-10, the people called out a range of things. The first was “Hosanna”, which is a term of praise. But it literally means “Oh save us!” It is actually a cry for help, addressed to Jesus.

The second cry is “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. This is God’s envoy. And to say that he is blessed is to speak with great admiration for him. It’s an expression of great honour.

The third cry is “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” David was promised an eternal kingship for one of his descendants, and to associate Jesus with that kingdom is to say this is promise-fulfilment time. Hopes are high for this man. Not only are they treating him as king, they are suggesting that a new, eternal reality is dawning.

The fourth cry “Hosanna in the highest” implies that heaven is watching on. The angels are participating in this praise of Jesus the One come to save.

And yet… he is riding a donkey, not a king’s warhorse. This is a fulfilment of Zechariah 9:9, which promised that Israel’s king would be … lowly. This means he is simultaneously victorious and humble.

How do you view Jesus? Humble and weak? Victorious and judgemental? Neither of these pairs reflect the Bible’s value system. In the Bible, humility is connected with strength, not weakness. And victory is given (by God), not snatched by superiority.

So this Easter, let us grow in our admiration for Jesus, seeking to know him as he truly is. After all, there is much to draw us to him!