All posts by markpeterson

The Good Life In 10 Steps

This Sunday (29 April) we’re beginning a series of sermons on the 10 Commandments. What are you anticipating from this?

Some Aussies feel that the 10 commandments are basic rules for life, a good foundation for ethics, or a way to be a good person.

Other Aussies see the 10 Commandments as having little or no relevance to contemporary life. They are at least 3000 years old, which is nice if you like history, but obviously need to be interpreted for modern living.

And this is the point. We will all see them through a grid. By default we will put them up against our existing moral and ethical framework. We will find some (eg “Do not murder”) as reasonably obvious and easy to keep. But others (eg “Do not make any images”) as unachievable and irrelevant in an image-soaked society in which most of us carry image-capture devices in our pockets at all times.

But Jesus has a different grid through which to see the 10 Commandments (and the rest of the Law of Israel). That grid is himself. He fulfils the Law in ways we couldn’t imagine. He helps us to understand the Law and interpret it for contemporary living. Far from it being out-dated and an unnecessary burden on life, it is actually a clue to fully satisfying living.

But don’t just try to do it yourself. You need to understand what Jesus said and did, or else you will simply create a rod for your own back and you won’t succeed anyway… that’s not the idea.

So I invite you to join us over the next 10 weeks (and stream any sermons from our website that you can’t be here for). This promise of “The Good Life In 10 Steps” is real and reliable, grounded in the very words of God himself. After all, isn’t it possible that the creator knows a thing or two about what he’s made and how it works best, even in today’s complex world?

Are You Ready For Easter?

Easter is less than 2 weeks away. Are you ready to celebrate?

As far as the wider community is concerned, Easter means chocolate and a 4-day weekend. The roads are full of cars, but they’re heading out of town, not to church.

And yet it is the high point of our calendar. We remember the death of the Son of God, his Resurrection and the ushering in of the New Age… events of truly cosmic significance.

So in the busyness of life, let us not be surprised by Easter, as if it has snuck up on us! Let us pray now that God would ready our hearts for a time of humble reflection and joyful celebration. Let us dwell on Jesus in our Gospel readings: so perfect in strength, so gentle in disposition, and so powerful in love.

In today’s reading, Jesus is on trial before the Roman Governor. It’s do or die, and yet he doesn’t say much. But the immensity of his character and his determination of purpose shine a light on the other characters in the story. There’s the weak judge, the jealous leaders, the rebellious prisoner, and the violent soldiers. Up against Jesus, the flaws of humanity are exposed.

I think this is partly how Easter works as a festival: Jesus shines light into our lives too. That light shines in 2 ways;

  1. His extraordinary character reveals our weaknesses and failures. Many of us don’t need to be reminded of these. But regardless of our state of mind, Jesus is the wonderful example of humanity at its best. And if we’re honest we acknowledge that in contrast, we fall short. We too have been weak, jealous, rebellious, and even violent.
  2. Jesus’ inaction in the face of all the torment does not come from fear or confusion (as our inaction often does). In his case, it comes from determined love and purpose. His intention is to bring the light of salvation to the world. So his light shining also cleanses and revives. The light of his love is like a warm sunrise over a dark and cold terrain.

Are you ready to celebrate? Let’s spend these remaining 2 weeks in prayer and reflection on the Easter story. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

 

Keeping The Phone Off The Hook With God

I was recently listening to a sermon by an American Pastor on the topic of prayer. 2 things struck me particularly.

First, prayer for the Christian should be a bit like leaving your phone off the hook.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to “pray continually”. I don’t think he means that you never do anything else, that you never talk to others, or never have silent reflection! I think he means that we have a constantly open channel of communication. I believe God wants us to face everything in life knowing that he is walking right beside us.

When something worries you, don’t just mutter to yourself… speak (under your breath if you have to) to your heavenly Father, who knows exactly what you’re facing, and exactly what you’re thinking about!

When you hear of someone’s challenges, bring it to God immediately; don’t wait until you have time to get on your knees!

Second, prayer enables us to carry to God the contemplations of our whole heart, not just the “proper and right” things. This includes our yearnings, frustrations, distresses, guilt, even our anger.

Do not think that God’s ears are too sensitive to hear what your really think! He knows it anyway, and if he wants you to tone it down he can prompt you. But truly, he wants you to pour out your heart to him.

So what are your deepest desires? The things that you long for in your quiet moments? Share them with him.

What are your deepest fears? The things that you would count as the worst outcomes imaginable? Share them with him.

I guess the punch line is: prayer is the place we do business with God. No prayer, no relationship. Stilted prayer, stilted relationship. Open and honest prayer, deepening reality of relationship.

Of course in his sovereignty and through his word he prompts us, encourages us and leads us. And yet so much of what he is seeking from us is a heartfelt, humble response to him. And this is why he wants us to pray. Continually and comprehensively.

Why don’t you try leaving the phone off the hook with God this week? And let him listen to what you really think!

The Curious Connection Between Blessing And Struggle

Welcome to St Augustine’s! It is terrific to be able to get together under the word of God each week. My prayer is that God will give us each strength and wisdom, as well as challenge us gently, conforming us to the likeness of his Son Jesus.

What will 2018 bring for you and your family? Are you praying for God’s blessing?

Each year brings its share of ups and downs, and as John Warner taught 2 weeks ago from Ecclesiastes 3, this is because of the sovereignty of God over all our “times”, our comings and goings. And so as we face 2018, are we asking him to help us?

We use the term “bless” or “blessing” quite a bit in the church, and it is a wonderful term that describes the goodness God shares with his creation in the circumstances of life. I’m prompted yet again to ask God to bless us this year.

However, blessing does not mean easy. I was reminded this week that when God is busy at work in his church, it usually involves pruning. When we apply ourselves to the plants in our gardens, both the hose and the secateurs are required! And so perhaps there are pains we must experience if we are to allow God to be at work in us…

Perhaps there will be personal struggles, health struggles, relational struggles, belief struggles or integrity struggles. Far from being indicators of the absence of God from our lives, they will remind us that for God to work good out of the complex circumstances of our lives, sometimes he needs to get our attention.

The humdrum of day-to-day survival tends to blinker us, even blind us. But pain and struggle actually drive us to our knees in humble prayer. They challenge us to let go of things in our lives that we hold to more dearly than we hold to God. And they challenge us to believe in the infinite power and goodness of the One who created us and has redeemed us, including us in his Kingdom.

So once again I say let’s pray. Let’s ask God for his blessing, knowing that this will probably mean we need to pray our way through the circumstance of the year ahead. We will have things we need to repent of… Lord, show us! We will have things we need to rethink… Lord, show us! Let’s invite God to oversee the agendas, plans and aspirations of our lives in 2018!

New Year’s Thankfulness

Welcome to St Augustines! Ok, it’s New Year’s Eve. Time to talk about resolutions? Do you have any? Better daily habits? Less of the bad stuff?

Instead I want to talk about thankfulness. Beware of glazing over at this point on the assumption that thankfulness is merely politeness or good manners.

In the letter to the Colossians, which we studied for 6 weeks in the leadup to Advent, we encountered thankfulness numerous times, although I didn’t make much of it in the sermons. Consider these verses:

  • “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you” Col 1:3
  • “ [Give] joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” Col 1:12
  • “Continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Col 2:7
  • “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Col 3:15
  • “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col 3:17
  • “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Col 4:2

All of these urge us to thank God. How might we apply these as we transition from 2017 to 2018?

First, let us be thankful for what God has done in 2017. Thankful for each other, for God’s gift of our inheritance, and for all the ways he has worked things together for good through the details of our lives during the past 12 months.

Secondly, let’s commit to thankfulness in 2018. Maybe it is a kind of resolution. If God is at work each day, then let us thank him each day. For his marvellous creation. For our daily provisions. For our Saviour Jesus, and for growing us in knowledge of Jesus. These really are important!

Finally, why is this more than good manners? Thankfulness is at the heart of what it is to be Christian. And a lack of thankfulness is at the heart of what it is to be in rebellion with God, in need of forgiveness. Imagine receiving all that we have from God and not thanking him for it? How tragic to ignore God’s grace and to think he owes us our existence… Instead, thankfulness keeps us humble before him, clinging to him for our needs.

So in 2018, let us thank him constantly. And may this grow our awareness of his immense power and grace.

 

The Powerful Ideas Of Christmas

Well, Christmas … yes, here we are. What has this year meant for you?

I imagine that for most of us it has been a combination of things wonderful and things difficult.

For some of us the balance is more towards one or the other of these.

Whatever your circumstances, we confidently maintain that Christmas is a time of peace, hope, joy and love. Yes it really is! These words may seem unrepresentative if your year has been terribly difficult; to others they may seem trite and “nice”.

But they are powerful words, made real by the presence of God in our world in the person of Jesus.

  • He really did bring peace: first and foremost peace in our relationship with our maker.
  • He really does offer hope: we are able to look forward (even beyond death) with courage because of what Jesus has done for us.
  • He really does bring joy: an ability to stare down the difficulties of life knowing that God actually feels our pain, carries us through it, and promises one day to remove it entirely.
  • And he really does bring love: he loves us, more than we will ever know, and his love for us inspires and enables us to love one another.

At Christmas we celebrate Emmanuel: God with us. When we consider the sheer immensity of the universe he created, and the tiny, insignificant dots that we are on a comparatively invisible planet, it blows my mind that he took on human flesh.

What is it about us that he wanted to redeem? I’m not sure I have the answer to that. He simply loves us. He made us and he’s glad of it, even after the corruption of the world.

Let’s take time this Christmas to thank him. It’s not just a time for locking ourselves away with family. It’s also a time for remembering that God remembers us, and that he offers us membership of his own wonderful, eternal family.

May God bless you richly, Mark.

Christmas: A Time For Invitations

Welcome to St Augustine’s, especially if you are joining us to witness the baptism of Olivia and Tori this morning.

Christmas is now two weeks away… so it’s time to be inviting people to join us at our Christmas services!

Today you should each receive invitation cards, giving basic details of what’s happening. Can you think of friends or family you could invite? Which services would be the most suitable for which people?

The Christmas Eve activities might suit younger families, whereas the late service or the Christmas morning service might suit others better. Take as many cards as you like:

  • Put one on your fridge
  • Put a couple in your handbag or on your dashboard to remind you to give them out to people this week
  • Write on a card the name of someone you’ll see this week with a personal invitation
  • Pass them to neighbours, with a personal message.

We face the reality that going to church is not as much a part of people’s regular activities as it used to be. But Christmas is still the time of year that attracts the most people to church. People know the Christmas tunes, are familiar with the key characters of the Nativity, and many people wait until after Christmas before they head away on holidays. All of this gives us great opportunity.

Of course Santa and the North Pole contingent also play a role in people’s Christmases. The generosity and kindness of the original “Saint Nicholas” whose name has become “Santa Claus” has been swamped by the commercialism of Christmas, where we can feel a heavy burden of obligation to buy expensive gifts for numerous people.

Yet the gift of the Christ child remains the greatest gift anyone can receive. The maker of the universe takes on human life in all its trouble, pain and futility, which in a way is a message in itself, screaming at us to put aside the wrapping paper and notice what God has done. In our midst is hope, joy, peace and love, given to restore our relationships with our maker and with each other.

Christmas really is a wonderful time for remembering the things we really need in life, and the manner in which God has indeed provided them for us!

Be bold! Mark

Advent: do you feel it?

Welcome! It’s wonderful to gather together today. Please let me know if there is anything you’d like prayer for. And please say hi to someone you don’t know very well – it’s a good discipline to help us to keep a focus on being a welcoming church.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. On the one hand it is simply winding up and getting ready for Christmas, but it is also one of those times (like Lent) where a whole swathe of people in the community have their own traditions and rituals.

At the heart of Advent is the eager expectation of the coming of God to save his people. This finds partial fulfilment in the birth of the One who would do just that. But Advent isn’t just about looking back at Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. We look forward too.

Keep an eye out in our Old Testament readings over the next 4 Sundays for that forward-looking yearning of God’s people. The Old Testament Prophets were probably not aware that there would be two comings, not one. And so, even though so much has been fulfilled, like them, we look forward to God’s coming to fulfil his promises completely and put the world right.

But is this something we feel? Or is it merely a season that we enjoy? I do love the purple, and the lighting of candles. But Advent is not about those symbols; it’s the other way around… the symbols are about Advent: God coming as king to us to save his people and judge his enemies, bringing hope, joy, love and peace.

I guess the question is, do you trust in the Bible’s promises that Jesus will come again? He is not just a figure of history; he is a figure of the future. It can be hard for us to trust in a promise. So many aspects of our society have trained us well to be sceptical of promises… we try to keep our promises, but sometimes it’s not realistic (we think).

Well this is the spiritual challenge of Advent then… to ask ourselves honestly whether we believe that God will put things right… that there will be a day of redress, restoration and renewal. Ultimately this shines light on the fundamental question of whether God himself is trustworthy… whether you can depend on his word.

The Apostles who reflected on God’s first coming would say to us something like this: He has already come in fulfilment of seemingly forgotten promises… may this comfort us in the belief that he will come again to fulfil everything he has ever said he would do!

May Christ bless you this week!

Mark

The Rightness of Righteousness

Welcome! Great to have you with us this morning. God has brought us together to speak to us through his word, encourage us through each other, and renew us by his Spirit.

It was horrible to hear this week of the church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man walks into a church with an assault rifle. What he leaves behind is carnage. Carnage for the first responders, carnage for the families, friends and remaining members of the church, carnage for the whole town. Previously, a town largely unknown. Now tarred with notoriety. Now carrying an unthinkable burden.

In today’s Old Testament reading, we will hear these words:

“Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:24

These are the words of God through his prophet Amos, calling for what he wants: justice and righteousness. What could those mean for us, as we reflect on the events of this week?

They’re both tightly connected of course. Justice is that idea of administering fairness. What happened in Texas was catastrophically unfair. To put right this level of unfairness is beyond human capability. How can any person restore what has been taken?

We must remember that God is watching. He is the only one who can bring justice upon the head of this dead murderer. Amos also says, Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light – pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?”

God is also the only one who can truly bring comfort upon the bereaved. Those who put their faith in Jesus can believe confidently that God will put things right. That is, after all, what righteousness is: things being right, just and fair.

Righteousness is the promise of the New Creation, inaugurated through the only perfectly righteous human: Jesus.

As we think about God’s involvement in the world, it is easy to think that he mustn’t really care about righteousness and justice, especially if he let’s this sort of thing happen in a church. But let’s remember that he too mourned the loss of a murdered son. He knows the pain.

But he didn’t look on in helpless confusion as we do. He raised Jesus to life, and promises us the same glory if we turn to him in faith.

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.