8th May 2020

The news that some restrictions are being eased may seem to be a relief but it is also a false hope.  To be realistic and to give some examples – schools in NSW will not be back in full operation for some time, Qantas has stood down domestic crew until the end of June and international crew until the end of July and the NRL is “hoping” people can go to their grand final which is late October.  The big fear is that easing restrictions too early will lead to a second wave of the virus.  The simple truth is that we may be stuck in our present pattern for some time and actual church services may not occur for quite some time.

I hope that you have been finding things to keep you occupied.  I know some have been busier than normal doing all those things that you never had time to do before.  I expect that in spring there will be some very attractive gardens!

I trust that you have been reading the Reflections from Bishop Peter Brain (there are two more attached this week).  I have found them really thought provoking and very helpful.  Unlike so much of the garbage that is being produced they are both Biblical and practical.

I have been struggling to put together the sermons on Lamentations.  Each time I look at a verse I find myself looking up other verses and reading sometimes whole books on the subject of grief, pain and suffering.   I have not read widely in this area for quite some time and, as I go back to some old books I am challenged by the fact that I have grown so much since I last read them that I have a whole new understanding.  I have especially been challenged by a book called “Arguing With God” by Hugh Sylvester.  My copy disappeared many moves ago and it is long out of print and not an ebook.  I had to buy a second hand copy form overseas (not cheap) but if you ever see it grab it – it is well worth reading.  The important thing is that we can cope because of our faith in a great God who knows what He is doing.  I cannot understand how those without faith can make sense of it all without becoming hopeless and depressed.

The other reading I have been doing is related to Family History research which I normally never get time to do.  I have been reading extensively in 16th century Scottish history. This has been good because even with our current problems our life is much more settled than people experienced back in those days.  The 16th C was, of course, the time of the Reformation and in Scotland the towering figure was John Knox.  A strange man in many ways, who managed to get off side even with many of his friends and supporters, he nevertheless preached a theology of reform so powerfully that Scotland remains much truer to Reformation principles than most other countries.  Having said that, much of the Scottish church has been involved in the same compromises that other places have been and church life has declined dramatically because of it.  I have to say that the older I get and the more I read the more committed to the theology of the Reformation I become.

I have been encouraged by those who have let me know that they are using the Prayer Diary each day and finding it helpful.  I have also been reading some books of prayers that I have in my library.  It is good to have more time to do these things than we normally have in our busy schedules.

I know that some Bible Study leaders are looking at using ZOOM to have meetings.  Now that we have paid for unlimited use ZOOM this is an encouraging development.  Remember our Thursday night prayer meetings.  While we do pray, it is great just to share together, to see each other and to talk about what’s happening.  It would be great to have even more people join us.

Keep safe and well!

Every blessing.

Denis

REFLECTIONS  No. 9/2020. “When everything returns to normal”!       Peter Brain    29/04/2020

I’m sure the sentiment of our indefatigable Prime Minister in these words of a couple of weeks ago was good. His desire for people to be able to get back to work, visit loved ones and gather for all sorts of occasions is understandable. But do we really want the old normal back again? Many have savoured new opportunities of time spent with children, nurturing their marriages or re-discovering the joy of old and new hobbies. The challenges are invitations to learn that less maybe better and the simpler more refreshing. So why would we want to go back to the old norms when there may be better ones available to us?

A way of thinking about this is to consider the place of thankfulness in our thinking. The new appreciation for the many people we rely upon and so easily took for granted, has been seen in advertisements thanking medical workers, shop assistants, bi-partisan political leadership, truck drivers and the like. Albert Einstein remarked: A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labours of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and still am receiving”. Thankfulness expressed to others, and especially to God for them, will go a long way to making these new found expressions of gratitude a new norm. It will certainly go a long way in keeping us from seeing others as rivals or feeling that any person’s work is more or less important than another’s. Thankfulness is a great antidote to pride and self-deprecation and a stimulus to contentment and service.

Thankfulness to God for those who are leading us through the pandemic, whether the PM, State Premiers, Ministers for Health, Chief medical officers and those in the back rooms doing research, benefit us  greatly in a number of ways.

  • Thankfulness keeps us from possible recriminations and blame when there is time to review what happened by focussing on what has been accomplished. There is an old ditty that runs: God and the doctor we both adore in times of trouble and no more. The problem righted God is forgotten and the doctor slighted! Thankfulness to God for the labours of others keep us from sinful tendencies which at best ‘damp with faint praise’ or worse seek to find fault with those who have done their best. If we are thankful we are more likely to experience the joy of Field Marshall Wavel’s words: it is amazing how much you can get done if you don’t mind who gets the praise!
  • Thankfulness to God will keep us relying on Him as the primary source of real help. Doctors can only do so much, as the words of Dr.Ambroise Pare (recognised as the father of modern surgery) testify: I dressed the wound; God healed him. The scientist Kepler, remarked of his own research: that he was only thinking God’s thoughts after Him. With this in mind we thank God for the wisdom, whether of individual breakthroughs or of the accumulated pools of shared research. As we do this we are far less likely to put all our hopes in science to be our saviour in this or any other pandemic or regular sicknesses like cancer, heart attacks and the like. Having prayed for the researchers and medicos, as we ought, we will continue to thank Him for whatever relief has come, rather than neglect Him till the next emergency.
  • Thankfulness to God has many observable health benefits. Arch Hart shared that in one university study, people suffering from a painful neuro-muscular disorder were instructed to regularly keep a record of things they could be grateful for. A kind word from someone. A gift from a neighbour. The smell of orange blossoms in the spring. Life is full of little things to be grateful for, and the sufferers learned to count their blessings. The results were astonishing. Improving in their pain management, they felt happier and emotionally more stable. The benefits are numerous at many levels: I’ve never met a grateful person who is an unhappy person (Lewis Smedes). It is hard to feel envy, greed or bitterness when you are grateful. (Arch hart). Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). A thankful heart cannot be cynical (A W Tozer).
  • Thankfulness, being the antidote to the fatal sin of thanklessness, will deliver us from the whole range of relational sins methodically and logically flowing from our refusal to think rightly about God, thus preferring the bondage of lies than the freedoms of truth. These are set forth in Romans 1:18-32 and flow out of idolatry and a refusal to thank God for His obvious bounty. One thing leads to many others. Whilst we ought to rejoice in the research of science and the accumulated gains in medical knowledge and nursing care we are all the losers when we fail to thank God for them. We settle for far too less from God when we idolise science and shift it from its God given moorings. We end up expecting far too much from science and medicine and lose that peace that God alone can give us, when through no fault of their own, doctors/researchers can do no more for us. The pandemic, whatever its outcome, and I for one am praying that it will be overcome, should cause us to thank God not only for the work of all who are seeking to eliminate its worst effects, but for its reminder that we, individually and collectively, do not know nor can control everything. This will take the pressure of expectation off researchers, increase our prayers to God for them, keep them from pride and the corporate lawyers from suing, even if genuine mistakes are made. Above all it will keep us from the folly of idolising science.
  • The challenges of isolation will be ameliorated when we are grateful to God. Isolation from others is not the worst thing for us. It is true that God made us for company, whether it be in marriage, with friends, in Christian fellowship and communities, but what we contribute to these relationships depends very much on how grateful we are to God. For example if I marry to become a complete person the chances are that I will not be a good spouse, since I will be expecting too much from my wife, too little from God and not enough of myself. The reality is that we are not ready to be married until we are ready to be single. In our churches we are looking forward to the time we can again worship and fellowship in real time and places, but unless our relationship with God, which the home isolation has given us many opportunities to nurture, is paramount, we will not be as strong contributors if we are more dependent on our fellows than we are on God for our wellbeing. Dick Lucas writing on the text Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (Colossians 3:15) comments when Christ rules in the heart peace will rule in the Objective peace with God comes through personal faith in Christ (Rom 5:1-2) and subjectively experienced in us as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Only then, will we bring peace to others in general (Matt 5:8) and in our fellowship in particular (Col 3:15).
  • Perhaps it was a failure of Adam and Eve to thank God primarily and consistently for the gift of marriage that led them to believe Satan’s lie that they needed to look elsewhere for their true joys. It is so easy for people or things we once praised God for (remember the elation of Gen 2:23) to cause us to honour our own wishes above God’s. Certainly this is the thanklessness-sin of Romans 1:21 that spawned the terrible dislocations of true relationships, not only in sexuality, but also in the destructive ways expressed in 1:28-32. It would only be honest to affirm that these sins are not only evident in the world but present in our churches, foreshadowed by the many exhortations in the NT letters to the churches.

Practised thankfulness to God, will keep us from idolising even our Father’s choicest gifts, paradoxically enabling us to enjoy them more since we see Him as their source. Thanking others will enable us to value and respect each other more whilst not expecting from them what our Father would freely give us in Christ. If this were to become the new norm only in our churches, how much richer and attractive might we be to one another and our weary world.

The General Thanksgiving is a great prayer to keep us focused on our gracious Father.      

 

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all people; we bless you for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your amazing love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be truly thankful and that we may declare your praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, now and forever. Amen  AAPB 1978

REFLECTIONS  2020  No.10    When worry can be good for us!   Peter Brain  4th May,2020.

I came across this poem many years ago; and share it with you. It has helped me on many occasions.

Said the robin to the sparrow,                            Said the sparrow to the robin’

 “I should really like to know                               Friend, I think it must be,

  Why these anxious human beings                    They have no Heavenly Father

  Rush about and worry so.                                   Such as cares for you and me.          E Cheney.

Worry can become a part of our lives without us trying, and even if we are generally pretty good at keeping it at bay, can nevertheless catch us out when we are least expecting it. The pandemic has given us a number of reasons to worry. Although we all know that it is not especially helpful and is forbidden us by our Lord (Matthew 6:34) we can find ourselves caught up into its vortex of pain, self-pity, ungratefulness and the like. But can it ever be good for us? Only if it causes to take stock of our Heavenly Father’s goodness and promises. Here are a few thoughts that have been helpful to me recently:

  1. Our Lord’s realism in Matthew 6:34: Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own, reminds us that today is the time to focus on today’s worrying challenges. We can safely leave tomorrows to Him so that, with His help we can handle todays problems. The therefore reminds us that this is possible precisely because of our Lord’s extended reminder in 6:19-33 that being believers, not pagans, we are not strangers to our Heavenly Father’s faithfulness. Defeating worry is not a matter of self-will or even worse, denying that there are challenges to be faced, but of trusting our Father’s goodness to us. Hence the appeal in 6:26 to the birds that are fed by our Father. But as some-one has noted God gives every bird its food, but He doesn’t throw it into its nest! One gain of not worrying is that our energies can then be applied to doing all we can do and to trusting our Lord (John 16:33).
  2. The promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. While this maybe Paul’s reflection on John 16:33 it certainly mirrors his growing experience of God’s persevering grace. The he will not let you provides a re-assuring basis to start each day (and to help us sleep well at night).
  3. The consistent testimony of four NT writers reminds us of God’s purpose in allowing troubles to mature His children (Rom 5:1-5, Hebrews 12:4-13, James 1:2-11, 1 Peter 1:3-11). They each remind us that circumstances which cause us worry can become gracious invitations to recall God’s promises and goodness. There is a choice before us, as someone has said: tomorrow has two handles: the handle of fear and the handle of faith. You can hold it by either handle! The wisdom of the old hymn encourages with the opportunity that each victory will help you some other to win. Practise makes permanent.
  4. The invitation of 1 Peter 5:7: cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you along with its source in Psalm 55:22 are genuine, not idle ‘take it or leave it options’. Here is the antidote to worry that cripples us by diminishing the warmth of our relationship with our loving Father. Fulton Sheen rather bluntly said that all worry is atheism, because it is want of trust in God. I need this combination of gracious invitation and blunt reality to keep me on track, especially if I am tempted to allow worry to overwhelm me.

 

The quip: “worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere” is true but wonderfully it is our Heavenly Father’s purpose to turn this natural tendency into something that can bring us closer to Him. This will happen as we recall His promises and draw closer to Him through our gracious sympathetic and understanding High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16), thereby opening ourselves to the drawing alongside ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-27).

 

A prayer for peace. Eternal God from whom all holy desires, all good purposes, and all just works proceed: give to your servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments, and that free from the fear of our enemies we may pass our time in trust and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.           (Evening Prayer AAPB page 33)