31st May 2020

The Church Wardens and I met last Sunday to discuss arrangements for our return to Church.  At the moment we do not know when that will be but whenever it is we will be ready.  There is much confusion at the moment.  Pubs and clubs go from 10 to 50 overnight, you can get your eyebrows done but some medical  activities are still restricted and the NRL is talking about crowds returning to football at the beginning of July.  Churches are not even mentioned much of the time.  We will begin meeting together again but at the moment I can give no indication of when.  At the moment we could have small mid-week meetings of 10 but I have decided that we will do nothing until Stage 2 when 20 can meet. 

You will be aware that a church in Germany where reopening has occurred and which followed their governments guidelines saw 40 members infected while a church in the US which opened early had to be closed after the virus spread.  We will be extra cautious!

This is what I can share with you after last Sunday’s meeting.

  1. The NSW Government will tell us when Churches can reopen. But we can do nothing until the Diocese gives permission.  Our Bishop is in constant contact with the other Diocesans in our State and there will be a decision made based on their combined wisdom.
  2. When the Diocese allows Church services to recommence we will need to apply for permission for Wyong to reopen. To gain this permission we will need to meet certain criteria .  We will be able to do that immediately as a result of last Sunday’s meeting.
  3. We are currently working on a limit of 20 persons per service although that may change before we meet. We will, therefore, need extra services.  I have included a survey at the end of this letter and I ask you to return it as quickly as possible to allow our plans to be put in place.  (Archbishop Davies, on behalf of all NSW Bishops, has written to the Premier urging an increase to 50).
  4. You will need to book for the service you want to attend. When 20 places are filled you will have to choose a different service.  Details of how we will do this will be given when we can reopen.
  5. There will be a cleaning process involved before every service. We will need volunteers to do this and they cannot be in the at risk group.
  6. A Warden (or Warden’s representative) will “police” all of the conditions.
  7. When you attend church:
    1. Your temperature will be taken at the entrance (a reading taken from machine pointed at your forehead).
    2. Only certain seats will be available ensuring correct social distancing.
    3. All services will be on the screen and each week all services will be the same.
    4. There will be no singing and responses will need to be soft. We will have music before and after the service.
    5. Communion will be taken in your seat. This is a practice that many non Anglican churches already use as standard.
    6. There will be no refreshments
    7. After the service you will need to leave the building immediately. Any conversations will need to occur outside.
    8. There will be a “bucket” at the back for offertories (I hope you have been faithful in filling your envelopes),
  8. There will be rosters developed when we are ready to start. This will require plenty of co-operation because it will be complex.

We are assuming that this will continue for 3 to 4 weeks before we can get back to our normal service pattern although some of these requirements will continue for some time.

Small groups can recommence once Stage 2 starts but leaders will need to contact me with details before any meeting can occur.  This is because I will need to report all meetings and the conditions under which they occur to the Diocese.

The new Parish Directory is due to be printed.  It would be good if everyone had their photo included.  It makes it easier to pray for people in our prayer diary.  If you do not have your photo in the previous directory or if you want to update your photo could you please send it to Annie at the office by this weekend.

Some older members will remember Esme Dilley who used to worship here. Esme passed away last week.

I am delighted that so many have commented on how much they appreciated the series on Lamentations. The book is certainly relevant to our present situation.   This week I plan to begin a series of sermons on Colossians.  Hopefully we will only have a few weeks online before we can continue the series in church.

May 31       1:1-14                   PAUL THE PASTOR

June 7         1:15-23                 THE GOSPEL

June 14       1:24 – 2:7             MINISTRY

June 21       2:8-15                   THE ALL SUFFICIENT CHRIST

June 28       2:16-3:4                IN CHRIST

July 5           3:5-17                   CHRISTIAN LIVING

July 12        3:18-41                 SUBMISSION

July 19        4:2-18                   GREETINGS

I came upon the following quote in my reading last week.  I thought it was very appropriate.

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us.  Then I will fumigate, purify the air, administer medicine and take medicine.  I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order to not become contaminated, and thus perchance inflict and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.  If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me.  But, I have done what he has expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.  If my neighbour needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person, but will go freely.  This is a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy, and does not tempt God.” That was written by the great Reformer Martin Luther. Bubonic plague struck Wittenberg Germany in 1527 and Martin and his pregnant wife Katharina were urged to flee the city.  They chose to stay and minister to the sick and dying.

There are 2 Reflections from Bishop Peter Brain attached.

Anne Berry has suggested a resource for those with children.  Go to You Tube and search for “Kids Talks with Colin”.  Colin Buchanan has prepared some special bits for the current situation.

I can also recommend this from John West:  Link to the Overview of the Old Testament in under 45 minutes…

                                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBTSNKzaDqY

Stay safe and well

Denis

REFLECTIONS No. 16          Meeting our fears with a greater Fear.     Peter Brain     22/5/2020

There are many fears emerging as the pandemic weaves its way across the world, is reported upon ad infinitum and handled in different ways. There are the usual conspiracy theories, which I understand have plagued almost every disaster and epidemic since the middle-ages. The desire to explain what we don’t understand, and worse to blame others is as predictable as it is unhelpful.

Most of it comes down to fear of what we cannot control. When death and the potential for serious economic consequences are involved, we can understand why fear has become a factor to be dealt with. Is there a way for us to be able to handle our natural fears without them crippling us or seeking irrational or vindictive solutions?

In the early 19th century Thomas Chalmers preached a sermon to his congregation in Scotland called The Expulsive Power of a New Affection the text of 1 John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Only the expulsive power of the love of God seen in the Lord Jesus Christ can drive away our natural, but sinful, love for the world. He wrote, misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of the gospel. {His sermon is worth googling}. What is true for love is true for fear. The greater fear of God, will drive away our fear of pandemics, persecution, death and poverty.

Mercifully there are other aspects of the gospel that will drive away fear. Indeed in the very same letter the apostle John reminds us that perfect love drives out fear (4:18). So why do we need a greater fear to drive away our fears? Partly because this is what our Lord teaches us and partly because to love God is to fear Him. Our Lord said: I tell you my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom to fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes I tell you, fear Him (Luke 12:4-5). The person who fears dying unrepentant and outside of Christ, wisely responds to the gracious invitation of the gospel to repent and to believe. The evangelist Jack Miller summed it up in his memorable statement: ‘Cheer up you are a worse sinner than you could ever imagine, but you are more loved than you could have dreamt of!’

The classic proverbial proposition is the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). When convicted of our sinfulness, God’s holiness and gracious invitation to come to Him through the Lord Jesus, we wise up and repent. The New Testament exhorts believers, in the light of this amazing and undeserved grace to continue to fear Him. It is not only when we come to Christ that we are to fear God. In 1 Peter 1:17 we are taught: Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear and in Hebrews 12:28-29: Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’.

Selwyn commented that ‘Christian reverence rests upon the knowledge of redemption’, seen in its cost in Christ’s death (1:18-19), who was chosen before the world’s foundation (1:20) and was certified by His resurrection (1:21). We stand in awe, fully reverent, in Holy fear because Jesus, who bore the full weight of His Father’s judgement in our place, was none other than the unique second person of the Godhead. That royal blood was shed in our place must evoke from us a desire to be holy (1:16). The call in Hebrews comes so unexpectedly to our ears, so easily attuned to the rhythms of grace. Hebrews having contrasted the terror of Mt Sinai (12:18-21) with the joyful grace of Mt Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22-24) astounds us, with the warning of 12:28-29 to worship God with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire; yet mercifully frees us from the illusory cheap grace we so easily commend.

What do we learn about combating fear with this reverent awe?

  1. The grace of God to us in the gospel and person of our Lord Jesus Christ must never to be taken for granted. Grace to us cost our Lord and Saviour much, principally His bearing His Father’s wrath. This is most clearly seen in His cry from the cross ‘My God, My God why have You forsaken me?’ I have an obligation to respond with gratitude and to offer Him the reverent worship of whole-hearted trust. His commitment to me in this way is my assurance that I need never fear loss, pain, financial reversal, persecution and the like. All because He paid the price for my rebellion out of His love for me (Gal 2:20-21). To fear circumstances and people who would persecute me would be to doubt, or worse if continued, to deny His love for me. On the other hand to trust Him in all circumstances is to reverence Him and stand in awe of His love.
  2. We stand in reverence and awe of God as we recognise His holiness. Holiness, not happiness is His primary desire for His children. This is why 1 Peter 1:15-16 exhorts us to holiness of life with the awesome reason ‘Be holy, for I am holy’ and why Hebrews 12:4-12 is about our Father disciplining those whom He loves (6). Once we grasp this aspect of God’s love we will be far less likely to either lose heart or make light of our Lord’s discipline. We will neither withdraw from God because we don’t think His discipline is fair, nor waste the benefits of His discipline. Both would be petulant and tragic since we know that God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness (12:10), knowing full well that without holiness no one will see the Lord (12:14). We will become active participants in God’s gracious purposes of allowing and using pandemics, setbacks, sicknesses and any other stretching circumstance of growing us to be like Jesus as Romans 8:29 affirms: to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.
  3. Since none of this is easy we will be driven back to justification by faith, since it is the foundation of our confidence. We will rely upon the assurance that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, counted as holy not for our merits or deserving but on account of the merits of Jesus (Luke 18:14; John 5:24, Rom 5:1-5, 8:1, 1 Peter 3:18). But we will also be driven to the truth that we are saved in order to serve, to work, to obey, to be transformed, to grow ( John 13:15-17; Eph 2:10; John 14:15, Eph 4:17-5:21 and 2 Pet 1:3-11). These two great truths: justification and sanctification are brought together by Hebrews in the words: because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (10:14). We are work in progress, children learning to be more like our Father and our Brother, and there is therefore no need to fear the process that our Father uses to mature us, since both can be trusted and are loving (2:10-12).
  4. It goes without saying that the true believer will fear letting their Lord (or His people) down. When the motivation of God’s love for me is not enough to keep me from blatant sin, I for one want a very healthy dose of the fear of God to kick in (and kick me in the pants!) to stop me in my tracks. This was evidently a standard part of Paul’s teaching in regard to sexual fidelity, when as one of his 8 reasons to keep sexual practice to male/female marriage (1 Thess 4:3-8) was the Lord will punish people for all such sins, as we have already warned and told you ( 4:6). Grace without fear is likely to lead to disgrace, just as fear without grace could lead to despair. One could say: what God has joined together let no one put asunder. Bill Halstead’s prescription ‘a devotional pattern that places us starkly in awe of a fearsome God. A God-angled view of sin and its consequences’ is essential if we are to defeat our besetting sins. We are not being realistic if we believe that we cannot fall into serious sin or that we will find help if we confine our devotions to feel good passages or comments. God loves us, and His people too much to allow us these follies.
  5. “There is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness”. These perceptive words from Dale R Davis (from Judges: Focus 2003 p.97) help us to see the true marriage of fear and grace, just as with holiness and love, justification and sanctification. Dallas Willard noted that “though grace rules out earning it does not rule out effort”. Response is required to grace by us not only initially at conversion, but daily in our sanctification and consecration to God’s purposes. By reminding us of His goodness and unfailing purposes in Christ, grace and fear will be paramount to our perseverance, which will often be hard and full of challenges as we have been taught by our Lord (Matt 24:9-14) and His apostles (Rom 8:17; Heb 11; James 1:2-3;1 John 2:15-17; 1 Pet 4:12-19).
  6. Since we are so weak and prone to seek the easier ways we do well to be reminded that this has been the ever present lot of those who love the Lord. Many have been encouraged by the realism of hymns like Robert Robinson’s: O to grace how great a debtor/ Daily I’m constrained to be/Let that grace now, like a fetter/ Bind my wandering heart to Thee. (Golden Bells 470#3 of Come Thou Fount of every Blessing).

 

  1. To be bound to the Lord Jesus, as He bids us in Matt 11:28-30, is the way of perfect freedom. Only one so gracious as, can keep us from any and every fear. The old hymn (How firm a foundation) puts it so well:

 

Fear not, he is with you, O be not dismayed

For he is your God, and will still give you aid:

He’ll strengthen you help you, and cause you to stand,

Upheld by His righteous, omnipotent hand.

 

When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie

His grace all sufficient shall be your supply;

The flame shall not hurt you, his only design

Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.   Richard Keen (c1787) The Australian Hymn Book.

REFLECTIONS No. 17      The Pentecost pan-endemic.                          Peter Brain  26/5/2020

Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: grant to us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

So runs the prayer for Whit Sunday, Pentecost, from the Prayer Book, with its timely reminders that the Holy Spirit is a person, who came as God’s gift through the merits of Jesus Christ, to all faithful people. Whit means gift, and what a marvellous gift of the Father and the Son, He is. God with us in the incarnation, is now God within us at conversion. He is the other counsellor, just like Jesus. At work in creation (Gen 1:2, Psalm 104:30), leaders (Ex 31:3; Nu 11:25; Jud 6:34 1 Sam 10:10; Neh 9:20), prophesied to come upon all believers (Is 57:15; Ez 36:26; Joel 2:28), promised by Jesus (John 7:37-39; 14:15-22, 25-27; 15:26; 16:5-16) came to its glorious fruition on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47).

 J B Phillips said “Every time we say, ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit’, we mean that we believe there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it”. This change happened at Pentecost as Peter, once the coward, boldly preached of Christ, crucified and risen, and when the Holy Spirit convicted the hearers (as promised just 7 weeks earlier by Jesus in John 16:8-11). For us, as with them, this is what it means to be born again (from above NIV Margin), ‘the Spirit gives birth to spirit’ John 3:5-6). But this work of the Holy Spirit continues in us daily, making us more like Jesus (2 Cor 3:18; Titus 3:3-8; Eph 5:18; Gal 5:16-26, 6:7-10; 1 Thess 5:19-22; 1 Cor 12-13).

In light of the pandemic and the Holy Spirit the following thoughts come to mind:

  1. While the pandemic can unsettle us, even take our lives, we who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord, having been caught up into the greater pan-endemic, where repentant people from every nation, by relying upon Jesus find a settled assurance in this and every crisis. The Holy Spirits presence, endemic in all believers (Eph 1:13-14), is the sign and reminder that there is going to be a Day, at Christ’s return when all will be made new in Christ (Romans 8:18-25, 2 Cor 1:21-22).
  2. Far from causing us to despair, the Holy Spirit will drive us to prayer and help us to pray (Rom 8:26-27), reminding us not only that God is working all things for the good of His people (8:28), but that the good is that we may be conformed more like Jesus (8:29-30).
  3. The Holy Spirit will enable us to be servants of all people. This is the drift of the passage in Gal 6:7-10. We would be mocking God and pleasing our sinful nature rather than the Holy Spirit, if we did not do what we could for believers and unbelievers alike during our lives, including the pandemic. As the reports come from our persecuted brothers and sisters, often denied the general food distribution because they are not the majority religion, yet are shining examples of grace in the way they handle the pandemic, their poverty and the persecution. This is not natural behaviour but the work of the Holy Spirit, helping them to be Christlike. The Spirit has not left them as orphans, nor comfortless as our Saviour has promised (John 14:15-21).
  4. And how can we, for the most part so insulated from the persecution, poverty and ravages of the pandemic get a share of this wonderful comfort and witness? This is a question I have been asking myself? Will it be by our generosity to these very brothers and sisters, who will never be able to repay us, as we give through the well-established conduits of Barnabas Fund and Open Doors? By fulfilling the second half of Gal 6:10 we will meet the needs of our brothers and sisters and enable them to share the blessings of the first half. In this way we evidence the Spirit’s work, seen after Pentecost, in a radical sharing of our resources (Acts 2:44/5).
  5. The Holy Spirit’s great work of new birth will continue as we pray for the conversion of men and women through faithful and bold preachers who exalt Christ. This is what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2:22-41). Though Pentecost saw the gift of the Holy Spirit come upon all believers (Ehp1:13-14), it was primarily about Jesus. His death on the Cross (John 7:37-9) was essential to the One who is Holy being able to take up residence in our hearts. My own hope & prayer is that there will be many who have been rocked by the pandemic, whose hearts will be moved to embrace our Rock, our Saviour. We need to be alert to their enquiries and confident enough to point them to the Saviour, as the Holy Spirit was sent to do (Jn 16:5).
  6. The other great pan-national gift of the Spirit is the Scriptures in our own languages. As at Pentecost, through the faithful labours of translators & preachers alike, we have the Word of God in our own heart language (2 Peter 1:21). What a blessing to have had in our own hands, the Bible, during the pandemic, to calm our fears by centring us in Christ. What a disaster, if we have allowed worry or busyness or habitual carelessness to keep us from the comfort our Father would bring us through His word (Romans 15:4-6).

A prayer a hymn and some thoughts of fellow believers to encourage and lift our hearts.

 

Thou blessed Spirit, Author of all grace and comfort, Come work repentance in my soul; Represent sin to me in its odious colours that I may hate it; Melt my heart by the majesty and mercy of God; Show me my ruined self and the help there is in him; Teach me to behold my Creator, his ability to save, his arms outstretched, his heart big for me. May I confide in his power and love, commit my soul to him without reserve, bear his image, observe his laws, pursue his service, and be through time and eternity a monument to the efficacy of his grace, a trophy of his victory. Make me willing to be saved in this way, perceiving nothing in myself, but all in Jesus; Help me not only to receive him but to walk in him, depend upon him, commune with him, be conformed to him, follow him, imperfect but still pressing forward, not complaining of labour, but valuing rest, not murmuring under trials, but thankful for my state. Give me that faith which is the means of salvation, and the principle and medium of all godliness; May I be saved by grace through faith, live by faith, feel the joy of faith, do the work of faith. Perceiving nothing in myself; may I find in Christ wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption.  Amen   (Valley of Vision page 66/67 Ed. Arthur Bennett. Banner)

 

 

Our blest redeemer ere he breathed

His tender last farewell,

A guide, a Comforter, bequeathed,

With us to dwell.

 

He comes sweet influence to impart,

A gracious, willing Guest,

Were He can find one humble heart

Wherein to rest.

 

 

And His that gentle voice we hear,

Soft as the breathe of even,

That checks each fault, that calms each fear,

And speaks of heaven.

 

For every virtue we possess,

And every victory won,

And every thought of holiness,

Are His alone.

(Harriet Auber Tune: St. Cuthbert)

 

To ponder:

  • Every Christian should be a Christmas tree and a fruit tree: with gifts to use in a loving way. J Eddison
  • The renewal of our natures is a work of great importance. It is not to be done in a day. We have not only a new house to build up, but an old one to pull down. George Whitfield
  • The heart is naturally polluted, but when the Spirit comes into it, he works sin out and grace in. T Watson
  • All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless, it must be done by the Spirit. J Calvin
  • True discrimination between right and wrong does not depend on the acuteness of our intelligence, but on the wisdom of the Spirit. John Calvin
  • The Spirit is active in us powerfully enlightening, animating, and transforming me along with others. He stirs our sluggishness, sharpens our insight, soothes our guilty consciences, sweetens our tempers, supports us under pressure and strengthens us for righteousness. J I Packer
  • The aim of being filled with the Holy Spirit was not primarily that we may feel better but that God would make us more useful in His service. David Watson
  • God does not fill with the Holy Spirit those who believe in the fullness of the Spirit or those who desire Him, but those who obey Him. F B Meyer
  • Ephesians 5:18 is not just an experience to be enjoyed but a command to be obeyed. If we do not open ourselves to a daily encounter with the Holy Spirit, then the inevitable conclusion is that we are disobedient Christians. D L Moody
  • The blood of Christ is not enough without the breath of God. Thomas Watson
  • The Word is the chariot in which the Spirit of God rides. Thomas Watson
  • Ordinances (Bible reading, prayer, church) are the conduit pipes of grace, but the Spirit is the spring. Thomas Watson
  • There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence. John Calvin

And a chorus/prayer: Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me (x2)/Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me/ Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me.   (Daniel Iverson 1926)