A goal is a vision of the life that we want for ourselves. When we have a goal everything we do in life contributes to the objective we have in mind. Paul speaks about the power of personal goals in 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul is using metaphors from the Roman world of athleticism. And he sees himself as a runner in the stadium. But then he says something really interesting. He tells us that the struggle to win the spiritual prize is not a competition against others. The struggle is with himself. That’s why he practices self-control. This is the kind discipline that gave him the focus to live a life of complete devotion to God. The apostle Paul was indifferent to the things that most people value today: social recognition, pleasure, beauty and possessions. From a non-christian perspective, Paul was not getting anything out life. But he shows us here that his life was pretty exciting, organised, and always moving in the right direction. What direction was that? What was Paul striving for? The prize! The eternal crown, which in Romans 5:2 means “the glory of God” - the never-ending joy of praising the beauty of God. That’s what Paul wanted in life. That what his goal. And that’s what God wants for us. He wants us to live for his glory. But what exactly does it mean to live for the glory of God? It means at least two things:
My answer is simple. Well, I hope it will be. Human communities face two types of demands. There are physical demands like the need for food, warmth and shelter. But there are also demands for cooperation in social activities. This cooperation is influenced by common sense, by the expectations of other community members, and by theological convictions in the Christian's life (Romans 13: 1-7). This means that we do not have unlimited freedom. We have to share the social space with others, and this often requires being willing to suffer personal limitations to help others. The new situation with the virus is doing just that. It's demanding a new attitude from society -an attitude of collaboration. Of course there is another alternative; indifference and civil disobedience. The substantial limitations that the Government is imposing on the Church, due to the rapid spread of the virus, should not be seen as a setback but as an opportunity to demonstrate love for the neighbour and cooperation among all members of society. Unfortunately, not everyone shares this vision of society. There are still people who refuse to give up their personal wishes or even show sympathy in these circumstances. So much so that the Government is being forced to crack down indifferent gatherings. All this to encourage the basic feeling of cooperation! In "normal" circumstances the principle of competition and self-centredness constantly gets in the way of the responsibility of cooperation. But in the circumstances that we have now we should expect a break from stereotyped routines that follow the same mechanical course of competiveness and selfishness. Thank God we are seeing that respite. But what will happen when things return to normal? I am afraid that society will relapse into prejudice, rage, panic, intolerance, greed, aggressiveness and lack of cooperation. It seems that it is only under emergency conditions that society can find a balance in life. As soon as things improve, the destructive side of human nature will inevitably re-emerge. That is why the whole world needs to hear the message of the Bible.The Bible not only shows the way of salvation through the sacrificial death of Jesus, but also provides power for civil duty and creates emotions of deep and genuine intensity for the vulnerable and pain-stricken in society. Over the centuries, the Hebrew prophets, the Son of God, and the Christian preachers of the New Testament have relentlessly emphasized the importance of life being conditioned by the words of God. Why? There must be a good reason for this. The reason is God's awesome purpose for the future of humanity. The apostle John, shows us this new condition of life in Revelation chapter 21:1-4:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
What we expect from God, is not simply eternal life, but the complete transformation of our existing environment. This is not prophetic fancy. When people believe the Gospel, there is a natural disposition of obedience to the ruling authorities, which make progress and real cooperation in society possible. Belief in Neo-Darwinism does not work. We can only hope to see real changes in human nature by living our lives in the truth of God. So what should believers be doing under these conditions? First, we should be suppressing self-serving tendencies. In Philippians 2: 1-4 we have this practical exhortation:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (ESV).
That’s the right attitude of the followers of Jesus in society. That’s how we escape the restrictive control of the sinful nature. In addition to this, we should be mindful of our civil responsibilities. In Romans 13:1-3 Paul writes:
If there is something that has clearly emerged from this pandemic, it’s that the question of social instability can no longer be evaded. True. When we look at the mountains and the stars, we see a pattern of stability and immutability. But this appearance of unchanging endurance is misleading. Nothing is permanent in nature. Nothing is permanent in human existence. We grow old. The Twelve Apostles collapsed. Viruses disturb human welfare. Things have their limit. Things change. We will never catch the world taking a holiday from this universal law of development, change and instability. From a human point of view, stability is thought of as desirable. But from God's perspective, stability is not always good. Why? Because a stable existence often forces us to return to modes of life that are undesirable. For instance, the excessive attachment to things believing that they will go on unchanged. Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying that the current outbreak of the covid-19 virus and the insecurity that is unfolding right now is desirable. It is not! The virus is unleashing confusion, and is affecting the lives of thousands of people around the world. The point I simply want to underline is that we should not seek security in this planet. To do so will require a fundamental shift in our theological conviction regarding the divine promises of eternity. In times like this, it’s good that we don’t forget the truth of Psalm 102:25-28:
Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you (ESV)
The Psalm begins with a prayer for help but in verses 25 to 28 the writer gives us a song of hope encouraged by the eternity of God. God created the world a long time ago and He continues to sustain the creation. Life as we know it, will change but God remains forever. This section in Psalm 102 is calling us to interpret this world of uncertainty and deadly viruses in a new way. It’s telling us to make a mental transition. From the deceptive idea of stability to renewed faith in the reality of God’s eternity. The moment we do this we begin to live life in the real sense of the word. We see therefore that our expectation of stability is not supported by evidence from nature and the Scriptures. So where does it come from? It comes from our persistent habit of regarding human existence as more important than the eternity of God. The Christian mind, however, can rise above the deceptive appearance of security by the spiritual insight that God alone is stable and unchanging. There is no reality that is more stable, more uplifting, and more comforting than the unchanging character of God.
In this paragraph, Paul tells us how to move from the bondage of self-indulgence to the sphere of life in which human behaviour is totally controlled by spiritual love. The process is simple: "live by the Spirit and you will not satisfy the desires of the sinful nature" (verse 16). Following the apostolic mandate we find a graphic catalogue of behaviours that belong to the sinful nature (vv 19-21). The order is not significant, except that envy is underlined among these non-spiritual ways of life. What exactly is envy? Envy is a universal emotion. Everyone at some point feels envious under certain conditions. People sometimes envy good looks, a successful career, someone else's possessions, spiritual gifts, etc. However, for the person controlled by the sinful nature, envy has acquired an exaggerated dimension. The envious person seeks to devalue others to protect themselves from the internal pressure of their envy. This person despises others in order not to feel envious. Envy becomes for them a constant companion. Envy accompanies them to work, is present in social relationships and does not remain outside the place of worship. The envious person observes that another person knows more or does things better than he does, and feels a deep sense of anguish and jealousy. Envy poisons everyday life, prevents Christian love and hinders spiritual growth because the envious person is always concerned about what others do. Envy does not allow them to concentrate on the life of the Spirit. Let us be led by the Spirit and we will escape the compulsions of the sinful nature.
On my last pastoral visit I made a brief exposition of Philippians 3:12 -16. The purpose was to underscore the importance of moving toward God's future. I hope you find it useful for facilitating the pastoral conversation.
Text: Phillipians 3:12 -16
Paul tells us that Christians must be people who are intolerant of their current situation (imperfection). The way to show our intolerance is to be people who do one thing only:
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Verse 14).
Why is it important to focus on the prize (final perfection). Because according to verse 13 it helps us to forget what is behind and enables us to strain toward what is ahead. This is interesting. Paul says that when Christian believers are moving in the right direction they forget the past. What past? Whatever we have achived already as Christians. Paul had been a Christian for many years but he never said: Yes! I've done it! I reached the goal. I don't need to do more. NO! Paul was a man with a growing passion for more of God and for more of his holiness.
Brothers, I share with you some biblical reflections that can be used at the beginning of elder's meetings.
1. Read Acts 6:1 -7. 1. This paragraph says that there are two things that should happen in the local congregation. One, the fellowship of Christians must create new ways of caring for people in need. Two, and this point is especially relevant for church leaders. No matter how important the work of helping others might be, the leaders in the congregation, must never allow this work to be a substitute for the activity of devoting ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Brothers, be careful that our genuine preoccupation with assisting people doesn't take away the focus from the responsability of doing all things in prayer.
2. Read 1 Corinthians 2:4-6. This text has a direct application to preaching elders. Here apostle Paul tells us that he thought carefully about two things in connection with his ministry. First, his own wisdom and the use of persuasive words. In verse 4 Paul said: "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words". This is critical in preaching. Sometimes we can be so concerned with human eloquence and rhetoric and beauty of style that the impact of God's truth is lost. But why was Paul so afraid of using his own wisdom and persuasive words in telling the Gospel? Because Paul didn't want the faith of the Corinthian church to rest in his verbal skills, but on the "demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but God's power" (verses 4b, 5). Brothers, our task as preaching elders is simply to cooperate with God in weakness, in the awareness that not focusing too much on ourselves is the secret of preaching in the Spirit.
In Ephesians 4:30 Paul writes:
"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption".
This is one the most remarkable instances of anthropomorphism (attributing human qualities) in the New Testament. God the Spirit is described as experiencing sorrow. There is a sense in which God is never disturbed by anything. God is the ever-blessed God (1 Timothy 1:11). Yet God has chosen this particular word "grieve" to teach us something very important about the way God interacts with his people. Paul is telling us that it is possible for Spirit-filled believers to bring sorrow to the heart of God. Paul means what he says. We can't minimise the importance of the command “do not grieve the Holy Spirit”. So what is Paul saying then? He's saying that God takes our relationship with Him so seriously that He allows himself to feel emotions under the reactions of his people. This is the wonder of the covenant of God with his people in Jesus. In the covenant of grace, God opens his heart to us and in doing so God opens himself to unpleasant attitudes coming from the covenant-community. But God is always the blessed God. He is never subject to unhappy emotions. How can this be? First, we need to remember that God’s emotional life is vastly different from ours. This means that we should never project our emotions on God. Take wrath for example. In the Being of God wrath is perfectly compatible with his blessedness. When God displays the fury of his wrath, He is displaying a righteous feeling against evil and wicked things. It follows then, that when God is angry he also feels within Himself the internal satisfaction of showing justice and righteousness. When Paul says that God the Spirit may be grieved, it does not mean that God is sad or overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Paul simply means that God through the Spirit reacts to the inconsistencies spoken of in this context. In other words, God will withdraw the operations of the good Spirit in us.
"I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds".
For the psalm-singer it's not enough that Israel has experienced the redemptive acts of Yahweh in the past. The writer wants to rehearse and re-live them in his own life. So he "remembers, calls to mind, considers thoughtfully" the mighty deeds of the Lord. This intellectual act of recollection immediately becomes the foundation of ravishing praise. The point is clear: remembering the mighty deeds of God is a symptom of delight in the fame of God. Praise also includes mental reconstruction of the past.
The 2019 PCEA Family Camp is now over. A wonderful time was had by all at the Elanora Heights campsite. The talks were challenging, the dicussions engaging and the fellowship warm and encouraging. A full report of the Camp is in the latest Banner. You can hear the talks given by Rev. Andres Miranda by following this link to the Hunter Barrington PCEA Youtube Channel at https://bit.ly/2CXyVbt. We look forward to seeing more and more attending these events in the future. The next Family Camp will be in two years time, God willing. We hope you will be there.
On Saturday, 24thNovember, 2018, at 11am, at Wauchope Church the Northern Presbytery met and convened to induct Rev. John Forbes, from the Lairg-Bonar Bridge congregation of the Free Church of Scotland, to the Hastings River charge.
It was a wonderful day to be gathering and, as we later heard in emailed greetings from Scotland, a complete contrast in weather with John’s homeland: the sun shone down and a balmy breeze blew in Wauchope. The church building was near full, as people came from Brisbane and Northern Rivers, and also from Taree and the Hunter. Other local churches were represented, as were a number of friends and acquaintances that the Forbes had met on their brief visit last year. The tireless Immigration agent who was helped by Glen Hamilton in getting the Forbes to Australia was also in attendance.
Rev. Jim Klazinga the Moderator presided at the meeting, and led worship. He preached on Romans 11 and then proceeded to the induction itself. Following that, Rev. David Kerridge addressed Rev. Forbes on the latter taking on the charge, and Rev. Trevor Leggott, who had been Interim Moderator for two-and-a-half years in the vacancy, addressed the congregation.
After the meeting was concluded, a Reception for John Forbes and his family took place in the Hall with Mr Glen Hamilton conducting proceedings. Greetings were heard from a number of people and places, including the Session of John’s previous congregation in Scotland. A presentation of fishing rods and tackle was given to each of the Forbes children, Katherine, James, Donald, Elsa and Kenneth. Sonja Hamilton gave Mary Forbes (John’s wife) an ‘Australian Survival Kit’. Rev. Robin Tso gave a welcome speech, Rev. George Ball gave thanks for the meal and everyone had fellowship over a luncheon. All commented that the day was a joyful and God-honouring time. We rejoice now at the commencement of John’s ministry on the Hastings and pray that God would bless him and his family. A YouTube link to a video of the meeting in the church can be found at http://yt.vu/tLAqpF5-gl8 (Pt 2 - the function afterwards at the Hall is available by going to the Hunter Barrington Presbyterian Church playlist at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2k78knAJB2sTcQPXO_Jm9w)
Ideologies and the Church
The purpose of this article is to show very superficially the nature of ideologies and their power to modify social behaviour. Although I have tried to avoid as much as possible the use of philosophical language, I believe the article is clear enough to be understood by the informed readership of our website.
In Matthew 6. 33 Jesus said: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well". Modern society has reversed the divine order. In the world people begin by wanting wealth to obtain even more wealth. This is a perversion of the correct order. The best order is to seek the kingdom and all human concerns will be met by God.
Today I finished preaching on the book of Job. The book definitely enriched my theological thoughts. Let me give you a brief summary of what I learned from Job in 8 weeks. First, the appropriate behaviour in suffering is not to yield to powerless resignation but to find a way of talking to God. This means that God’s people have a right to express their perplexity and pain. At some point, the Christian will cry out, as Jesus did: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Second, the people of faith need to be critical of accepting easy, theological solutions that lack human compassion. We have seen that during the cycle of interactions between Job and his friends, he kept challenging the foundations of their theological method: Job, your suffering must be the evidence of sin! This approach not only produced frustration with human beings but also promotes a distorted understanding of God. The consequence of using a one-directional approach with the problem of suffering is illustrated in Job 16:2 –6: “I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief. Job’s friends are competent theologians. But made they’re making situation worse by insisting that Job must accept and apply what they say. You see! There’s no room in their theology for a different perspective. But Job refuses to believe that the actions of God are controlled by the conclusions of his friends. So, Job has learned to accept adversity even though in some sections of the book he feels that God is playing games with him. But despite all that he keeps hoping in God. Finally, Job knows that God knows what he’s done. In 23:10 He said: When he had tested me, I will come forth as gold. This text is important. Here Job is saying that God knows everything within us. He knows what we’ve done. He knows what we’re doing and God ultimately knows what we’ll be strongly inclined to do in the future. Job didn’t understand the purpose of his test. He didn’t know how the trial would end either. But he knew that he was going to emerge from it and pass the test with flying colours. This feeling was overwhelming for him: When he had tested me, I will come forth as gold. Job looks inside himself and he realises that inside him there’s a combination of metals –things that God needs to deal with. And if God is putting him through extraordinary pressures in life and if God is supporting him with his power, this could only mean one thing: God intents to draw out worlds of potential inside him. This is what Job finally understood. He interpreted all the experiences that he was going through as flames of fire, circumstances for testing gold, situations to bring into the open what is dormant inside. He saw God sitting as the Refiner, supervising the process that would finally bring him out as gold. It’s important to keep in mind that the fires of the refiner don’t burn the essential, but only the alloy; the unwanted things. What emerges from this process then is an enriched personality. And all this was the outcome of a fuller understanding of God (see Job 42:1-6)
We all agree that among the many differences that separate animals and human beings is that animals are concerned with survival and reproduction, while human beings have motivational drives that go beyond survival and self-preservation. Out of all human desires, the love for power is one of those desires that is limited only by what the imagination allows as possible. Although many would find it difficult to admit it, the reality is that everyone would like to be God. This desire to be limitless , to take the place of God, is the impulse that makes social cooperation difficult and creates economic competition, political self-interest, greed, and periodic violence. That is why the world needs the Gospel and Christian morality in order to restrain anarchic self-assertion. We make the world a colosseum of gladiators when we allow untamed power to control the circumstances where living takes place. The Gospel is the power of God to restrain human power and to create the conditions required to give human life the splendour, freedom and joy which can only be achieved in glad submission to the Lordship of Christ.