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.
First, find a quiet, secluded place. The only way that we’re going to experience the nearness of the Father is to stop doing something else. There are so many activities that keep us busy during the day but if we don’t actually stop doing them we can’t give God our attention. That’s why Jesus said: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6.6). Secondly, we need to shift the focus from ourselves to God. We are the people whom God has predestined in order that we might be for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1.12). The best way to praise God in prayer is to use the celebrative language of thanksgiving songs in the Psalter, as in Psalm 103.
Hebrews 13 outlines the type of behaviours expected in the worshipping community. The first is the expression of mutual love. The second is the behaviour of the congregation toward the leaders of the local church. In this short article, I want to underline the importance of this second relationship. The writers says: Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you, as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you (v. 17). The text is specifically addressed to the congregation, and is based on the assumption that church leaders are attentive to what happens in the lives of those under their leadership. This diligence is in turn encouraged by their awareness that they will have to "give an account" to God. The main concern of the author, however, is that the congregation "obeys" and "submits" to the vigilant care of its leaders because this will help them to carry out their work with joy. To “obey” and “submit” is not a reaction of fear, or passive “surrendering”. It is a behaviour that comes from love and appreciation for the leaders appointed by God. Instruction to congregations regarding attitudes toward pastoral leaders emerges very early in the church (1 Corinthians 16:15 -18), but without this particular emphasis on contributing the pastor’s joy. One of the things that this text makes quite clear is that the congregation is largely responsible for maintaining the joy of its leaders. Bringing Grief to the Ministry The pastoral ministry should be a joy, but often it is not. The question is why? Christian leadership is overwhelmed with daily rounds of things to do. If there is no adequate rest, the pastor will naturally suffer from mental fatigue. Could this be affecting the joy of the leaders? I don’t think so. This condition reduces energy but one recovers quickly when habits for maintaining health are improved. Exhaustion does not seem to be a problem in this context because in most cases it is precisely the joy of serving God that prompts leaders to take a break. I believe that the biggest challenge that the pastor faces for maintaining joy in ministry is criticism. I know what you are thinking. But, criticism is a necessary practice of the Christian community. I agree. Criticism is essential for preventing doctrinal aberrations (1 John 4: 1 –6), and for keeping deviant behaviours from the church (1 Corinthians 5). Most people, however, are unaware of the difference between judgement skills (in the NT sense), and a critical attitude that camouflages personal attacks, unjust criticism, and overly negative criticism with the disguise of legitimate criticism. The chronic critic wears out the pastor’s joy. The excessive critic looks at something that is accepted by others and yet tries very hard to find fault with some aspect of the leaders’ functioning. The critic will often seize on some small aspect of the leader’s ministry and then focuses on that only. What’s worse, they are very subtle and encourage others to do the same. If you set out to criticise the leaders, of course, you will find something to criticise. The sermon is too long, too short, too simple, too boring, too difficult. If you don’t have anything to say about it you can always say it was “interesting” or it was “repetitive” or “there was nothing for me in this sermon”. Even when critics can’t perceive anything wrong with the leaders’ conduct and preaching, they will always find something to criticise, because no matter how good something is, there is always the possibility of doing it better! No wonder the leaders of the church often experience a decrease in their joy. Anyone who is enduring the stress of repeated applications of unfair, unceasing criticism will feel discouraged. Why Do I Do What I Do? Why do I criticize? Criticism is emotionally seductive and satisfying. Criticizing what leaders say and do makes us feel superior to them. As they go down the critic automatically gains more superiority. This explains why people get pleasure from gossiping. Sometimes, criticism is a useful cover for jealousy. Believe or not, many people in the church find it difficult to recognize God's gifts in the leader's life. So, they criticise. Unfortunately, criticism is very easy and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to put someone down. The healthy Christian keeps this tendency under control, and aims to direct his or her efforts to increase the joy of the pastoral leader. The text of Hebrews 13:17 tells us that when we fail to take responsibility for my behaviour towards the leadership in the church, we are doing something wrong. We are making their work a burden. If we are going to help the leaders of the church to be joyful and effective in their ministry, we need to stop our obsession with criticism. Help Your Leaders Maintain Their Joy We have seen that Hebrew 13:17 rejects the idea that the pastor’s joy is simply a matter of intrinsic motivation and private devotion. The behaviour of people in the congregation has repercussions for the wellbeing of the pastor. They can contribute to his joy or become a burden on his mind. In fact, very little is required to make his work a burden. The more we criticise them the greater is the possibility of increasing their chances of becoming joyless servants. This, of course, leads to undesirable consequences for the church. The writer of Hebrews is clear. He says at the end of verse 17, Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden for that would be of no advantage to you. This is remarkable. The author is telling his readers to contribute to the joy of their pastors, because if you don’t, then you won’t have joy from their ministry. Their ministry will be no advantage to you. To put it differently, we are making a big mistake if we think that the joy of the congregation is independent of the pastor’s joy. Let me quote A. W. Pink on this matter, For the members of the church to so conduct themselves as to be a constant source of grief unto their minister is to despise their own mercies. It not only prevents their receiving his instruction into their hearts, which results in their spiritual barrenness, but it also saps his vigour, quenches his zeal, causing him to proceed with a heavy heart instead of with cheerfulness. What is still more solemn and serious, the Lord himself is highly displeased, and tokens of His favour are withdrawn, for He is sensitive of the mistreatment of his servants. The conclusion from this is that sometimes the barrier that prevents a joyful ministry comes from the pew. Church, the Christian pastor is not a selfish individual seeking his own joy. No! The pastoral worker works for the joy of his congregation. The inspiration of everything he does is described in the familiar words of 1 Corinthians 1:23 -24: I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for you joy. This passage shows us what the leaders of the church do. They are engaged in a battle for your joy. They work hard to help you maintain true joy in this world of unreliable joys. What the Hebrews passage is pleading for then, is for an enjoyable spiritual environment where the leaders are able to pursue their joy in God so that their work becomes a great advantage to the people of God. Congregation, be prepare to say something positive to your leaders. Acknowledge their gifts with gratitude. If you struggle to encourage them in person, encourage them through prayer in private. Before you say something, check your motivation. Remember that very often the things that you want to criticise are relatively trivial and they are not worth the effort. But more importantly, find ways to contribute to their joy. Learn to grow with your leaders in the joy of knowing Jesus together.
The fundamental difference is in the emotion under which one acts. In control one acts under the emotion of wanting things to happen that must correspond to what one expects. If what we expect to happen does not fit with what one wants, the controlling leader is strongly inclined to stop or reorient existing processes of organisation to impose personal expectations. In the action of facilitation, the leader operates under the emotion of cooperation. Leaders who are skilled at facilitating expect certain things to happen as well. But not according to what they want but according to what God wants. The leader who likes to control feels angry when a personal performance criterion is not satisfied. The controlling leader often produces tantrums to manipulate others. In the facilitation process, the reaction of leaders is curiosity and a genuine interest in providing guidance in order to achieve goals together. Controlling leadership creates resistance. Under the influence of excessive control people usually act to free themselves from it by moving out of range or finding ways to escape. A person under the influence of excessive control, may leave church, become a backslider, or avoid contact with the culture of control.
The annual Synod of the PCEA is about to take place, hosted by the Manning Congregation from the 1st to 3rd of May. We are set to discuss many important issues, meet with like-minded brethren from sister denominations and hear about the wider mission of the Lord's church. We hope taht the time will be used wisely to build up Christ's church in our corner of His Vineyard. Please pray for the deliberations and outcomes of Synod 2018.