Friday, 9 April 2021

SOMETHING FOR SLUGGARDS (AND THE REST OF US) TO CONSIDER

 SOMETHING FOR SLUGGARDS (AND THE REST OF US) TO CONSIDER

¶ Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Proverbs 6:6

It seems to me that when God wants something done, He calls a busy person to do it. There was a time, not that long ago, where most people were busy by default. All of their time and efforts from sun-up to sun-down were spent just trying to survive. But as our civilisation and its economy developed and we increasingly mechanised tasks done by people working manually. This advancement in an economy comes with many benefits. Rather than everyone simply trying to provide for the basics of life, they can now focus on those things that also advance and the well-being of a society. This includes education, the arts, leisure, health-care, and sport. It also allows for people to specialise and focus on, their trade, skill or profession so that they no longer have to grow their own crops or graze their own cattle for milk or meat. Theoretically, it therefore means that people have more time to do things other than work such as those just listed. Yet, rather than being less busy, many people are busier than ever and often these busier-than-ever people feel they are not necessarily getting much done. This general busy-ness has presented challenges for those of us who work in the not-for-profit volunteer sector who rely on the availability of volunteers to help run their organisations and think the Proverbial ant might have something for us to consider about this.

Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
Proverbs 6:7-8

 

TWO TYPES OF BUSY

I’m involved with a big project that involves leaders from other churches around our city. None of these people have time to spare and especially do not have time to waste. Each of them are busy people. They each bring a set of skills and a connection with a network of others that is enabling us to plan and manage one of the biggest city-wide Christian celebrations in the history of Launceston. In observing each of these leaders in this newly formed team, I notice that while they are each busy, and already involved in their own major projects, they are still able to manage to contribute their time into this joint effort. This has helped me to realise that there are two types of busy. We have already introduced the busy person who doesn’t seem to get much done, and now I have introduced a different type of busy person who does seem to be able to get done what needs to be done.

¶ Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer;
Proverbs 30:24-25

 

PRODUCTIVE AND BUSY

Busy-yet-productive people are like ants in many ways. They have learned how to use their time efficiently and effectively. Like ants, they have learned how to work independently and with others. Like ants, in doing this they seem to be lift objects above their own body weight, and when they work with other similarly busy-yet-productive people, they can do so in ways that seem to defy the laws of physics. Nearly all (if not actually all) of these busy-yet-productive people are people who have been stretched and along that journey have come to realise two important things about being busy-yet-productive:

  1. Focus on the important rather than the urgent.

  2. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.

Busy-frantic people get caught up in the urgent instead of focusing on the important. Busy-yet-productive people nearly always commence their weeks with a plan — they carry a diary which contains their weekly to do lists and they hold themselves accountable to it. They seem to make time for the important as a priority over the urgent. This is why #2 is actually a restating of #1 — they sabbath. They make the setting aside of time from their usual activity to sabbath. They recognise the importance of sabbathing and what it involves – worshiping God with God’s assembled people, prayerfully surrendering to God, allowing the preached Word to wash and renew their soul, and physically/mentally resting.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

 

CONSIDER ANTS

The Book of Proverbs warns against laziness and instructs readers to consider the ant (Prov. 6:6). In considering the ant we notice that they always live within a colony (a community). Within that colony they each have assigned roles (a purpose). Together they pool their efforts to achieve a common goal (a mission). They intuitively plan and prepare for the future so that they can leave a legacy. They go about their work methodically which seems to resemble good training (a work ethic). No wonder God tells us to consider the ant! Their example is a great benchmark for how a society, a community, and a church is to function. As we read through the New Testament instructions for Christian living we read some very “ant-like” directives for believers-

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:15-16

When we yield to Christ our desires and priorities are transformed. Just as the ant is created by God to “know” what they are to do, the believer finds himself or herself having their will shaped by God resulting in a desire to work for the benefit of others.

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Philippians 2:13

The ant-like nature of a Spirit-filled believer is most evident in two ways: their attitude and their supernatural strength to serve. Note these two aspects of a busy-yet-productive believer-

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:23-24

 

GOD ALWAYS STRENGTHENS THOSE HE STRETCHES

There are those who look busy but are not very productive. There is a difference between riding a rocking-horse and riding a horse! There are those who are busy yet are highly productive because they’ve learned to work like an ant which involves managing that their time is focused on (i) maintaining their important relationships, (ii) taking regular sabbaths, (iii) prioritising the important over the urgent, and (iv) cooperating with others. These busy people have learned to recognise God’s open doors and have confidence that the Apostle Paul had – that it is God who gives them supernatural energy to toilstruggle and work to get things done when no-one else thought it possible. If you want to stop being busy and become busy-yet-productive, then learn these lessons from the ant!

For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.
Colossians 1:29

 

Your pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.

Friday, 2 April 2021

WHAT COVID-19 DID TO CHURCHES’ MOMENTUM

 WHAT COVID DID TO CHURCHES’ MOMENTUM

As the early effects of the covid pandemic began to be felt, it soon became obvious that this was going to take some time before things could return to “normal”. In fact, it became increasingly apparent that the covid-19 pandemic was going to change the way we did so many things – shopping, socialising, sport, leisure, business, and church — all things that we had all taken for granted for so many years. Change, whether we liked it or not, was foisted upon us. Nearly every conceivable part of the planet where covid-19 had reached was grappling with how to manage it and most resorted to lockdowns which had major implications for how people interacted — including how Christians did one the things central to our Christianity ~ fellowship (“koinonia”). 

But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
First John 1:7 

 

COVID-19, A TIME OF SABBATH

Near the start of the C-19 pandemic I wrote a reflection that perhaps the Lord was imposing an enforced sabbath on His earth. Biblically, a sabbath was a time where God’s people came together as they enjoyed rest (a ceasing of work and usual activity), worship, and reflection on God and His Word. Israel was commanded to keep the sabbath as a supernatural witness to the nations that their God could supply their seven-days of need over six-days if they just honoured Him by resting on the sabbath. There were different types of sabbaths apart from the weekly version. One of the required sabbaths was to rest their fields and lands every seven years. Israel failed to do so and slumped into moral decadence. The prophet Jeremiah declared that God would forcibly send the Jews into exile for seventy years to allow the land to enjoy the sabbaths that it was entitled to (Jer. 17:2129:10).

¶ Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest still stands,
let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.
Hebrews 4:1

But Covid-19 made it difficult—if not impossible—to enter into a sabbath together because of the imposed, and unfortunately designated, social distancing (which was fortunately later redesignated as physical distancing). Many of our brothers and sisters in the United States reacted quite strongly to State-imposed physical distancing and were even prepared to defy their governments and continue to meet together anyway. Australians generally took a different approach though. When we went into lockdown, our ministry team met and discussed how we could best achieve koinonia while we went entirely online. We had no playbook for this. We bounced ideas around. We considered how we could care and pastor our church community even though we couldn’t physically do koinonia. Pastor Donna mobilised our Care Team who did a wonderful job in connecting with our church family. We worked hard to adapt our livestream so that we could interact live with those who were participating in our livestream.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Romans 12:10

That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
First Corinthians 12:25

 

MAINTAINING CONNECTIONS DESPITE COVID

Our church doesn’t just connect when we meet together on the Lord’s Day. We also meet in small groups within homes. But the Covid-19 lockdown meant that we were not even allowed to meet together in homes. Our Home Groups moved online during the lockdown. Initially, we had some teething problems, but soon we were getting feedback from group leaders that their home group members appreciate being able to continue to interact with each other. Koinonia is best done in person and sometimes that must mean via an electronic screen. From my experience it was actually possible to hear people’s hearts, pray for people’s needs, and study God’s Word together via Zoom. 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
First John 1:3

 

A LOSS OF THE INITIAL MOMENTUM

It’s not surprising that when the State Government lifted the lockdown there were still many people concerned about the risks of regathering. Every night on the TV News there were reports of thousands of Covid-19 related deaths. The State Government maintained a media campaign urging Tasmanians to continue to uphold Covid-safe procedures which contributed to our State being Covid-free but also very aware of just how contagious and potentially deadly this virus was. This explains why so many of our regular attending church family were not quick to return to our physical Sunday gatherings and why our Livestream numbers have remained relatively high. When the State Government lifted the gathering restrictions for churches during the Christmas season of 2020 we were thrilled that we were able to have attendances of around 260 for these services. Yet, it was also obvious to us that we had lost the initial momentum we had enjoyed at the start of the year. In February 2020 (before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Australia), we celebrated our First Responders’ Appreciation Sunday, our Thirty-Third Church Birthday Celebration, the public wedding of Chris and Dale in our Sunday morning service, and we had already sold-out of the tickets to the Civic breakfast where Dr. Hugh Ross was to be the guest speaker. But then the effects of Covid-19 began to hit and were felt in churches around the world. Our momentum took a hit.

A week ago the Tasmanian Government lifted seating restrictions on churches to 75% capacity. This is great news and means that we can now have 250 congregational members in one room plus the worship and ministry team. But in Australia most churches have reported that they have only seen 40% of their congregation members return after the lockdowns. The Covid pandemic has impacted the confidence of many believers in returning to their church’s weekly gatherings.

And while our momentum has taken a knock with Covid-19, spare a thought for our brothers and sisters in Victoria. Their lockdowns went for months longer than ours and a week after it was lifted and churches could resume physical Sunday services, the lockdown was reinstated! And now a similar thing is happening in Queensland. I spoke with a Queensland pastor this week to see how he was going and he said that he wasn’t even sure if they would be allowed to even hold their Good Friday service this week. He expected to find out on Thursday! This makes building momentum tremendously difficult!

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
Romans 5:2-3

 

HOW CAN WE BUILD MOMENTUM PAST COVID-19? 

Despite having a vaccine roll-out underway and decreasing numbers of Covid-19 in Australia, there is still the danger of another outbreak. This threat will continue to have an impact on churches (especially mega-churches) as we navigate further outbreaks and subsequent lockdowns prohibiting our koinonia. This is why it might be an opportune time to take advantage of these nearly-sabbatical moments and reflect on what New Testament teaches about ‘Church’ and perhaps “go back to the drawing board” as we all seek to move past the era of C19. 

And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church,
Ephesians 1:22

 

BACK TO BASICS

The Covid-19 pandemic and its effect upon Churches around the world has caused many church leaders and their leadership teams to reevaluate what it means to be the Church. This leads into some really healthy questions that challenge what many had previously unquestionably accepted as “Church”.

  • What should a church do when it meets together for its weekly gathering (especially if it can’t actually ‘gather’)?
  • How should the leaders and members of a church contribute to the issues confronting society and culture?
  • Should the Church instead be disengaged from ‘the world’ and treat its Christianity as purely ‘private’ matter between the worshiper and God?
  • What do the ministries within a Church — especially that of evangelists — look like when the Church can not actually meet due to ongoing Covid-19 lockdowns?

Perhaps several of these questions might never have even been asked if it wasn’t for the Covid-19 pandemic? But one thing is for sure, the answer to these questions about the church and its mission can be found within the Scriptures and the lessons from Church history and will require that we prayerfully seek the Spirit’s guidance as we apply our best answers. Perhaps it will be then that we can build some fresh momentum and reach the current and next generation for Christ. And perhaps this Easter is an opportune time to once again build the momentum that we were beginning to enjoy just before the C19 pandemic interrupted everything.

 

Your pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.


Saturday, 27 March 2021

CONSPIRITUAL CONSPIRACIES

 

I’m a huge fan of the Jason Bourne franchise. In the first instalment, Jason eventually becomes aware of a CIA conspiracy to assassinate uncooperative international political figures called Operation TreadstoneBut unlike many of the internet conspiracy theories, Jason has good reasons to believe that Treadstone was more than just a theory, because he discovered that he was central to it, and interacted directly with its proponents. That is, Jason engaged with the ‘primary sources’ of the conspiracy which enabled him to verify it. This is also what I would like to encourage all those who too quickly and too easily embrace the various conspiracies that are going ‘viral’ on the internet. But I think my greatest pastoral concern is for those ‘spiritual’ conspiracies being promoted on the various social-media platforms which are demonstrably wrong which I think deserved to be categorised as conspiritual conspiracies.   

¶ They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.”
Genesis 37:18-20

 

WHAT IS A CONSPIRACY?

conspiracy is generally thought of a sinister, secretive, plot, involving a limited number of people. When some suspect that a conspiracy may be in play they often develop a theory in an attempt to account for certain key details and raise objections to the official explanation. Many conspiracy theories place great credence in the idea that there are powerful people who have often formed secretive societies (such as the Illuminati or Cabul) are essentially manipulating and deceiving the general public to increase their own power. These conspiracy theories leverage people’s general sense of life’s unfairness—which is what makes them so appealing because people’s run of ‘bad luck’ can actually be shown to not be bad luck but the result of a sinister conspiracy to monitor and manipulate people to their detriment. This concept makes for a great movie plot-line and divides the world into an “us and them” or “the good guys (us) and the bad guys (them)”. George Lucas built the Star Wars franchise exactly around this conspiratorial motif. The 1999 Hollywood (or should that be Sydney) blockbuster, The Matrix, was also built on the idea of a world where nearly everyone was deceived by ‘the Matrix’ conspiracy.

For a conspiracy to sound plausible it has to have elements of verifiable truth. For example, there was a conspiracy theory that NASA didn’t actually land a man on moon but staged it in a studio with cameras to make it look like it. One of the supposed elements supporting this conspiracy theory was that the American flag which Buzz Aldrin planted into the surface of the moon didn’t flutter like a normal flag. That was true. But there is a simple reason why it didn’t: the atmosphere of the moon isn’t like that of earth’s breezy flag-fluttering atmosphere. Today we have sophisticated telescopes that can actually detect some of the artefacts left behind on the moon from the various lunar landings.

He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.
Job 5:13

 

BIBLICAL CONSPIRACIES

Conspiracies do happen though. Several unsuccessful ones and one global one (still underway) are referred to in the Bible. Joseph’s brothers conspired against him and it seemed that it had initially succeeded. Mordecai uncovered a plot (a conspiracy) to assassinate the Emperor. Sanballat and Tobiah conspired against Nehemiah but were thwarted in their schemes. Haman conspired to kill all Jews but was outwitted by a teenage Jewish girl named Esther (Esther 7:6-7). Judas conspired against Jesus to betray Him (Mark 14:10). Some Pharisees conspired to overrun a squad of Roman soldiers and kill the apostle Paul whom they were guarding (Acts 23:12).

As for the scoundrel—his devices are evil;
he plans wicked schemes
to ruin the poor with lying words,
even when the plea of the needy is right.
Isaiah 32:7

And when the three-days-dead corpse of Jesus suddenly and dramatically came back to life and walked out of the tomb His cold lifeless body had been placed in, there was a conspiracy to cover up the facts and spin an alternate narrative.

¶ While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
Matthew 28:11-15

 

THE FIRST WIDESPREAD CONSPIRACY TO PRESENT A SERIOUS THREAT TO CHRISTIANITY 

By the middle of the first century Christians were increasingly under threat from what we might call a conspiritual conspiracy. This threat had all of the hallmarks of a conspiracy but also had the added danger of lacing it with a spirituality that claimed to be Christian. Proponents of this conspirituality joined themselves to local churches and did what conspiratorialists do well – they redefined terms and offered a different narrative of the gospel story. They claimed that everyone outside of their group was blind and needed to be ‘enlightened’ in order to see the truth. They claimed that those who had been promoting the gospel and the stories of Christ’s life and ministry were deceiving people. Every person, they claimed, had the light of truth within their soul and by the correct spiritual practices could unlock that knowledge. These spiritual practices involved keeping certain rules, frequent fasting, avoiding the material world as much as possible, and most all, being taught the true knowledge. This philosophy came to be known as the Knowledge (the Greek word, gnosis) which in English is translated as Gnosticism. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians was written to counter the conspirituality of the Gnostics and to prevent their conspiracy to undermine Christianity from succeeding. The Gnostics taught that since the material world was evil, the Son of God did not actually take on a body of flesh, instead He just docetically appeared to have flesh. This Gnostic conspiracy was also countered by the Apostle John – 

¶ And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
1John 4:2

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
2John 7

John’s response to this conspiritual conspiracy reveals how we are to test the truthfulness of a conspiracy or conspiracy theory. John pointed people to the verifiable facts which countered the conspiracy. While Gnosticism continues to try and weasel its way into the Church through its conspirituality including: the hijacking biblical language to radically redefine its terms, inventing a different narrative about Jesus merely being an enlightened person who attained divinity by discovering the True Knowledge (“gnosis”), attempting to discredit the Scriptures so that its sexual moral standards where merely the opinions of first century Jewish bigots, and claiming that Constantine was responsible for inventing modern Christianity — still need to exposed and challenged wherever and whenever it rears its ugly tentacles. But, there is actually an overarching and more sinister conspiracy which was around at the inception of Christianity and still seeks to secretly and wickedly manipulate the unsuspecting.

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them…But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible
Ephesians 5:11,13

Today, conspiritual-conspiracy theorists frequently attempt to invoke biblical prophecy to support their claims and nearly always completely ignore the biblical context and fulfilment time-frame given in the Text.  Added to this, their conspiratorial interpretation of these biblical prophecies within the time-frames they assert nearly always prove to be false.

 

THE DEVIL’S CONSPIRACY

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Second Corinthians 4:4

The Devil’s scheme is to blind, deceive and destroy all the divine image bearers – for eternity. The apostle Paul told the Ephesians to put on the armour of God against to counter this scheme. I suspect that many Christians today tremendously underestimate just how insidious this devilish conspiracy is. Our Enemy attempts to hinder and thwart every effort we offer to advance the cause of Christ, and we need to heed the teaching and examples given in the Scriptures to be able to counter it. These biblical insights are also adaptable to discern whether any conspiracy theory is more than just a theory.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith [in the truth].
First John 5:4

 

HOW WE CAN ANALYSE A CONSPIRACY’S TRUTHFULNESS

Many of the claims within many conspiracy theories cannot be tested. What scant evidence there is supporting it is drawn from the opinions of people who, like the ancient gnostics, claim to know something as a fact but cannot provide the supporting verifiable evidence. Their appeal to “Do the research” often points to an unfounded but very authoritative-sounding opinions of often anonymous sources. This is why the early conspiracy to discredit the physical resurrection of Christ quickly failed. It couldn’t be substantiated or corroborated by the known facts and because it was built on a lie it almost certainly involved inconsistent retelling of the false narrative promoted by the corrupt priests.

Conspiracies depend on ignorance and incomplete evidence. In the 1957 classic movie, Twelve Angry Men, starring Henry Fonda, a young Hispanic man is being tried for murder. Initially the evidence looks overwhelming in support of a guilty finding by the jury. There was apparently his finger prints on the murder weapon, an eye witness, someone who heard the young man say “I’m going to kill you!” and several other convincing proofs. But one of the jurors wasn’t quite convinced and since the trial required a unanimous vote by the jury they had to continue their deliberations. The one unconvinced juror then went through each piece of evidence and showed that it actually didn’t correspond to the narrative presented by the prosecutor, and the jury unanimously came to realise that the young man was not guilty. This highlights that evidence is often interpretted within the story that it is presented not the actually context of the event it relates to. Whenever you hear a claim that sounds as if it is linked to a conspiracy it might be worth considering what the original context of the evidence was first.

But test everything; hold fast what is good.
First Thessalonians 5:21

This is why we can have great confidence in the accounts given in the Bible. Two of the four evangelists (Matthew and John) who wrote Gospels were eye-witnesses to many of the events they describe – particularly and critically – the resurrection appearances of Christ. Rather than appealing to a “trust me when I tell you…” approach, the Biblical writers of the New Testament invite readers to examine the evidence for themselves and consider carefully what they have presented. They do not present their accounts anonymously or in an only share this after I’ve died memoir approach. When the apostle Paul could say that the physically resurrected Christ was seen by up to 500 people at one time and that most of these people are still alive (1Cor. 15:6), he was inviting verification of the facts that he presented (and we have no record of anyone ever refuting Paul’s claim). This made the claims of Christianity verifiable and it therefore makes the further claims of Christianity about a spiritual new birth testable and verifiable today.

¶ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:30-31

Your pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.