Saturday, 24 February 2018

Bruised Reeds Bewildered


The prophets foretold of the Messiah being both powerful and yet gentle. He would vanquish his enemies, yet gather his people as a shepherd gathers lambs. He would punish rebellious nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9) yet be attentive to the distressed and destitute (Psalm 22:5). He would treat the broken with dignity and respect, yet mete out justice to those responsible for their plight (Isa. 42:3). We are presented with a powerful portrait of the strength and compassion of the Messiah in the prophetic psalms and poems of the prophets while being told that despite this, He would be misunderstood, slandered, and maligned.
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
Isaiah 42:3
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Isaiah 53:3
Despite Christ showing unequalled compassion for people, unprecedented care for those close to Him (including His mother and brothers and sisters, and His disciples), His need to, at times, be alone was misunderstood by these people in particular. As unimaginable as it may seem, His mother and siblings at times felt neglected by Him –
¶ And His mother and His brothers came, and standing outside they sent to Him and called Him. And a crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And He answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
Mark 3:31-33
His disciples experienced times when they felt He didn’t care for them – 
But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Mark 4:38
jesus-speaks-with-a-man-born-blindAnd one can only wonder how the portico full of ill people felt when He walked over some of them and past others of them to restore a man who had been lame for 38 years while seemingly ignoring their plight!
In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”  The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.”  Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk. And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. ¶ Now that day was the Sabbath.”
John 5:3-9


But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
Luke 5:16
jesus-praying-all-nightJesus often withdrew from people. The One who loved people the most needed to have times of space and distance from them.  Pastors, the most visible representatives of Christ, in days gone by, were almost universally trained that the best day to take off in a week was Monday. Unless someone has ever experienced what it is like to be needed and wanted by so many people so intensely over the course of a day, it is difficult for them to imagine how wearing this can. I imagine that it is also difficult for people to understand that even the most caring people need quiet time alone to recharge and restore – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Christ’s disciples certainly found it difficult. Mary and Martha found it difficult. Christ’s mother and siblings also had reason to struggle with it. Seasoned pastors turned professors of theology and ministry would instruct their protégés that an intense day of ministry, where preaching just one sermon is equivalent to the expenditure of emotional and even physical energy of labouring 8 hours (let alone preaching twicea Sunday), leading a training meeting, being available for counselling and comfort, showing hospitality over lunch in between services, takes a toll on a pastor. Monday, they would counsel, is the day you need to withdraw and restore. All of these regular Sunday activities for a pastor would only be a fraction of the drain that Christ must have felt nearly every day of His incarnate ministry. Little wonder then, that Immanuel needed to often withdraw from people to be of most value to people. And while it appeared He was alone we know that He was never by Himself. 
For those of us called to care and shepherd others where we are continually attempting to repair bruised reeds and not snuff out struggling candles, we run the certain risk of being misunderstood when these precious lambs confuse our absence for indifference or our silence for rejection. Christ ran that risk and was the subject of such misunderstanding. They challenge for Christian carers, especially those called to shepherd, is to recognise that our needed times of isolation and quiet are not times by ourself but with the Enthroned Father who has no need to slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:4) who gives restoration and strength to all those who wait on Him (Isa. 40:31).
Pastor Andrew

Friday, 16 February 2018

WHEN NOT TO ASK, Becoming An Experienced Carer

IT's always done with the best of intentions. We see someone, we feel a measure of compassion for them. We approach them. We reach out to them. Most people appreciate being asked. But not everyone. Those who have no foreseeable way of ever being 'better' than they are often dread being asked. Sometimes to them, we utter the fateful words and all our good intentions are undone. I've been on both sides of these conversations. Lately, I've been on a side I never thought I'd spend too much time on. Before I explain myself, I need to tell you a weird story. 
When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Matthew 14:14
BEFORE I talk about Stephen King’s, The Green Mile, I need to disclose a journey I’ve been on secretly for the past fifteen years or so. Some of us are born with gifts and natural abilities. My journey began because I was frustrated that I wasn’t naturally what I knew I needed to be for the call Christ had on my life. People would tell me that I had a gifts to teach and lead. Many pastors would be content with this. I wasn’t. I began a habit each Sunday morning before I went to church. I didn’t tell anyone. I would go for a walk and pray. I asked God to change my heart, to give me compassion for others, to help me to hear people, to help me to see people, to help me to help people. I prayed to God that people would be healed as they heard the Word preached.                                                                                                                          
And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”
Luke 7:13
compassionate-hands2After a few years, my heart had been softened toward others in answer to these pleading prayers. There was an embarrassing downside to this answer to my prayers though – and it has nearly jeopardised Kim’s willingness to accompany me to the movies! I now cry easily at anything remotely moving in a movie. Several times on an interstate flight while watching a movie Kim has jabbed me and told me to “Stop it!” The sobbing I thought I am concealing in a very mild manly manner is apparently not that manly or concealed!
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.
First Thessalonians 2:7
This prayer for supernatural compassion has continued all these years later. And here’s where it now gets nearly too weird for Stephen King. I mentioned from the pulpit the other Sunday that as I have been praying that God would help me to be a faithful pastor. But something strange has been happening. I prayed for someone with a ‘kink’ inside their neck causing them headaches. Shortly after this I was diagnosed a kink inside my neck (after an MRI exam) causing me to have headaches. I prayed for someone with painfully irritated tongue. I began to have an irritated tongue. I prayed for someone with what sounded like a bulging spinal disc causing them back-pain and someone else unable to come to church due to their back-pain. I then began to experience excruciating back-pain and was diagnosed by another MRI with two bulging spinal discs. I prayed for someone with an infected toe. Soon after this I walked bare-footed onto my lush lawn to water it and was suddenly bitten on my toe by a ‘Jack Jumper’ (think, ‘Fire Ant‘) which overnight turned into an infected toe. And then I received a prayer request from a dear friend in Missouri, Pastor Ted Heaston, asking me to pray for his left ankle to recover. This week I was discharged from hospital (for the second time in two weeks) with a severely infected left ankle! 
On the day that I hear that Pastor Ted is now in the clear with his ankle, I too have just come from my doctor and heard that my infection is now subsiding. There are other examples of this sort of thing, but these samples give you the idea of what’s been happening in my world over the past few months in particular. This has given me a new insight into the world of those who are unwell, injured, in pain, or sick. Armed with this insight, and now having to endure my own chronic conditions which I won’t bore you with, I can tell you there are things you shouldn’t ask a person who is having their own health battles, especially, How are you?
For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Second Corinthians 5:2-4


Genuinely caring people can have the best of intentions but be unhelpful in either their comments or questions. On the other side these conversations, I can say that it is nice to know that someone cares when you hurt. One of the reasons a question like, How are you? can hurt so much is that it can show a lack of consideration and thoughtfulness. Similarly, those in pain can also feel a bit exasperated when someone says to them,’You’re looking well. I guess you’re now better.‘ And probably the worst thing to say is, “I know exactly what you’re going through!
¶ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
Second Corinthians 1:3
People who are not well can get tired answering the question, “So how are you?” (Especially when it should be obvious that they are not well – or worst still, there is some evidence that this is their new reality.) Instead, try this, “Can I get you a cup of tea?” “Would you like me to get you a chair?” “Can I carry that for you?” Experienced carers who have a relationship with the one who is hurting can get away with things like, “How can I best pray for you?” Often times this invites the hurting one to share  what they feel comfortable sharing. The problem with always being asked, “How are you?” is that after a while you feel you’re invalid who just whinges all the time! During one of my recent stints in hospital, I appreciated being asked by nurses and doctors, “Are you in pain at the moment?” Or, “Can I get you something for your pain?” 
As I've said, most people appreciate being asked how they are. But, the next time you meet a grieving parent, a chronically ill person, someone physically disabled, or someone battling depression, you'll now know what to ask and what not to ask. And if you ask me to pray for your rare exotic medical condition, forgive me if I hesitate for a moment before I pray for you, but at least now you'll know why! 
Pastor Andrew

Saturday, 10 February 2018



Eastern mysticism, or Eastern spirituality (which includes varieties of Hinduism and Buddhism among others) is very appealing because it claims to offer its practitioners power and control. (And who doesn’t want power and control?) This stands in stark contrast to Christianity which summons its devotees to surrender and submission to the One True God who is All-Powerful and Sovereign (in total control). Even though the difference between Christianity and Eastern mysticism could not be greater, there is, much to my complete bewilderment, Christians who consider Eastern mysticism, along with Christianity, to be one of the several paths up the mountain to God. And when Eastern mystics claim that even the Bible teaches their scurrilous  doctrines such things as reincarnation or karma, and Christians ignorantly accept it, you know we have a problem!
Over the past few years I have met good intentioned Christians who have been misled into believing that Christianity is compatible with the teachings of Eastern mysticism, and in particular reincarnation. The writer to the Hebrews lists 6 Christian doctrines which he regarded as ‘basic’ and ‘elementary’ which form the foundation of Christian faith and practice. The last two of these six are particularly needful for believers to be grounded in.
¶ Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
Hebrew 6:1-2
The writer to the Hebrews links these last two foundational Christian doctrines into one clear statement about the destiny of every human being which clearly states how many lives each person will have and what happens after that life ends.
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment
Hebrews 9:27
Two of the essential, foundational, defining, distinctive, doctrines of Christianity – that (i) each person lives and dies only once and (ii) their eternal destiny is determined by the judgment of Christ – makes the Eastern concept of cyclic rebirth (reincarnation) completely incompatible with Christianity. It also makes Christianity, in the words of Blaise Pascal, the safest bet when it comes to each person’s eternal destiny. If a person ignores the claims of Christ, which includes God’s offer to eternally forgive them, because they believe they will be reincarnated, rather than judged, and their faith in reincarnation is proven to be false, they have lost everything for eternity! But if a person, as Blaise Pascal nearly wagered, put their trust in Christ and His Gospel which, upon their death was proven to be false and reincarnation was right after all, they have lost nothing!


Chinese-Gold-Cat-good-luckEastern mysticism seeks to control. It promises a pathway to material blessing and prosperity. Have you wondered why your local Chinese restaurant has a gold cat, with its paw raised, sitting on their counter? This cat, the Maneki Neko, is believed to bring blessing and prosperity. It is depicted as being made of gold which represents wealth. How can Christianity possibly compete with the Eastern mysticism’s offer of prosperity? The answer: By distorting the Scriptures to develop an entirely new theology called the Prosperity Gospel. This novel theology required an entirely new way of interpretting the Bible. Its proponents include, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and Jesse Duplantis. Take great care when exposed to their teaching.
If you would like to more about the dangers of the Prosperity Gospel, click here
We should not ‘give to get’ when we take up our offering each Sunday. Rather, our giving should be a reflection of our heart toward God as worshipers. 


PlantingOne of the simple and safe principles for interpreting Scripture is never interpret a Scripture to contradict the overall message of Scripture. This is why we can condemn the Prosperity Gospel, but see validity in such Biblical principles as sowing and reaping. Our goal in reading the Scriptures is to exegete it. This means, that we only take out of it what God put into it. For example,

As I preach each Sunday my aim involves helping you to think clearly about God’s Word. This is why exegesis and discernment is so important for us to develop within our church. 
Let me give a practical example to conclude with. One of the Scriptures that I often refer to to remind us of God’s faithfulness is Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Luke 6:38
One of the first principles of Bible interpretation is context. If we read the verse before this text, Luke 6:37, it commands that we are to, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” This has led some bloggers who rightly have a problem with Prosperity Gospel preachers’ usage of Luke 6:38 to think that Jesus wasn’t speaking of being generous, but of ‘giving judgment’. One of arguments used to support this interpretation is that in a couple of English Bibles (including the ESV which I endorse) verse 37 finishes with a comma not a full-stop. But this is actually not the context of Luke 6:38. This context begins in Luke 6:27.
¶ “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
Luke 6:27-28
wheat-bagThe context of the passage is about being gracious which involves being generous. The startling thing about what Christ taught is the scope of this graciousness. This passage commands that Christ’s followers show grace and generosity to our enemies (Lk. 6:27), those who hate us, those who curse us, and those who abuse us (Lk. 6:28)! This whole passage is a contrast that goes back and forth between a Christ-less person and the attitude and resultant actions of a Christ follower. When we come to Luke 6:38, the language is commercial, not legal. The depiction of receiving “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, put into your lap” was precisely the practice of honourable grain sellers in the market-place.
To interpret this verse as Christ saying that if you judge someone with strict judgment, you yourself would be judged with even stricter judgment, violates the sound principle of Biblical interpretation stated earlier – Never interpret a verse of Scripture so that it disagrees with the overall message of Scripture. There is not a verse in the Bible that is rightly interpreted as meaning that if we judge someone we will be judged more harshly. If so, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina of Lansing Michigan who just sentenced Larry Nassar to 175 years in prison might be in trouble. But I think Judge Aquilina should be commended not condemned for her clear administration of justice!  
The other translation I recommend, the New English Translation, punctuates the end of Luke 6:37 with a full-stop because verse 37 actually completes its sentence. Luke 6:38, taken in contrast, continues extoll graciousness and generosity for Christ-followers with it scope encompassing those who don’t deserve it. 
All this reminds us that we must be vigilant against the error both from without and within.
Pastor Andrew.

Friday, 2 February 2018


Opening of the 2018 Legal Year
The Governor of Tasmania, The Hon. Prof. Kate Warner, participating in the Opening of the Legal Year in St. David’s Cathedral
Today I participated in yet another Opening of the Legal Year ceremony in St. David’s Cathedral, Hobart. The Chief Justice of Tasmania, each of Tasmania’s judges, magistrates, barristers, the Head of UTas Law School, graduating law students, police, various members of the Parliament, and the Governor of Tasmania, present themselves. In addition to this honour role of eminents are various church leaders providing their prayerful participation, which is why I was present. This annual event marks the beginning of the Legal Year in our State but in many respects it marks the beginning of the church year as well. It is thus both a time to reflect back and gaze ahead.
St David's CathedralOpening of the Legal Year
Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
Deuteronomy 16:20
Looking-backThis year will mark my twenty-third year in the privileged position as pastor of Legana. There has been a lot of prayer and work sown into the church and community over these years. In many respects we are now seeing answers to many of these prayers. People are joining our church. People are coming to Christ. Those redeemed are professing their faith in Christ through the waters of baptism. People have given wonderfully to make our new facilities a reality. As I reflect upon these things, I am full of thanks to God. 


This year will mark a significant new chapter in our church. F.W. Boreham said that a pastor can never reach the peak of his effectiveness until there are those in his congregation who have never known any other pastor and cannot conceive of there ever being another. Perhaps, about now, this is true for some at Legana. Perhaps this is why there is a strong sense of synergy now between pastor and people in our church. During my recent incapacitation, I was touched by how many in our church expressed their prayers and sympathy about my difficulties. As I explained the other Sunday, perhaps this has something to do with the Lord answering my years of praying for my role as pastor that I might have greater compassion for people. The new chapter we are entering is exciting for several reasons. 
To Him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.
John 10:3
Any church stands or falls on its leadership. Any shortcomings our church has had over the years, and there have been many, can be attributable to my lack of leadership capacity. But this year we are adding capacity to our church through our restructure and new staff appointments (we’ll talk more about this on Vision2020 Sunday on February 11th). As we heard back in January from Bob McKay, a church transition consultant, if we keep doing things the way we have been doing them, we will only ever be a good church. Many churches are content to be good. But there are some churches that God calls to be more

I understand why some churches are content to remain good. There is some pain associated with the needed changes to grow in depth and effectiveness. It means leaders have to uncomfortably grow. It means that the level of service has to grow. It means more sacrifice. It means more confronting issues rather than avoiding them. It means that we have to let go of certain things and cheer others on as they pick them. And as we heard from Bob that January night, the one who will bear the most pain will be me because it will involve me being 'uncorked' in so many different ways so that I cannot be a bottleneck to what God wants to do. This will be painful and difficult for me – but this is what it means to follow a crucified Saviour.
It was my privilege to be asked to pray for our State to be more compassionate. This included praying for the poor, the homeless, the refugee, the imprisoned, the orphaned, and the broken. Our new chapter is already taking shape in a way that is enabling us to be more compassionate to those often not shown any. As I prayed this prayer today in front of the Chief Justice, the Governor, members of Parliament, and those in the legal profession, I reflect that many of these people are at the wrong end of what it takes to build a compassionate society and that the local church is at the front end. Yet, we need both ends of the compassion spectrum covered. Dr. John Dickson gave an excellent case for why this should be so in his address to those present. He showed that just prior to the Christ coming it was accepted by culture that not all people are equal. Women were worth less than men. In Roman times, Dr. Dickson told us, the able were more valuable than the disabled. Yet the Christian proclamation and demonstration that all people are created with the imago dei (the image of God) means despite your status, role, function, or parents, we are all equal in worth, value, and standing. The early Christians would rescue the discarded unwanted baby girls who were left outside on the rubbish dumps to be exposed to die. For this they endured the mockery and ridicule of their culture but simultaneously created a cultural shift so that by the late fourth century the Emperor decreed that infanticide was now prohibited.

Dr. John Dickson

In light of how Christ had changed the way the world viewed people, He had made the world a more just and compassionate place. At the end of the ceremonial proceedings, Rev. Alistair Bain, of St. John's Presbyterian Church Hobart, who was formerly practicing as a lawyer, invited members of the police and legal profession to stand and "rededicate yourselves to the ideals and principles of your profession, to preserve and maintain the integrity of your role and to uphold justice in society." This invited a formal affirmation which those present declared, "We dedicate ourselves anew to live and act with truth, justice and integrity and honour for the common good of all.

I have the highest admiration for those in the legal and justice system. My own daughter is training to be a lawyer (2nd year ACU). But it is the Church that is at the front end of compassion and justice in a society. If those at the back-end of compassion and justice see the need to "rededicate" and "dedicate anew" to the ideals necessary for this profession to deliver this, how much more do we at the front-end need to? Our next chapter as a church is going to be one of increased effectiveness in showing and ministering this compassion to our our society which is increasingly hurting, lonely, confused, and broken. I invite you, at the start of this new church year to join with me in dedicating ourselves to being Christ's hands and feet in a broken, hurting, unjust, world. It takes more than just being good to be effective in delivering this level of compassion. It takes a church of dedicated Christ-followers who are prepared to follow the blood-stained footprints of our Master. 

Pastor Andrew.