Friday, January 29, 2016

CP266 Worship on the Wallaby Thirroul NSW January 24, 2016

CP 266 Worship on the Wallaby – Thirroul, January 24, 2016
Over the last two weeks we’ve been down the south coast of NSW to Ulladulla and Narooma, and back to Woonona-Bulli. Beautiful places, mostly lovely people. There are always some who are ignoramuses in behaviour and attitude. Sometimes there is a thoughtlessness that leaves me scratching my head, until I have to admit I did exactly the same thing not long ago or soon after. And then, some are just pigs. We can be fickle can’t we? But, as I said, most are gentle, generous and happy to be helpful.
Sunday evening we worshipped at C3 Church at Thirroul. Our purpose is to bring God and people together.  This was our ‘home church’ during leave-of absence in 2009-2010. I count Pastor Brendan Elliott as a loved brother in Christ, and a friend. How good was it to read that they’re running a visioning weekend early in February around the theme of ‘In Him’? And they mean it. Honestly, this was the most Christ-centred worship service, in preaching and prayer, song and encouragement that I have attended in a long time. But I must tell you about the message…
The guest preacher was a youngish man from Cronulla by the name of James Murray. His text was from Luke 14. It’s the account of Jesus’ invitation to a meal at the home of Simon the Pharisee. His focus was the Jesus’ strident insistence on the ‘inclusion’ of the perfume-wasting prostitute in the kingdom of heaven. Inside his message he related an encounter he had with ‘officialdom’ in St Peter’s Square in Rome.
His parents had taken him and his wife on an all-expenses paid trip to Europe. One day in Rome they arrived early in the Square. There was no one about and James ‘tried’ the handle on a church door. To his amazement it opened and the party of four went in to have a look. Even more astonishing was the fact that a mass was in progress, led by the Pope himself. They stayed for almost the full service despite not ‘getting’ too much of the Latin.
Not wanting to be conspicuous they left before anybody else and were shocked to discover that there was now a crowd of several thousand in the Square, all eyes on that door! Feeling a bit like deer in the headlights, they were accosted by an indignant ‘official’ who rather more hauled than ushered them aside, and who then furiously remonstrated with them for being where they shouldn’t. Of course they got the message if not the words. But James distinctly heard one angrily delivered phrase: ‘You doa nota belonga here!’
James spoke about the impact of those words. You do not belong here… You do not belong here… It was as if the words had continued to reverberate as an echo in his heart. You do not belong here… do not belong… not belong… not belong… And as the echo subsided, he found himself wondering, ‘When did it change?’ He spent the remainder of his message exploring that truth, that so many Christians and Christian organisations and churches project a message of ‘unwelcome’ rather than welcome, ‘You do not belong…’ as opposed to the embracing word of Jesus, ‘Come to me all you who labour and carry heavy burdens…’, Come to me, come, come, come, come…
The Pharisee’s unspoken message to Jesus about the prostitute was, ‘She does not belong here.’ The disciples said the same thing to mothers who brought children to Jesus for a blessing. ‘They do not belong here.’ The church and churches I have been part of have been known to behave this way. I know that I have, at times, also conveyed that message. It has been ever thus. ‘’You and I’ switches to ‘us and them’. ‘They’ are unworthy. It’s in that disapproving glare, a sideways glance, a lift of the eyebrows, a back turned, and in unspoken criticisms and judgements, accompanied by appropriate body-language. Often it’s in our spoken words, and sometimes we write it in to our constitutions. The behaviourally and doctrinally righteous (that’s us) have always fallen prey to the temptation to make ‘prior righteousness’ a prerequisite for a kingdom welcome. Jesus would not have been as uncouth as me but he sure identified that position as ecclesiastical manure. First be worthy, and then come! No! No! No! All of us need to know that only Jesus himself can be our worthiness.
Preacher James said much more and in my heart I felt it came from the Father heart of Christ himself. His whole message is worth a listen. More than worth a listen. If you want, and are savvy, it is available as a podcast. Go to hit podcasts and it’s the one for last Sunday night.
Anyway, you are blessed in Him. So bless as you have been blessed.


Monday, January 11, 2016

CP 265 Worship on the Wallaby – Camden, NSW, January 3 and 10

Hey, we are in the midst of pack and move so this week I’m sharing something from the last two Sundays. Today we were at Camden Baptist, “Introducing our community to Jesus as we care, learn and celebrate together.” Last Sunday we went to Camden Anglican, “Putting people on the right track.” The style of both services was identical, and in fact pretty much the same as any Penty church. Lutherans and others often get stick for being ‘liturgical’ but boy is there is a format by which all these services run: Opening praise songs (2 or 3), Offering ‘talk’ and receival, prayer time, mission sharing, song, the sermon or message, prayer and song. I’m not being critical. I enjoyed both services. Both had a gentler un-hyped singing, preaching and conversation.
Both churches had a genuine friendliness, though we were a bit taken aback as we approached the Baptist church front door by the press of bodies icinged with white or grey hair. T’was quite remarkable (intimidating?) how many elderly folk were rolling up at 9.25am… four of them with zimmer frames! Be that as it may, both churches had lots of younger folk and younger families, and were obviously engaging with their local community. There were some differences. The Anglicans sit on a hill overlooking Camden town as one would expect when the land was donated by the descendants of John Macarthur! The Baptists have their place in a dead-end side street. It is a very ordinary building, circa 1960, though with a lovely, wide contemporary set of stain glass windows high up, Quite a contrast to the Anglican church, circa 1850, with classic high pointed ceiling and covered in stained glass.
The messages were a contrast. The Anglican preacher focused on being thankful in all circumstances. The Baptist lay-preacher gave us an exposition of Matthew 14:1-14. His message was that Jesus wants us to keep the Law the way Jesus told the rich Pharisee to do. It was advice, and advice based on Law! I didn’t hear the gospel preached today.
In both churches they prayed for Helen! What could I possibly mean? Well, obviously Operation Christmas Child (Samaritan’s Purse) is seen as part of the mission of both churches. That Baptist congregation put together 568 Christmas boxes last year! The Anglican’s something similar. Both reported on members on mission trips and challenges in Cambodia and other places. Then in their prayers they prayed for those who organise and coordinate that work of gathering and distribution. And Helen Wirz, member of Good Shepherd Campbelltown, where I was Pastor for the last 5 years, is the volunteer warehouse coordinator for the entire NSW effort! It was humbling and encouraging to sit there in worship and rejoicing in the heart, because ‘they’re praying for Helen whom I know and cherish.
Some final comments. First, we are really missing Holy Communion… it just doesn’t figure much in the thinking / theology of lots of churches.
Secondly, since the beginning of November, I haven’t heard the word ‘repentance’ used even once in worship… which means…?
Thirdly, it’s amazing how often the shortcomings of the spoken word in worship are overcome by delightful, refreshing, edifying, singable Jesus Christ songs / hymns…

Fourthly, just so you know, I’m filing these worship experiences under the heading, “Worship on the Wallaby” because we’ll be on the road round Oz for the next 11 months. Camden is about 60km south-west of Sydney.

Friday, January 01, 2016

CP 264 When me and Seppo worshipped this Christmas

CP 264 When me and Seppo worshipped this Christmas…
For the first time in 46 years I did not worship in a Lutheran Church over Christmas. However there were two separate ‘worship times’ which gripped my spirit. The first was on Christmas Eve in the Ingleburn Anglican church. A couple of carols to start with, followed by readings from the Gospel of John and the book called Hebrews. Then a brief message, a carol, prayers, a final carol, and we were out… just 45 minutes in total. The whole experience was so ordinary and human, so un-hyped and gentle, that it was comforting and joyful in its simplicity.
We didn’t get to worship on Christmas Day. We were on the road from Sydney to Thredbo for 3 days of camping. On the first day we met the bloke on the campsite next to ours. ‘G’day,’ was the total of our conversation. The next day we passed a few times, a bit of a cheery smile in the rain, just aware of each other. The third day, Sunday, we stopped to talk. Well, well well. Finnish, been in Oz for 45 years or so. Confirmed in the Lutheran Church. Later joined the Finnish Pentecostals. Sometime in there he was a youth Pastor with them. No longer formally worships. Had enough of the guilt and shame constantly laid on by both camps. But, Oh, how special he is.
Seppo has as pure an understanding of the gospel as I have encountered in many a year.
·       Jesus died for my sins? He became my sin!
·       The only righteousness the matters can never be gained by performance… it’s only the righteousness of Jesus Christ that counts.
·       The only thing required of us is believing trust in Christ and his work.
·       Anything more than faith is sin and our Lord alone puts that faith in our hearts.
·       Of course we have stuff to do… lots of loving… but I’m free to do it, free to choose love, because the Spirit of Jesus has filled me with Christ’s love in the first place. I don’t have to be manipulated or coerced…
That was the gist of it. Not necessarily the exact words, but the pair of us sat at a table in the wilderness rejoicing as brothers about our remarkable heavenly Father, bubbling in the Spirit over the grace come to us in the Son. In that conversation we worshipped. And my heart was singing as it ended.
May our Lord bless your year with lots of Seppo’s.