A good ear

We all easily use the excuse of being too busy and ‘time poor’ to be good Christian sisters and brothers to each other.

In Life Together, (our Book of the Term end of last year) Bonhoeffer has a very helpful chapter on ministry.  One of the ministries he talks about is the Ministry of Listening.  He writes:

“Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.  So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him…Brotherly pastoral care is essentially distinguished from preaching by the fact that, added to the task of speaking the Word, there is the obligation of listening.”  He concludes his section by saying “We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

I want to encourage you all to grow in your listening to one another.

Be pro-active in this.  Invite others around for coffee, go for a walk with a small group, meet at a café, find a place to sit with one or two after the service, phone someone up and ask how they are.  Ask how they are going in their faith.  And listen, don’t be quick to tell your own thoughts but give time to listen.

Longing to see our community grow in Christ-likeness!

With blessings, David Bassett (Senior Minister)

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Soaking in God’s Word in 2016

At the start of each year, I revisit my personal Bible reading strategy. I have the kind of personality that prefers things to be planned and structured so I’ve found the best way for me to keep Bible reading on the agenda is to use some kind of formal reading plan during the year. But I know that for others, who prefer to keep things more spontaneous and flexible, Bible reading plans can feel a bit rigid or contrived. I have learned that there is room for a variety of approaches when it comes to personal Bible reading and other spiritual disciplines. By God’s grace, we don’t all think and process in the same way, so it’s important to work out what’s most helpful for us personally.

Some people begin every day with Bible reading – it’s the first thing they do – while for others, the idea of reading anything before a piece of toast and a double espresso is inconceivable! Some people like to use devotional material alongside the Bible, or listen to an audio version of the Bible, or they find it helpful to read and discuss the Bible with another person. These are all great strategies that we can use to keep storing God’s word up in our hearts (Ps. 119:11). We never want to become legalistic or so rigid in our approach that we lose sight of the fact that God’s word is a precious gift for our benefit and blessing (Ps. 1:1-2). Bible reading is not meant to be a burden!

That being said, each one of us, in our own way, still has to come to terms with the fact that Bible reading is a discipline. It’s a discipline because no matter what approach we end up taking it will require intentionality and effort. The blessing that God promises to those who commit to soaking in His word day and night is absolutely there for the taking, but it demands that we apply ourselves seriously to the task. So in 2016, let’s not settle for the ‘low-bar’ when it comes to our Bible reading. Let’s aim high (really high!) while still being gracious encouragers of each other as we grow together in our understanding of what it means to live the blessed life in Jesus Christ.

Note: You may wish to talk with your gathering pastor about strategies for personal Bible reading.

 Shane Ellery (Associate Minister, Youth and Young Adults)

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Another year; another 52 sermons…if you come to church that is….

“Do you know how to listen to a sermon?” You may think that’s a stupid question.  After all, it would be pointless to ask “do you know how to watch TV.” I mean listening to a sermon is easier than watching TV, right. For starters you don’t have to deal with the remote control! Listening to a sermon is a passive activity, something preached to me, not something I actively do. Ah, but it’s not. It’s a life-and-death business, listening to sermons. Here are my top-five pointers to listening and living…

  1. Expect God to speak. “If anyone speaks,” Peter writes about Bible teaching in church, “he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). If you listen to a faithful sermon, you should do so as if hearing the very words of God. What a sensational reality! God speaking to us.
  1. Admit that God knows better than you do.Ouch! We need to sit under the Word in humility, not over it in judgment. God is God and we are not. Be ready to adjust your opinions, beliefs, heart and life! God’s word should always surprise you.
  1. Hear the sermon in church.Listening to sermons is not a “me and God” thing; it’s a “God shaping us together” thing. We listen together. Be in church and…
  1. Be there week by week.Make church an immovable item in your 2016 diary. We breathe the cultural air of anti-commitment. Yet, God shapes and molds our minds, hearts, and character over time by the steady drip, drip of his Word.
  1. Do what the Bible says today— live and rejoice. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” so says Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3.15. Today. There is an urgency to our hearing. Don’t put it off till tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come.

You see, listening to sermons isn’t passive at all. Come alive in Christ during 2016 as you sit under His awesome word!

See you at church ready to listen and as always keep trusting Jesus,

Simon (Pastor, Grace Norwood)

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It’s a brand new year!

You know it’s a new year when every ad on TV is either for gym membership or diet supplements, the letterboxes are full of stationary catalogues and people all around you are making resolutions you very much think will be forgotten by February.

Resolutions are not always bad things.  As a seventeen year old, the famous 18th century theologian and preacher Jonathan Edwards made no less than 70 resolutions for his life (ah, the enthusiasm of youth!).  While you may want to make it a more manageable one or two, it’s the type of resolutions Edwards made that is really instructive and worth duplicating.

Here’s three elements to his resolutions that’d be worth thinking about if you’re making your own:

Edwards pursued the glory of God

 Item number four on his list perhaps puts it best: “Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God.”

They were life resolutions, not new year resolutions

 His resolutions were lifetime goals. These were resolutions that he shaped his life around and by which he measured himself. He kept regular track of his progress, journaling about his struggles and progress along the way.

He drew from God’s strength

 These words precede his list of resolutions: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”  Edwards knew he needed God’s strength to do anything.

Happy new year!

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The Gift that keeps on giving

We all know the feeling of ‘what on earth are we going to do with this?’ or the disappointment when the wiz bang toy breaks on its first use.

The true gift of Christmas is a gift that just keeps on giving, always, even into eternity.  It is the gift of God’s unconditional love shown to us in the forgiveness we so desperately need and the restoration of relationship with Him and from that with others we so deeply long for.

As we sing again the great carols and retell the Christmas story, take a moment to reflect on the intensity of God’s love for you in Jesus Christ.  His love is a love that will bring you that joy, peace and hope that we sing about at Christmas.

It is a true joy because it is underpinned by the steadfast love of God.  It is a real peace because it is a peace that comes through Jesus’ death.  It is a sure hope because Jesus was raised from the dead.

Our prayer for you here at Grace Anglican Network is that you will know more and more of the wonderful love of God for you in Jesus Christ.  That you will accept this gift of God’s grace.  That you will be filled with all joy and peace in believing.

We invite you to come again and explore more of God’s love.

With blessings,  David Bassett (Senior Minister)

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Christmas is amazing!

I remember well, back in 2007, when I celebrated my first ever Christmas. It wasn’t really my first Christmas, of course, but it was my very first Christmas as a Christian. I had come to know and believe in Jesus only months before and now as I headed into another Christmas it was just bursting with new meaning. As it turned out, all of my family were either overseas or interstate that year, so after attending church in the morning, I celebrated Christmas day by myself. Now you might think that I’d have been feeling pretty lonely, but that just wasn’t the case. In a new and deeply comforting way, I knew that God was near. As I reflected on the birth of Jesus, I knew that my desperate need for God’s grace and his rescue had been answered some two thousand years ago with the arrival of a baby boy – the true light that gives light to everyone had come into the world (Jn. 1:9). What I was mainly feeling that Christmas was relief and great joy, accompanied by a profound sense of thankfulness at having finally met my Saviour and my Lord.

At Christmas time we have an opportunity to be amazed again at God’s mind-boggling plan to rescue the world from sin by becoming flesh and blood himself. Sometimes we’ve got to work hard to cut through the busyness and familiarity of the season to recapture the joy and relief, and thankfulness that it deserves – but when we do, it’s always worth it. There’s nothing sweeter than having our hearts awakened again (or for the first time!) to the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14). Whatever does or doesn’t happen for you this Christmas, I pray that you will be able to truly celebrate the birth of our Saviour, and do whatever you can to help others celebrate him too.

Shane Ellery (Associate Pastor)

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Naughty or nice?

Welcome to church!

‘… the angel said to [the shepherds], “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2.10-12)

You know, I always wanted to be one of the wise men growing-up (it alludes me still) in nativity plays. I was always cast as one of Herod’s advisors, a sheep or a shepherd!! I’ve always wanted a different role.

Yet this Christmas I’ve been struck by the invitation made to, of all people, the shepherds! I’ve always picked them as really nice guys, protecting their flock and not letting any perish but historically they were really bad, inveterate sinners, liars and cheats. They were naughty, naughty, naughty people. In fact the shepherds were religious and social outcasts – the last people who should’ve been invited to such an event. But you know, they were the only people invited – everyone else just crashed the party! Only the shepherds were invited to witness the birth of the most central figure in all of human history – Jesus the Messiah. And they were naughty not nice.

It’s staggering that God would be so gracious. It’s staggering that the first witnesses to the fulfillment of God’s great promise to rescue sinners, were shepherds – sinners like you and me.

So this Christmas, join me in thanking our God who loves naughty ‘shepherds’ like us so much that he would give us Jesus and invites us by faith to worship him and as a result enjoy complete forgiveness, certain hope and lasting joy!

Keep trusting Jesus,

Simon (Senior Associate Pastor)

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A Christmas Carol (or eight….)

One of the reasons I love Christmas carols – you know, the traditional ones that you grew up singing, or at least hearing if you grew up in Australia – is that so many of them speak so beautifully and eloquently of God’s great grace and work among us.  ‘Hark the Herald angels sing’ sums up the truth and meaning of Christmas in two compact yet deep lines:

Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the new-born King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.

We celebrate a king!  He is full of mercy and will bring us peace.  Peace that issues in a deep, fulfilling, transforming relationship with God!  The other day I was in the supermarket and heard these words soaring over the aisles of fruit and vegetables and the throng of shoppers.  As people checked the price of cheese, something of infinite worth was being freely given! Next Sunday, the 13th of December the Grace Network is gathering at St Matthew’s Kensington for our annual carols service, where you can be encouraged with deep and beautiful words of God’s gracious work in the Christmas tunes you perhaps know and love.  It is also an easy thing to invite people to and a powerful thing for your friends and family to experience, as they hear the gospel carolled and see the joyful community that gospel has formed.

Do come next week to carols, and pray now for who God might be prompting you to invite to come with you!

Sam Bleby (Associate Minister, Grace Church)

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Prepared for Christmas

As the Norwood pageant heralds the Christmas season, the question is as always – are we prepared?

I want to suggest a couple of areas that seem to drop of my list in the rush and business that can come.

  • Invite friends and family to Carols and Christmas services

(we have some great services that are ideal for these invites.  Why not invite a few people to come along with you and then join you for c cuppa or drinks back at your place afterwards?)

  • My response as to why Christmas is important

(It often comes up in conversation at parties and at work – what are you looking forward to this Christmas?  What do you like about Christmas?  and so on.   The Apostle Peter encourages us to have an answer ready that will point to Jesus.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect  1 Peter 3:15

I encourage you to be looking out for those opportunities where you can gently and naturally let those around you know that for you Christmas is about your saviour being born, that it is a significant celebration of your faith and that it is good news for everyone …why not join me at our Church this Christmas?

I pray that God in his graciousness will give us many opportunities in the lead up to this Christmas to share our faith with those around.  Joy to the world, as they say!!

Blessings, David Bassett (Senior Minister)

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Dear Church

I’m looking forward to Christmas this year. Though I have no great affection for the Christmas season and all its commercialization and craziness, I do love the day, and I love to celebrate it with my family.

I’ve also been given the privilege to preach the gospel on Christmas day over the past few years which always helps me to focus on the unfathomable wonder and joy of God become man. Once again, in 2015, I’ll be preaching my little heart out come Christmas Day – I hope you’ll come and marvel with me!

Yet of all I’ve read and all I’ve pondered so far this ‘silly season’, the sweetest might be this simple prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson.

In light of all the ugliness, pain and uncertainty in the world today – not least the recent terrorist attacks in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris – it seems especially timely in its call to peace, love, forgiveness and deliverance from evil. After all it’s why Jesus came. You may like to adopt this prayer for yourself and your family during this season;

“Loving Heavenly Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be your children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake, Amen!”

Keep trusting Jesus Grace Anglican Network,

Simon (Senior Associate Pastor)

[PS: don’t forget to pick-up your copy of the ‘Advent Prayer and Reading Guide’]

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St Matthew's Church is part of the Grace Anglican Network.