Sunday 15th November, 2015

Welcome to everyone joining us for our monthly celebration today. It has been a big month and we have lots to celebrate, especially the way our other Sundays have been growing with increased participation, high levels of fellowship and the inclusion of some families from play group.

After the service today we will grab a coffee and get settled for our Annual Meeting. At the time of writing I have not received any items of General Business so the meeting will mostly be a matter of receiving reports and asking any questions pertinent to the reports.

We will not be having any elections as we have received the right number of nominations for the vacancies on offer. In this regard I wish to specifically thank Eric Dixon for graciously standing aside to allow some other folk to fill positions he has occupied of late. And so I also wish to thank him for his service as an inaugural (!) member of the “new” Parish Council and his faithful watchfulness as member of the currently inactive Incumbency Committee. Eric’s loyalty and steadfastness have always been very welcome.

And so I can announce that this year’s governance and care will be carried out by the Wardens: Jeanenne Thomas & Michael Sullivan with Chris Crook continuing as Vicar’s Warden. In addition, on the Parish Council, are Denise McConachy, Anthea McConachy with my nomination this year being James Anderson. Just in case we need them, Jeanenne Thomas and Ron van der Schoor will be the Incumbency Committee.

I'm writing this note from the Burvale Hotel where Gemma and I are staying as we help with the new 3dm Community of Learning that began its two-year cycle on Wednesday just gone at Crossway Baptist. There are about 10 new churches around Victoria formally beginning the journey we started 10 years ago and they value our input and experience.

This was proceeded by the Community of Practice that Jeanenne Thomas, Chris Crook and Joanne van der Schoor and I began on Monday just gone with leaders of churches from around Australia and New Zealand, including “our own” Andy Goodacre, still down at Launceston. It is hard to overstate the value we gain from mixing and learning with dither churches on the same journey. There are now workshops or Learning Communities in all states of Australia, Sydney being the latest addition.

St Matt’s was very much the catalyst in pioneering this movement in Australia and again, others value our contributions very highly. But now we in turn learn from brothers and sisters who are all of the same mind to do as Jesus commanded and make missional-disciple-making our first priority.

God bless,   Ian.

Sunday 8th November, 2015

Welcome to everyone joining us for the Op-Shop Community gathering today. We hope you will feel like this is a place to belong and that you will share with us especially, the joy of belonging to Jesus Christ.

I’ve included (below) an excerpt from the Verge Network’s (Austin, Texas) latest blog entitled, “ A Hidden Barrier to Mission & Discipleship”, which speaks something into our current model of gathering on Sundays.

Consumers, simply speaking, are people who purchase goods and services to meet a perceived need. In the most basic of forms, consumption is necessary to human existence. Each and every one of us is a consumer of something. But what happens when consumption goes from necessity to pleasure, from provision to identity?

[If we’re not carefull], we can define ourselves by what we buy. What formerly met a basic need has become an identity, the lens through which we see the world. Food becomes a means of comfort. Clothing becomes a status symbol. Shelter becomes a palace of entertainment. . . . 

 . . . Not to oversimplify, but the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. Step one is realizing we have a problem: a desire to satiate our appetite for selfish benefit. We must fight that desire and beg God to help us seek the welfare of others. What if we ditch expecting to have “our needs met” in community and embrace an expectation of blessing our brothers and sisters in Christ? 

I have a hunch that we’d look a lot more like this:

[26] What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV) . . .  

 . . . As a new kind of people, defined by God’s Word and empowered by His Spirit to proclaim the gospel of Jesus, we are no longer consumers. Our Word-centred, gospel-centred community is built on sacrificially meeting the needs of others – love one another, honour one another, bear one another’s burdens, teach and admonish one another. 

A biblical community consumes the Word of God and contributes that precious Word to the lives of one another. 

What if we aimed for contribution, not consumption?

Last week’s Playgroup Community was yet another breakthrough for St Matt’s this year as we have sought to serve the needs of others, rather than ourselves. It was wonderful to see young families enjoying themselves in the freedom that environment creates – and to hear testimony of God at work in a number of people’s lives.

It is an honour and privilege to serve this community at St Matt’s. God bless,  Ian.

Sunday 1st November, 2015

Welcome to everyone joining us for Playgroup Sunday! I expect we’ll have a lot of fun today with the young children in our midst as we share God’s presence and some fellowship with other believers – along with some yummy food for lunch! I really look forward to hearing what folk think about the bible reading each week and if you’d like to talk further about anything you hear discussed today, please don’t hesitate to catch up with me while we’re in the same room or make an appointment to see me during the week.

We have our Annual Meeting coming up in two weeks time, Sunday 15th November, (straight after the service over coffee in the Hall), which means it’s time to do a number of things:

1.       Check the electoral roll to make sure you’re on it! If not, and you’d like to be, please fill in an application form so we can make that happen. (You can’t vote, nominate anyone or be nominated yourself if you’re not on the roll.)

2.       Consider whether you’d like to stand for one of the positions available:

a.       Warden

b.      Parish Councillor

c.       Incumbency Committee

3.       If you would like to, it’s best if you have a serious chat with either me and/or one of the existing Wardens (Chris Crook, Jeanenne Thomas & Michael Sullivan) to check your suitability and requirements.

4.       If you are going to either nominate someone else, or be nominated yourself, you need to get the appropriate form in by next Sunday morning , 8th November, at the latest – mid week would be better!

At the meeting we will:

·         Receive the minutes from last years’ meeting

·         Receive the reports from this year (copies will be available from next Sunday),               including:

o   Progress on the Mission of the Church

o   Financial reports

·         Appoint the Auditor for the coming year

·         Elect new Wardens,  Parish Councillors & Incumbency Committee, if required

·         Receive an updated Electoral Roll

·         Any items of general business which have been received by next Sunday, 8th                     November.

As we try to keep you up to date during the year there will be no particular surprises and we should get done relatively quickly.

But this does not mean that the meeting is unimportant. Actually, it is a proper form of accountability both internally at St Matt’s and within the wider Anglican Diocese of Melbourne. It is even more so, an opportunity to give thanks to God, formally, for all that he is doing amongst us – which is substantial! Do come if you can - you are both welcome and important to the process.

God bless,  Ian.

Sunday 25th October, 2015

Welcome to everyone joining us for the Tate Street Community this week. We place a high value on friendship and so hope you will enjoy good coffee with us and some chat about life. In addition we will think about a passage from the bible, including some discussion, and we will pray about various concerns that reflect our involvement with Tate Street Primary School, as well as other things in the world and our lives that we know we need God to be involved with. Please feel free to join in all these elements of our gathering, including some lunch afterwards!

I think everyone had a lovely time last Sunday afternoon at the Hymn sing-a-long for Seniors week. There were a large number of volunteers who made the day happen, co-ordinated as usual by Marlene Holloway, and I’m sure you will join me in congratulating and thanking them for their herculean effort. It is a wonderful thing to be joined by so many Christians from other denominations for the afternoon. A foretaste of heaven perhaps?

At Parish Council last Monday night we spent a fair bit of time approving the church budget for next year (fairly much in line with this past year’s) although with some minor allowances for increased local mission spending, that is, spending on the outreach of our Missional Communities, for things like BBQ’s for the students at the school, hiring equipment for Playgroup events etc.

We also began to process the conversation we held recently about our current Sunday format. We continue to acknowledge the tension caused by not being able to hold more “traditional” worship (for St Matt’s at least) and the opportunity to help our Missional Communities practise how to meet and exercise hospitality, study of the scriptures and prayer in an informal context equivalent to “social space”.

Whilst we are very pleased with how the development of the new format is going, especially the growth in depth of fellowship & belonging experienced by so many, we also feel the grief of some others who would prefer the previous format. Perhaps, as Geoff Casey suggested it is a classic case of trying to put “new wine into old wine skins”, something which our Lord warned us is virtually impossible.

But bearing in mind our distinct lack of “worship resources” we remain, at this stage, unable to do much about it other than seek the Lord for a more satisfying solution. Which the Parish Council will continue to pursue. I can promise you there is much soul-searching, prayer and discussion happening behind the scenes on my part – I certainly would long for us all to be appropriately accommodated. One small immediate adjustment will be that I will commence bringing the message one extra time per month, rotating between the three Missional Community Sundays, as well as the usual 3rd & 5th Sundays.

The truth is, some of us are very happy and excited about where things are, and some of us are disappointed. Never the less I am confident that Jesus is leading us as we go and we can trust in Him to provide us with exactly what we need to get His job done. I don’t think we have arrived at our final destination in all this but I am confident we are heading in the right direction. I therefore urge all of us to keep at our prayers, persist in our contributions to the task and seek every opportunity to speak words of encouragement to those who are trying hard.

God bless,   Ian.

Sunday 18th October, 2015

Welcome to everyone joining us for our monthly service of celebration this morning at St Matt’s. At this service we bring our “sacrifices” (gifts) of praise and thanksgiving to God, for all that he is doing in and through our community and especially for all that he has done for us in Jesus.

Especially today we will do that in two ways, both of which are rich in symbolism and meaning.

Firstly, we will celebrate the Baptism of Claire To daughter of Maggie & Jimmy To and granddaughter of Terrie & Chris Crook. (Welcome to everyone joining us for this very special day). Baptism symbolizes a new start. Dying to self and living for Jesus. When a small child is baptized, we might well ask, “What part of herself does Claire need to “die” to?”

Well, as I was explaining to my grade 4/5/6 SRI class this week, sadly all of us do, like Adam & Eve did and choose to live contrary to God’s plan for our lives. We think we know better. Claire would hardly be conscious of this at her age but beautiful and innocent as she is, she will grow up to be like the rest of us. Wisely therefore, her parents are acknowledging her need to choose to follow Jesus. So today symbolizes the beginning of a journey which they will start her on and lead her in her understanding of who Jesus is and all that he has done for her.

Which is what our second symbol reminds us of today.

The Lord’s Supper reminds us that when Jesus died on the cross, he did it for Claire and for all of us. His body broken and shed blood were the supreme self-sacrifice which turned sin on its head. The sin (or rebellion against God) which drives our self-centredness is reversed & paid for. It obviously did not come cheaply. It came at the cost of the most amazing, loving, wonderful man who ever lived. The only one who was worthy to make the sacrifice because of his own sinless life.

And the only one who was and is God. This was God saying I’ll pay the debt myself. I love them so much I’ll give up my earthly life that they all might have eternal life.

Which means we have freedom to come into his presence today, and every day, guilt-free. We can run into his loving arms, as it were, and say, in effect, “I love you daddy, please forgive me, I want to live for you”.

So when we eat bread and drink wine today, we don’t eat death, we embrace true life – forgiven, cleansed and included in God’s family.

God bless,   Ian.

Sunday 11th October, 2015

Welcome to everyone gathering for Op-Shop Community Sunday at St Matt’s. If this is your first time at St Matt’s we hope you will enjoy meeting with God as we join in fellowship with some of the volunteers at the Op-Shop, hear some of their stories, have a discussion around our bible reading from Luke’s Gospel and pray for the mission at the shop, amongst other things.

This week I came across the following article for the Anglican Communion News Service which seems relevant . . .

“Almost 400 people jammed into the arena which is at the heart of King’s College Otahuhu (NZ) on Tuesday for the powhiri [Māori welcoming ceremony] that launched the 2015 Common Life Missions Conference.

They came from all walks, and from all corners – including Africa, Australia, England and the Middle East – to reaffirm their convictions that mission involving every person in the Communion, is at the heart of Anglicanism.

Or, as the conference’s keynote speaker, the Revd Dr Chris Wright, [OT scholar and International Ministries Director of the Langham Partnership International], later put it: “It’s not so much the case that God has a mission for the church, to be carried out by a few church-paid professionals – as that God has a church for his mission.”

Dr Wright wrapped up his survey with three conclusions:

Firstly, that “God’s whole mission is for God’s whole church.”

Secondly, that the whole church’s mission includes every church member.

“If the whole church exists for God’s mission, then so do all its members. . . We need to radically challenge the mistaken paradigm that only some members are ‘mission partners’. What does that make the rest of us? Non-mission partners? Sleeping partners?”

Finally, that there is no secular-sacred divide.

“Jesus,” said Dr Wright, “is Lord of the workplace and the family, Lord of the streets and the skies, Lord of schools and slums, Lord of hospitals and housing, Lord of governments, business, academia, sport and culture, Lord of all time and space.

“So the discipleship and mission that Jesus calls us into is for the whole of life. If Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth then there is no place, no job, no vocation, no day or night, no part of life at all, that is exempt from the rest of what he says in the Great Commission and all that it refers back to in the rest of the Gospel.

“Mission is not an agenda, to be tackled by people assigned to ‘do it for the rest of us’. Mission is the mode of existence for the whole life of every member of the whole church.”

God bless,    Ian.

Sunday 4th October, 2015

Welcome to everyone joining us for Playgroup Sunday! We hope you have a great time with us this morning over coffee & cake, interactive engagement with the Bible and then if possible stay for lunch with us too.

In our gathering this morning we will enjoy some activities with and for children but also engage adults with one of the “hard” lessons Jesus taught. The parable of the Rich Man & Lazarus is confronting on a number of levels.

1.       It challenges the idea that “making it rich” is enough

2.       It challenges the idea that if you are rich it must be because you have been blessed by God

3.       It debunks the idea that our choices in this life have no effect on what happens after we die

4.       Disturbingly, it suggests that no amount of invitation, cajoling, education, advice or argument will persuade some people that they must respond to Jesus.

5.       It affirms that God has the interests of all people on his heart and will finally act according to His justice

6.       It affirms that God knows our hearts . . .

 

On the 16th tee yesterday, one of my playing group commented, “Why do we get so upset by missing a putt, when there are Syrian refugees struggling to survive?”

Ouch! Great question!!

This led to a fairly unusual and serious conversation after everyone else had left with regards why God acted decisively in Jesus 2000 years ago and not at some earlier or other time . . . (but that’s another story).

But in terms of perspective – it was really helpful. We do tend to get caught up in our first-world problems don’t we? And he asked, “How can we save the world? Is it too late?”

As a man of science and statistics he was noting that all the trends are bad and that perhaps 40-50 years might see the world out!

I gave him two suggestions:

1.       That we each need to choose regularly, to do things that benefit others, make sacrifices so that others might gain life.

2.       That God is in control of the world and that part of our faith is believing that He won’t let the world be destroyed

How do you deal with the big issues of life? I’d love to chat about them with you sometime . . .

God bless,    Ian.

SENIORS WEEK HYMN SING-A-LONG

Our Annual Hymn Sing-a-Long at St Matthew's will be held during the October Senior's Festival on Sunday October 18th at 2.00pm. 

                            This year our organist will be Anne Shirley.                                
Following the sing-a-long there will be afternoon tea and a time of fellowship in the Church Hall. 

Come along and support this event, and invite your family and friends

 

Sunday 27th September, 2015

Welcome to everyone joining us for Tate Street Cluster today. During our time together we will enjoy coffee & cake, hear about some of the mission work at Tate Street Primary School, have a discussion based on the bible reading and then pray for things that are on our minds and hearts.

After this some folk will stay on for lunch and continue fellowship with those who are involved directly in the work at the School. If you are visiting, you are very welcome to join us for all aspects of our gathering to see if you would like to be involved in the way we live out our discipleship.

We believe this is something like the way the first disciples lived out their faith in Jesus as well as most Christians who find themselves living in a different culture to their own. And this is essentially the situation that Australian Christians find themselves in more and more. The job of the church is to equip everyday people with the skills required to pass on their faith to other everyday people. So we can do what Jesus commissioned us to do in Matthew 28:18-20, essentially, “make disciples who make disciples”.

This cuts to the heart of the dilemma facing our own church at the moment. How do we equip each other for ministry yet do justice to the time-honoured traditions of gathered, Christian worship? Personally I believe that part of the answer can be found in the question, “What does Jesus want from us when we gather together?” Or, “How should we use our time together?”

We know that the glimpses of “church”, (which means gathering or assembly), we get in the New Testament includes much of what I’ve mentioned above but also included singing psalms and hymns, giving prophetic words, speaking in tongues, etc, especially in the house churches or “Oikos”. And in the earliest days it also included participating in the temple worship which was common to Jews of the day, but only happened perhaps (up to) three times a year and had more of a festival (3-4 days) experience.

I’m grateful for the participation of so many in the conversation after lunch last week, (which by the way was superb, thanks to Marilyn Slade and her family/team). As promised, the Parish Council will be reviewing the issues raised, ideas offered and considering how we need to make adjustments to keep being faithful in our joint journey with Jesus. We will feed back to you all in later in the year (our next meeting is in October).

God bless,  Ian.

Sunday 20th September, 2015

Welcome to everyone celebrating with us today at St Matthew’s on St Matthew’s Day! Today we will celebrate: what God is doing amongst us through Jesus here at St Matthew’s; what God did through Jesus with Matthew the tax-collector; and what God has done for everyone at all times through Jesus! The writer of the Book of Hebrews, in the Bible, says this:

Heb 1:1-3 TNIV In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  (2)  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.  (3)  The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

It is all about Jesus – his life, death & resurrection. The example he set for us to follow and especially the way he made possible our relationship with God. But the above passage makes it clear that even more about Jesus is awesome:

·         God speaks to us through him

·         The universe was made through him

·         He radiates God’s glory

·         He represents God exactly

·         He sustains all things

·         He cleansed us from all our sins

·         He has the place of honour with God the Father.

HE, is worth celebrating, all on his own. Even if God were doing nothing amongst us, we would still celebrate Jesus!

But here’s the clincher for me. From Matthew 2000 years ago; to those of us here today; to those who don’t know Him yet; Jesus has been the means by which we know that God loves us with an inexhaustible passion. He will leave no stone unturned, he will go out searching, he will scan the horizon – whatever it takes to see us come home.

I hope you can stay for lunch with us today when we will continue to enjoy each others’ company in the family God loves enough to send his only son to rescue.

Worth celebrating!  God bless,   Ian.

 

 

Sunday 13th September, 2015

Welcome to everyone joining us for our Op-Shop Community Sunday. Like each of our Missional Communities, the Op-Shop forms an invaluable bridge between our church and the community it serves. But actually, it is healthier to see the Op-Shop AS THE CHURCH, functioning in the community. They represent Christ, AND ALL OF US, to the customers, volunteers and nearby traders.

So it is a treat each month hearing their stories, learning about their faith being lived out amongst the people we have all been called to. It’s just like the old deputations from overseas missionaries. Some years ago we talked about seeing ourselves no longer as a Parish Church but a Local Mission Agency. And this is what it looks like:

The Mission of the Op-Shop – their OUT, happens Monday to Saturday and they are brilliant at it. What happens when they lead one of these Sunday gatherings as that WE join their mission by offering both UP (worship and spiritual nourishment) & IN (fellowship, encouragement and support).

That is our job as we gather for each of the Missional Community Sundays – to learn from the scriptures and pray with and for each other, yes, but also to intentionally invest our time and relationships with each member of our church who is on mission – whether individually or as one of our Missional Communities. It is a vital role for each of us to play.

I love it when once a month, at our Celebration Services, we get to sing praises to God, (helped by our musicians,) and have the opportunity to go a little deeper in our understanding of the Word and enjoy the sacraments together. But increasingly I am also appreciating the way these other Sundays are providing us all with a means to be actively involved in the whole mission of our church.

Next Sunday, we will get the chance to discuss this whole experimental process during a conversation after our St Matthew’s Day lunch. I hope that you will stay for both lunch and conversation – it will be an important time for our church!

Don’t forget – please put your name down on the sheet so we know how many to cater for! Thanks, and God bless,   Ian.

Sunday 6th September, 2015

Welcome to everyone joining us today for Playgroup Sunday – and it’s Father’s Day which entirely appropriate! We hope you have a wonderful time with us this morning and experience a true sense of belonging to our Heavenly Father’s family.

I came across an article the other day about one famous father,  Bear Grylls, (who’s also a member of the family) – here’s an excerpt:

He's the world's most famous non-fictional adventurer; the star of numerous jungle-based TV shows and a huge celebrity all over the world. He's also the Chief Scout, and a reported gazillionaire thanks to his branded range of survival knives, hatchets and head-mounted torches.

Famously, Bear is also a committed Christian, a subject which almost always comes up in interviews. Here are just a few of the ways he's explained his faith to those interviewers, from talking about his own 'conversion' to Christianity, to painting a picture of the radical Jesus to whom he's drawn.

1. Bear on his 'conversion' moment

"I remember praying a simple prayer up a tree one evening and saying, 'God, if you're like I knew you as a kid, would you be that friend again?' And it was no more complicated than that. And actually the amazing thing is that all God asks is that we sort of open the door and He'll do the rest. So often we kinda hide behind our yearning for love and acceptance with loads of complicated theological questions, and actually once that's stripped away what we really are is just somebody who wants to have that relationship with your Father."  (From an interview with Relevant magazine.)

2. Bear on the radical Jesus

"The journey's been that faith has been the wildest ride. And Jesus, the heart of the Christian faith is the wildest, most radical guy you'd ever come across. He was always hanging around with the prostitutes and the tax collectors and having parties and banquets, and I found myself drawn to that character, not the kind of fluff that we like to box as religion."  (From an interview with CBN's The 700 club)

3. Bear on faith vs religion

"Christianity is not about religion. It's about faith, about being held, about being forgiven. It's about finding joy and finding home. We all want that, but nobody wants religion. Why do people turn away from faith? They're not, they're turning away from religion most of the time. I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't want to be forgiven or held or find peace or joy in their life. We try loads of other stuff—we think booze or foxy women or whatever will fill it—but it doesn't fill the hole." (From an interview with Relevant magazine.)

God bless, Happy Father’s day,  Ian.

Sunday 23rd August, 2015

Welcome to everyone worshipping with us today on our Tate Street Cluster Sunday. Today we will hear more about our involvement at our local Primary School and especially focus our prayers on the wellbeing of their whole community. If you would like to talk to someone about getting involved with the school, as a first port of call please see Lesley Spurr or me. (As a matter of course, anyone involved with the school will require a Working With Children Check).

The relationship we have with Tate Street Primary School may well be unique in Australia. I was encouraged to hear, via our Locum, Steve Brown, that when he spoke with the Principal, Terry Scott, he heard nothing but good reports. The key word was that Terry said he trusted us. This is something we have worked long and hard on. We are welcomed in the school by all the staff and other volunteers that know us. We are seen as part of their community and it is our goal to serve them without any strings attached.

Trust and respect are the first steps we have to earn in our society today. We can look to the Salvation Army as our inspiration – who, in Australian Society, doesn’t respect them? We have achieved this at the school (as we have at the Op-Shop and Playgroup) and it ensures that we keep a place in the community as a church who are known (and loved) for the way we represent God’s love to the world.

We are the clearest picture of God some people will see – before they meet Jesus. And if Christ is in us, then they actually see Jesus too. This is what being His ambassador is all about. Everything we say and do, the decisions we make and the way we live our lives are all signposts to Jesus, who is the way to God.

Let’s keep at it!

Meanwhile, St Matthew’s Day is coming up on Sunday 20th September. The Wardens and I would like to invite you all to our normal, 3rd Sunday Celebration Service to be followed by lunch, which will in turn be followed by a facilitated conversation about how we are travelling with our trial service structure. There will be opportunity for comments and questions and an honest review of where we are placed and what we are hoping to achieve. (This will be similar in nature to the one we had towards the end of last year when we first floated the idea). I hope you will make this a priority and you will be receiving a letter from me in this regard in the next week or so.

God bless,   Ian.

Sunday 16th August, 2015

Welcome to everyone joining us for our monthly celebration service at St Matt's. I love it when we can get together and sing songs of praise making a joyful noise to the Lord! Thank you in advance to our musicians for serving us in this way.

I should probably save this story for next week when we focus on Tate Street but when I was teaching SRI last Tuesday I asked the question, "Why do you think God gave us the Ten Commandments?" One answer went something like this: "God wanted us to know how to live well with Him and each other"!!!!

The previous week I went in to the Op-Shop bemoaning the fact that our Communion wine decanter had been broken and I was looking for a replacement. Quick as a flash one of the volunteers (who doesn’t normally go to church), offered the one we are using today.

During this last week Jeanenne Thomas started a Coffee & Bible Playgroup for some of the mums that are interested in finding our more about God and encouraging each other in their understanding of faith.

I tell you these stories to encourage you - as they encourage me. We are doing the work of the Kingdom and people are responding to it. I know that sometimes it feels, week to week, as though we are having no impact at all but that really is not the case. Sometimes all we need to do is just be Christians. Representing Jesus to others that we meet sometimes includes words and explanations but most often is simply lifestyle and actions.

Do we really care? Will we actually love? Does our faith ring true as experienced by others? Pray that it does! Pray that we "may live such good lives amongst the pagans, that they may see our good works and give glory to God".

God bless,   Ian.

Sunday 9th August, 2015

Welcome to everyone joining us today as we gather for Op-Shop Sunday. I look forward to seeing what the team help us explore today! If you are visiting you are very welcome and we'd love you to join us for coffee when you arrive or even stay for a bite to eat afterwards.

A quick reminder to our regular attenders: If you plan to stay for lunch on any given Sunday, please don’t forget to bring some food to share each time so that there is enough to go round!

Next week will be our Celebration Sunday, and like you, I am looking forward to singing some worship songs and having a full sermon - like the good old days! But I think it's helpful to remember that as far as we know, Jesus never listened to a sermon in his life! Nor did He ever deliver an expositional sermon based on the scriptures. What we do know He did was engage in dialogue/debate over the scriptures in the synagogues He attended.

When we read of the early church "devoting themselves to the Apostles teaching", it was just this model that they were using. They were retelling the stories of Jesus' life and ministry and discussing what it meant for their lives. This is much closer to what we are currently experiencing (even though we are still learning how to do that well) on our Missional Community-led Sundays.

When we have the bible reading and ask questions of each other in mutual discovery, we actually engage our brains in a far more effective way that helps us remember what we've been talking about. That's not to say that we can't remember anything we hear in a regular sermon (!), but adult educational experts have been saying for years that we actually remember more when we actively participate in the learning.

So my encouragement to all of us is to get involved, Sunday by Sunday, in the questions and answers. If you don’t like speaking out loud, bring a notebook and write things down, or maybe follow up after the service, over lunch with one or two people in a smaller setting. The exciting things about our current predicament with musicians, is that we have been given an opportunity to explore (arguably) a better way of learning from the scriptures. Enter into the process and then test yourself at the end of each week to see if you can remember the main point of the previous service. I bet you'll find you can!

God bless,    Ian.

Sunday 2nd August, 2015

Welcome to everyone worshiping with us today at St Matt’s. I’m looking forward to getting back “our way” after experiencing a number of different ways whilst away. I love the informality and especially the fellowship we’ve been fostering with our new pattern of Sunday gatherings. I hope everyone is remembering to bring food to share because I love eating it!

Julie and I have had an amazing time in London & Paris and especially with Jack & Gemma in Sheffield. Gemma will be coming home in about three weeks which we’re very much looking forward to but sadly Jack will not be home until about 12 months from now. It was very hard saying goodbye to him last Monday after dinner.

I caught up with a number of former colleagues and friends from The Order of Mission, including Matt & Jo Parkins. We also made some new friends and met so many of the people who have been shaping Gemma's and Jack's discipleship over the last couple of years. They have been in very good hands but it turns out they have been contributing at a very high level themselves and Gemma will be sorely missed. I fear we may not see her for long as she has ministry plans of her own now – but I’ll let her tell you more about that herself when she gets back.

One of the big issues I was confronted by (again) is the one everyone is talking about across the world. The number of refugees/asylum-seekers now is about 60 million. 60 million! That’s more than double our total population in Australia. It is a global disaster unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. I met with a couple of friends from Sicily who are working tirelessly with refugees from Romania and many parts of Africa. I was so glad to hear of the response by many of you recently after one of the services to bring unwanted goods to share with refugees. I met with Kevin and Anne Booth on Friday briefly and Anne is also working weekly with detainees in Darwin. I also met an Iraqi couple in Sheffield who will not be able to return home because of the IS campaign against Christians.

The man my father was visiting (and whom we signed a petition for), who is now on Christmas Island is having his case appeal heard in the next month (we believe).

It is an issue bigger than all of us but it is not bigger than God can handle. How might He use you even further to address this issue? How might He use our church? At the very least, please join me in praying for the hearts of our national leaders to soften in their response and treatment of asylum seekers. Please also pray for men and women to work for positive and Godly change in the countries concerned. Pray against the works of the devil, the enemy of God who wishes to destroy individuals, families and countries.

Meanwhile, let us keep being light and hope in our own families and communities and we share the love of Jesus with our people of peace. God bless,    Ian.

Sunday 26th July, 2015

It has been a joy and privilege to serve at St. Matthew’s over the last two months.  There are several things I have observed that bring me joy and a sense of hope.  I would like to encourage you by highlighting a few of them.

St. Matthew’s is a brave church.  Under the leadership of Ian and the wardens you have taken the step of changing a pattern of church that was not producing new disciples.  That is to be commended because most church communities get stuck in ‘doing’ church and then refuse to change in order to stay comfortable.  Moving ‘church’ into the foyer is a positive move and breaks down several barriers for new comers.

St. Matthew’s is an outward looking church.  Well done on embracing mission.  The Op Shop, Tate St PS, and Play Group are excellent examples of being witnesses for Jesus in the local community.  A lot of you are involved in these.  That’s great!  However, I encourage you to look for more ways of connecting.  There members at St. Matthews who have gifts and abilities that can create more connecting points with the community.

St. Matthew’s is a Jesus centred church.  You love Jesus!  The purpose of our existence is his glorification.  The reason why you are brave and outward looking is to make Jesus look great! 

These are fantastic attributes to have.  However, there are a few things I think the church can wrestle with.  I hope you don’t mind me sharing these insights with you.

Share the Vision.  The new direction is exciting and the possibilities of bridging the gap between everyday life and church are tangible.  Sharing this vision clearly will be a big challenge, but a necessary one.  I look forward to seeing every person at St. Matthew’s understanding and contributing to the new way forward.

Do Mission and Discipleship.  St. Matthew’s heart beats for mission.  But, be aware that strong intentional discipleship using the Word of God is the fuel for mission.  Mission will peter out if the Word is not central when you gather.

Pray for Breakthrough.  St. Matthew’s has a history of embracing the movement of the Holy Spirit.  A new movement of prayer and humility before the LORD is the beginning of all new life.  We must be on our knees in order to see the Spirit move.

May the prayer of Habakkuk ring in our ears as we seek to see Jesus glorified in our day and age;

LORD, I have heard of your fame;

I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.

Renew them in our day.

                In our time make them known;

                In wrath remember mercy.  (Habakkuk 3:2)

Grace and Hope,

Stephen.

Sunday 19th July, 2015

The persecuted Brothers and Sisters – Part 3

Jesus understands our propensity to avoid persecution and seek comfort.  He warns his disciples that they are to grow deep roots in order to withstand the trouble to come.

 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away”  (Matthew 13:20-21).

When trouble or persecution come we fall away.  Why?  No Root! 

What is this root that Jesus speaks of?

If the seed that the farmer sows is the Word of God or the Gospel, as Jesus explains when he gives his disciples the interpretation of the parable, then the root must be the deeper understanding of that Word. 

Produce or trees can look impressive as they grow high off the ground, but what is going on underneath?  That’s what Jesus is driving at here.  It is the growth underneath the surface that counts when trouble or persecution comes.  If we have not sought to grow in our understanding of God’s Word we will fail to comprehend the blessing that persecution brings to us. 

“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

If we don’t comprehend the good news of the glory of Jesus how will we possibly understand the need to suffer like he did?  We won’t.  Our roots will be too shallow and we will be uprooted in the storm.

However, conversely, when our roots are deep we will rejoice in persecution.  Not in a sadistic or morbid manner, but in a manner becoming the hope we have in Jesus. 

So, how do we grow deep roots? 

First, as I have mentioned, we read the Word and grow in our assurance of God’s mercy and sovereignty.  The more we know Him, the less we fear the world.

Second, we practice standing up for Jesus and not avoid declaring that we follow him.  Practice makes us stronger and more confident.

Third, we enter into suffering actively but supporting our brothers and sisters who are undergoing the fiery ordeal around the world.   Pray for them!  Pay for them!  Promote them! 

There are several organisations that help us to engage and enter into the persecution of the church.  I am currently getting involved with Open Doors.  They advocate for persecuted Christians around the world.  They provide resources such as Bibles and support for pastors and churches in horrible places with finances and practical leadership training and equipping. 

Listen to these challenging words from Paul the Apostle,

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:3-4).

We are not civilians.  It is time for us all to enter basic training for the trails to come. 

May the Lord grant us the crown on that victorious day!

Grace and Hope,

Stephen.

Sunday 12th July, 2015

The Persecuted Brothers and Sisters – Part 2

Last week I introduced the ever present issue of the persecution of the saints.  The Bible is clear on the matter.  We the church, will suffer persecution in this world.  Jesus’ soberly reminds his disciples when he says, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15:20).   However, in the west the church is not used to following the masters footsteps in this way. 

It comes as a surprise to us when we experience difficulty from others because we are Christ followers.  Yet the Apostle Peter raises an eyebrow at our perplexed response to persecution when he reminds us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

Persecution is not strange.  It is to be expected!  That is a very sobering thought and reality for the Christian.  Jesus was persecuted, thus we are not to be surprised when it comes our way. 

Unfortunately, we have grown accustomed to Christendom in the west.  However, the tide is turning.  Christians in the west are beginning to feel the heat of a culture that is no longer indifferent, but becoming aggressively opposed to Christian perspectives on a whole range of social and religious topics.  Persecution is heading our way! 

The test is coming.  Will we stand with Jesus or will we shrink back?  Jesus tells a parable about this when he says, “The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away” (Matthew 13:20-21). 

“Since they have no root!”

Persecution is not the problem.  No root is! 

What does this mean?  What is the root that we need to withstand the fiery ordeal to come? 

We will investigate this in Part 3 next week as we discuss how to deepen our roots in Christ.

Grace and Hope,

Steve

Sunday 5th July, 2015

The Persecuted Brothers and Sisters - Part 1

I remember the day I saw my sister Lorraine get pushed over by a bigger kid down our street.  I was the eldest by two years and when she hit the ground a fury welled up inside that demanded action.

I ran to her, picked her up, and then chased the assailant all the way to their home.  I didn’t catch them, but two things surprised me that day.  

First, the depth of love I had for my little sister was so powerful it demanded action.  

Second, the depth of love and appreciation she had for me afterwards.  She was so happy to see that her big brother cared for her and was willing to comfort her, defend her, and seek justice.

How should we feel about our brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted all over the world?  Should we not feel the same and act for their benefit with all our might?  Would that not encourage them and us at the same time?

The Apostle Paul urges us to join him (and others) in suffering for the gospel.  

So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. - 2 Timothy 1:8

The Apostle Peter encourages us to have an attitude that doesn’t shy away from suffering because it has a cleansing effect.  

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.  As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. - 1 Peter 4:1-2

When we suffer for Christ the temptation to indulge in sin is killed off.  No wonder the church in the west is beset by indifference and compromise to all manner of moral evil.  

It would seem that there is a simple yet profound equation at work in the church.  Comfort = sloth and sin.  Persecution = obedience and holiness.  Which do you think results in joy?  Comfort or Persecution?

Personally, I have begun to partner with Open Doors.  This an organisation that prays, provides, supports, and equips the persecuted church.  

Check them out at www.opendoors.org.au

Next week I will elaborate more on my dream to see the church in Geelong and Western Victoria engage and join in the joyous suffering for the gospel with the saints.

Grace and Hope,
Stephen