Archives for July 2017

Belinda Groves – 30 July 2017

Dear Friends

A few Wednesdays ago, I had another invitation to be ‘Belinda the Baptist bishop’ and join the heads of churches in Canberra for lunch at the Catholic Archbishop’s residence at Regatta Point. As we sat down to eat, the Archbishop handed out sheets detailing the declining numbers of people affiliated with each denomination. “I hope this doesn’t put you off your lunch,” he said!

It is sobering to look at the decline in church affiliation in Australia. Over the last fortnight several of our small groups have looked at an article by next week’s preacher, Rev Scott Higgins, in which he says, “It is impossible to speak of the ‘average Australian’ when it comes to religion. We live in an Australia in which there seem to be at least three distinct groups: those for whom religion is an important part of their daily living; those who have a sense of connection to religion and are open to religious/spiritual experience, but for whom it remains somewhat removed from daily living; and those for whom religion has no part at all in their lives.”

For those for whom religion is an important part of daily living it is disorienting to think that we are no longer at the centre of Australian life. For some this has led to heightened anxiety over being criticised in the media. (I am thinking of the recent responses from some Christian commentators that Julia Baird’s report on how intimate partner violence can be concealed and enabled by Christian communities unfairly targeted the church (mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-18/domestic-violence-church-submit-to-husbands/8652028).  It has also focused the concerns of other Christian on opposing the growing acceptance of other forms of sexuality in our society.

And yet – going back to lunch with the Archbishop – what is it that actually feeds and sustains us as a Christian community? Is it that we hold the dominant cultural and political position within our society? Or is it that we want to take living as Christians seriously? That we find life and meaning in the spiritual disciplines that we explored at the beginning of the year and that Anne and Richard will touch on again today; discernment, hospitality, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, theological reflection and beauty?

I think it’s the latter, and I share Scott’s view that we might see the decline of religion as an opportunity – not as a threat. That, to paraphrase Scott, in leaving behind Christendom we might live more faithfully the reality that God reigns in our lives; loving our enemies, laying down our lives for each other, divesting ourselves of wealth, valuing inclusive community over the exclusivity of family boundaries, making peace with those who have offended or wronged us, abandoning revenge, value the interests of others before our own, seeking justice for the exploited and the op-pressed and sharing the good news of the reign of God.

Belinda

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John Morrison – 23 July 2017

Dear Friends

In his book “Better Together”, Rick Warren says: “God intended our prayer to be a priority, not a postscript. In many churches and small groups, prayer is like the singing of the national anthem at a sporting event: we wouldn’t dream of starting without it, but it has little relevance to the main event.” As he points out, this contrasts sharply with the practice of the early Christians, who “all met together continually for prayer” (Acts 1:14). And Paul instructed Christians at Colossae to “devote themselves to prayer” (Col. 4:2).

However, Warren admits, and our own experience confirms, that being devoted to prayer and learning to pray is not easy. Even Jesus’ first disciples sensed their own inadequacy in this area and went to Jesus with the request “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Lk. 11:1) In response, Jesus gave them the words of the prayer we usually call the Lord’s Prayer.

I don’t believe Jesus’ intention was to simply give them a set of words to be used as a fixed liturgy. Jesus even warned them about “vain repetition” (Mt. 6:7). While it is certainly beneficial to thoughtfully pray the prayer together during our gatherings, using it as a model prayer is even more so. Jesus gave the prayer to his disciples as a model for their prayers and to help them with their desire to learn how to pray.

Martin Luther used and advocated the use of the Lord’s Prayer in this way. We know this from an illuminating letter he wrote to Peter Beskendorf, his barber, after he asked Luther for a simple way to pray. Peter was a devout though flawed man. While intoxicated at a family meal, he stabbed his son-in-law to death. Partly through Luther’s intervention Peter was exiled rather than executed, but endured difficult final years. However, he took with him into exile Luther’s letter with its rich and practical guidelines for prayer.

As a part of twice-daily prayer, Luther advised praying each petition of the Lord’s Prayer, paraphrasing and personalising each with one’s own needs and concerns. Luther gave examples but emphasised that his actual words shouldn’t be recited, because that would defeat the purpose of the exercise. Luther says that he himself would not paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer the same way on each occasion. “I do not bind myself to such words or syllables, but say my prayers in one fashion today, in another tomorrow, depending on my mood and feeling.”

Belinda and I are currently preaching a series on the Lord’s Prayer in the hope that together we may all learn more about prayer and its practice. The series, commenced last week, will straddle the special services and workshops where guest speakers will be contributing to our Church Review. The timing is quite intentional. We are convinced of the need for the Review to be surrounded and accompanied by prayer.

J.I Packer and Carolyn Nystrom have written a book on prayer entitled “Finding Our Way through Duty to Delight”. That expresses my desire for myself, and for you, in relation to prayer. Lord, teach us how to pray.

John

 

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Belinda Groves – 16 July 2017

Dear Friends

This week I’ve been reading a little book called Following Jesus: Finding and Fostering Hope on a Cosmic Scale. The back jacket promises that this is a book you could place in the hands of a friend with no previous knowledge of Jesus – that it uses fresh, clarifying images to talk about God – and so far it has been pretty good. I’d recommend it, too.

As I am preaching on prayer today (and planning to carry the themes of the Lord’s Prayer through the next few weeks, interspersing them with the speakers that are part of the church review) I wanted to invite any of you who wished to come – regularly or just occasionally – to the Wednesday group meeting 8:30-9:30am in the church. (Yes, I know it looks cold, but the prayer does fire us up!)

And I appreciated the very practical, down-to-earth advice that Allan Demond gives in the book about praying with others.

Learn to pray aloud with others. This is challenging for some because it feels like public speaking, but if you persevere you will soon find it easier. You can start by simply praying a short sentence or just a few words. Remember that Jesus did not appreciate longwinded show-off prayers. Talk to God, not to the people in the room, and take all the time you need to get your thoughts out…
If you need inspiration and a prompt, use your Bible. Chose a passage that speaks to you, keep it open in front of you and pray those ideas. You might simply pray, ‘Lord help me to do what this verse says’ and read the verse. It is important to learn to pray with other because… listening to the prayers of faith-filled people will embolden you….[and] your faith will be a gift to them.

A lot of what he says I’ve found to be true in the practice of our group.

Now it would be wonderful to have more people come on Wednesday mornings, but Allan Demond makes another practical; suggestion that some of you in this church might like to take up.

Invite the prayers of other people even when you cannot assemble to pray. When distance and diaries make face-to-face meetings impossible, we can still be with each other in spirit.

Please feel welcome to come on a Wednesday, but if you would like to covenant to pray that morning, from 8:30-9:30am, it would also be wonderful to have you join us in this way.

Teach us to pray, the disciples, asked and that is our request, too.

Belinda

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9 July 2017 – John Morrison

Today is the culmination of NAIDOC Week (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee), held in July each year to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Last Sunday night at Prayers for Peace at Irene’s Place, Jeanette Mathews facilitated prayer for our indigenous people. So I thought today I’d share some of the information and prayer points from that night and invite your prayers and prayerful action too.

Here are 4 things we can learn (and pray about) from indigenous cultures1.

  1. The importance of care for the environment.

By incorporating indigenous views of the land into the way we care for the environment, we can be better stewards of the land.

  1. Preservation of language and history.

The NAIDOC theme this year is “Our Languages Matter”. It seeks to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land, water, history and spirituality through story and song.

Some 250 distinct indigenous language groups covered the continent in the late 18th C and many of these had several dialects. Today only about 120 of these languages are still spoken and much work is being done to preserve them and recover others.

  1. The value of community.

Indigenous cultures teach us the importance of remembering where we have come from and being connected to our local communities.

  1. Knowledge of traditional medicine and agricultural practices.

This traditional knowledge is an invaluable resource.

The Federal Government’s “Close the Gap” Report released each February highlights the following gaps.  A Just Cause (an arm of Australian Baptist Ministries) provides the following information. Its website has related prayers2.

  • Indigenous child mortality rates are double those of non-indigenous Australians.
  • Indigenous life-expectancy is 10 years lower than non-indigenous Australians.
  • Only 60% of indigenous students stay to Year 12, compared to 85% of non-indigenous Australians.
  • Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised for family-related assault than non-indigenous women.
  • Only 48% of indigenous people of workforce age are employed. compared to 72% of non-indigenous people.

These gaps can be seen as the legacies of dispossession and marginalisation.

John

  1. Ashleigh Green, 18 Dec. 2012,australiancatholics.com.au
  2. ajustcause.com.au

 

 

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Belinda Groves – 2 July 2017

I am torn this morning between continuing my travelogue (I think we were up to Paris) or continuing the conversation – from last Sunday – about whether Canberra Baptist Church is an evangelical faith community.

It is an interesting question!

I think it is safe to assume most us would not identify as Evangelical Christians in the political arena – particularly as the term is defined in America.

Many of us have, however, grown up in churches that belonged squarely to the new Evangelical consensus of the latter twentieth century, conservative Evangelicalism.

This movement traced its origins to the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries and maintained conservative Protestant teaching, but sought to be more culturally attuned than fundamentalism. Its defining characteristics were an emphasis on conversion, biblical authority, substitutionary atonement (that Christ died as a substitute for sinful human beings by taking on himself the punishment for sin) and activism.

Over the years, however, many less conservative Evangelicals – and this is where I trace my own faith journey – have moved away from this mainstream consensus to varying degrees.

I understand conversion as the ongoing work of God within our lives, as unique to each person as each person is unique. I hold firmly to a high regard for Scripture; to the authority of this enduring testimony of God’s love for our world. I continue to wrestle with the meaning of the cross – discovering in Jesus’s death and resurrection a promise that nothing can defeat God’s love, and a path for disciples of that love. Finally, I continue to embrace activism – the understanding that I am part of the work, the mission of God.

On Easter Sunday morning, we visited Notre-Dame Cathedral. (So I also get to continue the travelogue!) We joined thousands of tourists and worshippers and were welcomed by the priest, “Today we have come, people from many different places, to celebrate together the resurrection of our Lord!” It was a powerful moment, and we stopped – as a family – and prayed; thanking God for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, for the ongoing transforming power of that euangelion, that good news, in our lives and in our world.

When I look at our National Church Life Survey results, I see a group of people committed to action, to living their lives according to that euangelion – to loving neighbours and to caring about the world that God loves. I believe we are evangelical community.

And I think that that speaks louder than words – but, as 1 Peter 3 says, we should “be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you.”

So, a challenge for all of us: are we ready, do we have the words, to explain the hope we are living.

Belinda

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