But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said.
Matthew 14:27-29 (NIV)
I wonder if you have ever had a go of something quite courageous, but half way into it you decide it’s too frightening and you want out. However the trouble is you have to see it now till its completion. Perhaps you’ve ventured out into the middle of the iceskate rink and literally “walked on water”, frozen as it was. Then you lose your balance and want to get back to the safety of the rail but there is a long way from the centre to the edge. Your friend that’s reaching out their hand to you seems too far too.
Peter went through this very thing. But the “walking on water” that he was doing was walking in Jesus’ miraculous footsteps. The stories that we have heard growing up, this one included sound all very nice on paper. This one can fill us with courage to face the storms in our life. We all have them. Yet I think something much more confronting is going on here. We are faced with the Jesus who acts beyond our rationality and not only that, but he invites us to join in so we end up doing things that clash with all that we think is possible.
Some of you who are reading this may have grown up in a non western culture where the supernatural was more common place. So when you came to faith in Christ and Jesus started displaying signs and wonders in your midst, you didn’t freak out totally. It’s harder for us who have grown up in a Western European culture such as colonial Australia. We have been taught since we were very small that rationality and reason are what is real. We can have our faith in God, but that’s separate somehow. We aren’t taught that God can break through and do things that defy all thinking right into our everyday life. So when it happens we end up very afraid, and not a good fear such as the “fear of the Lord”. It’s a sort of fear that keeps God quite at a distance, thank you very much. Or perhaps we are like Peter and begin to question. It’s always good to test the spirits. Not all spiritual powers are good. In fact only the Holy Spirit. Peter knew something supernatural was happening, but he wasn’t interested in joining in unless it was the Lord. This is a very good model to follow. The only thing was that he lost his nerve halfway out. His eyes went to the strong waves instead of being fixed on Christ and he began to sink. But Jesus is the one who meets all those who venture out when he calls. It was Jesus who called the disciples to get in that boat without him, and it was Jesus who called Peter to come to him even though a water expanse separated them. And he met them all with grace, but also with challenge. Not one sank, not even Peter. But despite Peter’s courage he challenges him “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”.
The faith that Christ is looking for is faith that can not only walk on water, but faith that has such utter confidence in the Lord that we keep on walking on water, no matter what’s happening around us.
Heavenly Father, Thank you for your son our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for the trust he had in you and the power that you gave him over creation. Forgive us when we place our spiritual life in another category and think that science is all that can teach us of what is real.
Help us not to get so frightened when you break through in our lives with miracles in our lives that defy all reasoning. Grant us the grace, not only to not run away, but to have the wonder of joining in with you and to keep on “walking on water”. All for Your Glory. In Jesus’ mighty name. Amen..
What is most important to you? Have you ever saved up for something, finally bought it and then when you brought it home discovered it was very different to what you thought was promised. The pearl of great price wasn’t a pearl after all. It was a waste of time and money.
Jacob, Rachel and Leah
That happened to Jacob. He had fallen in love with Rachel and he had agreed with Rachel’s father Laban to work for seven years to have her hand in marriage. But when the seven years were up Laban tricked him and gave him the older sister Leah instead. In Jacob’s mind the pearl he was seeking was Rachel. He hadn’t minded working seven years for her because he loved her so much, but he was angry when he discovered Laban’s deceit. Despite encountering the Living God of his father and Grandfather at Bethel, his sole focus so it seems for the next fourteen years was to win Rachel.
Our attention must now go to Leah. Imagine that day when she wakes up with her new husband, and instead of tenderness she is met with horror as her husband realises he has the wrong woman. For the next few years her desired pearl is trying to earn her husband’s love. She has three sons and when each one is born she thinks that now her husband will love her. But by the fourth one something shifts in Leah. She now says “This time I will praise the Lord” Genesis 29:39. Leah has moved, even partially, from having a desired pearl as her husband’s love, to realising that the only true pearl of great price is the Lord. Despite her husband’s continuing lack of regard even hatred for her, the Lord had cared for her. There was something more important than her husband’s love and that was the love of the Lord. She called her new born son, Judah which means praise. The Lord was faithful to Leah. We know now that one day from her new born son she named Judah would come David, and from David the coming Messiah.
Distracted by lesser Pearls
Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom of God is like a pearl of great price that a certain person sells everything to gain. We can learn from the story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Each one of them desired something with passion other than the Kingdom of God, other than the Lord. But when we place our complete hope in something or someone else we know that one day the object of our desire will be separated from us. Jacob lost Rachel in childbirth with her second son. The very thing that Rachel was fixated upon in having children in competition to Leah, ending up causing her death. Leah did not gain her husband’s love.
Nothing can separate us from God’s love
However because of all that Christ has done upon the cross our passage from Romans promises something quite incredible. We are promised that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The love of God in our lives and our communities is the heartbeart of the Kingdom of God. This is the pearl of great price. We cannot earn it. It has already been paid for. Our part is to wake up like Leah woke up, and realise the incredible compassion and never ending love that God has for us.
Though it costs nothing it demands that we surrender all to receive it. Although we may try to find love and purpose in other places they will one day fail. But nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let us praise the Lord as Leah praised him.
Heavenly Father, we praise you for the incredible gift of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you that on the cross he became nothing that we might be full. Upon that cross he cried out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”. As he took sin upon himself he was cut off from you, so that all who believe might have your love poured into their hearts through the Holy Spirit. Thank you that nothing can separate us now from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. By your grace help us lay down everyone and everything that we have placed as pearls and idols in our lives. And may we seek first your Kingdom, pearl of Great Price trusting that everything else will be added unto us.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Last weekend we had an amazing time at our prayer rally in the Adelaide Hills. Whilst we were there a miracle took place. Some of our Pitjantjatjarra Indigenous people were crying out to the Lord in repentance. Our Chinese intercessor who knows no Pitjantjatjarra began praying in English after them empowered by the Holy Spirit. Several of the Pitjantjatjara people who have good English and Pitjantjatjara testified that the words he said were in line with what the women had been praying. They were praying together in one Spirit. It is significant that the theme this year for NAIDOC week is language. We witnessed the truth that God knows Pitjantjatjara.
Our reading today from Romans speaks about the Holy Spirit leading us not into fear but rather into relationship with the Father as His children. By the Holy Spirit we can cry out “Abba, Father” and know that we belong to God as his children. The Holy Spirit witnesses with our own Spirit that we are God’s children. Our miracle last week showed the truth of this. As the Holy Spirit translated their own cries to the Lord, the Anangu people knew that the Lord knew their language. They became open to receive more of God’s love as their Father. Deep was calling to deep.
Some of us have children and loved ones who are far from the Lord. We have prayed for them for years. Our reading today gives us hope that the Holy Spirit himself can speak the language of love that our loved one needs to hear so that they can know the reality of God’s love. The Holy Spirit can even break through this new generation that seems to speak another internet and social media language. By His grace they can hear the good news that they are forgiven through the precious blood of Jesus Christ. There is only one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism and one God and Father of all.
Let us praise the Lord that his love extends to all people, to all who would receive the gift of grace of His son. Deep is truly calling to deep.
Heavenly Father, thank you so much that through Jesus Christ our Lord, and by the gift of the Holy Spirit we can call you Abba, Father. Thank you that you meet people right where they are no matter what culture. Thank you that you speak all languages and that your Holy Spirit can testify with our own spirits that we are your children. In Jesus’ mighty name we pray for a gift of language for all our loved ones who are far from you. We pray that the Holy Spirit would speak to them of the wonders of your love through Jesus Christ in a language that they know. May deep call to deep for your glory in their lives.
Prayer needed for audio translation of Pitjantjatjarra New Testament.
Whilst we were at our prayer rally in Adelaide last weekend we had the great privelege of having Paul Eckert from Bible Society come and talk with us about the Audio Bible Recordings that are taking place over the next six weeks in Adelaide. A couple of the translators also attended. The whole of the New Testament will be recorded in audio format. This is wonderful for Pitjantjatjara people because there are many who do not read well but are thirsty for the Word of God. Please pray for this important work. The recordings will happen in a house in Adelaide where the Indigenous translators will come and stay. The recorders will be working from 9 am – 9 pm at night. Please pray that the Word of God would become alive for all the readers and the listeners in the future.
“Prominently acknowledging NAIDOC Week with a bright shirt emblazoned with this year’s theme “Our languages matter”, the Ernabella women conveyed their joy about and commitment to helping translate the entire Bible into Pitjantjatjara.” Eternity Magazine 4th July.
Last week I was privileged to be at the President’s Conference in Darwin. I was challenged by listening to the stories especially of the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land. Many of these people were amazingly converted through the revival that went through Elcho Island a few decades ago now. They are still on fire for the Lord. But they have been through immense distress as communities. This has got worse, not better since Intervention in suicides, young people in jail and family violence. For thousands of years, they have had “organised and civilised” moral governance, law and trade (even international). They seek now a meeting of ways with their Indigenous law and the western law to help their young people find hope and a future once again. This includes such things as recognition of sovereignty and treaty. I have been struck by the faithfulness of some of the Christian leaders of these communities. who cry out with the psalmist “How long, Lord?” Yet they also hold fast in Jesus’ name, to their trust in God their Father and Creator and his “unfailing love” and “salvation” for them and their communities.
The psalm for last week, 13:2 echoes Jesus’ words upon the cross and says “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Even upon the cross, in the midst of the seeming abandonment of the Father, Jesus still trusted his Father. We can imagine him lifting up his soul in the time leading up to when he gave up his spirit and crying out in the words of this Psalm “But I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation”. (v5) Jesus’ trust in the Father’s love and salvation was well-founded. God raised Him from the dead and raised him up, to seat him at his right hand in glory.
The issues around First Nation are so immense and heartbreaking. At times we can give in to despair and wonder how we and the church can practically help when we look at our own lack and dysfunction. We hear their cry “How long?” Yet may we too join with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, in trusting in the Lord’s unfailing love and the promise of salvation. In that place of trust, amazing miracles can be released not only for first nation people but also for our church. We have a God who can even bring into being that which otherwise did not exist. There is a place where faith and action hold hands when the deep listening to the Father opens the pathway to God’s Kingdom coming. It is here that restoration can take place and the Father’s will done on earth as it is in heaven.
May Your Kingdom come, and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus mighty name. Amen.
Please uphold in prayer the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land. Pray for the work of the only Indigenous independent member in the Northern Territory, Yingiya Mark Guyula, and for the Yolgnu Nations Assembly. Pray for the provision of resources and a house for this important work.
Pray for Helen Nymoba Gandangu who is the chair of the Yolngu Nations Assembly and who travels around Arnhem Land supporting many young people in the courts. Helen is a spirit filled Christian woman with a great compassion from the Father for her people. I had the privilege of getting to know her at the conference. Please pray for protection and provision for her for all she does. Pray for a breakthrough for treaty and sovereignty for Yolgnu people that will spread through the Land.
PRAYERS FOR ASSEMBLY STANDING COMMITTEE
Please uphold the Assembly Standing Committee that meets this weekend 7th-9th July starting tonight.
Please pray that the meeting would go BACK TO BASICS.
That Jesus’ presence and Lordship be obvious
That they have ears, eyes and hearts open to Jesus and each other and the situation of the church with an attitude of repentance
That they come with discerning spirits and a willingness to speak and act in obedience to Christ
That the Holy Spirit is at work in deep ways bringing truth, obedience and repentance.
Please also pray for the ASC as they discuss
Preparations for Assembly in Melbourne in July next year
Sovereignty and Treaty following the President’s Minister’s Conference
Ongoing discussion on marriage and feedback on space for grace meetings
Pray for Stuart, Deidre and Colleen that they would provide good leadership and openness to the Holy Spirit.
Please pray for staff that are taking on new roles at Assembly and for staff that have finished or are finishing their roles at Assembly.
Urgent Prayer Needed in response to Media release on 2nd December 2016
Urgent prayer is needed for the Uniting Church in Australia as we hit shocking headlines in newspapers in NSW and around the world in a way I believe we haven’t since 2003. This time its not about same gender relationships, its about the more covert mentions of “Christ” and removal of our UCA logo from our Community service agency in NSW-ACT called “Uniting”. Please note that the UCA in Australia has not removed overt religious symbols and open mention of Christ from the whole church as the media has seemingly portrayed. However it is true that the NSW-ACT community service agency of the Uniting Church called “Uniting” has done this with the blessing of the NSW-ACT synod. For many within the UCA this is concerning.
PRAY that :
Jesus Christ would be reclaimed and would not be wiped from the UCA.
That we as the UCA would not lose our faith.
That in the UCA we would hold to the centrality of the work of Christ upon the cross in word and deed.
That the Lord would somehow work for good in this in our own life, and in the UCA to bring us to our knees in repentance leading up to our 40th
We would have fear of the Lord not fear of people through all of this and we would trust in the Lord’s redemption and forgiveness.
The Lord would one day restore our partnerships with other churches that have been radically affected through what was accounted today in the media and would restore us to the one Holy, Apostolic Church.
The Lord would restore the damaged trust the community has in us because of sexual abuse in our institutions without denying our faith in Christ.
In today’s Media (2nd December).
Today on the front page of the Daily Telegraph in Sydney (Friday 2nd December 2016) the headline reads “JESUS WIPED”
NOT OUR CROSS TO WEAR. TOP CHURCH LOSING ITS RELIGION.
Laura Banks and Anthony de Ceglie (2016, front page) write
“Australia’s third biggest church is wiping religious symbols from logos and even avoiding using the word “Christ” in advertising in a desperate bid to distance itself from child sex abuse scandals”
They says there is an “unholy war” erupting because of the decision within the Uniting Church to get rid of “overt” religious language. There has been criticism of this within the Uniting Church.
It goes on to say that in NSW Peter Worland, executive director of Uniting has tried not to use the word “Christ” because of the negativity in the community towards faith-based organization since the royal commission. Uniting also doesn’t use the Uniting Church logo any more.
In the editorial on page 68 of the Daily Telegraph it speaks about the covertness of the new branding and tongue and cheek says of the Uniting Church “Just so long as there’s nothing too overtly Jesus-based. That would be exclusionary and divisive.”.
Tim Blair (Dec 2, 2016), in his blog post at 3:15 am. this morning writes
“Some time ago I joked about the Uniting Church tolerating gays, atheists and Muslims – but drawing the line at Christians. Can’t find that piece now, but it doesn’t mater. The Uniting Church has brought my old gag back to life.”
Blair also warns the Uniting Church that if we want to want to totally get rid of our religious faith then we need to be ready for two things. Firstly there would be an exodus of people who hold to their Christian faith as their cornerstone. And secondly, we may need to say goodbye to tax exemptions.
The ABC radio interview with Fran Kelly 6 am. (Dec 2, 2016), reports that Peter Worland, said that “a religious focus isn’t the ambit of Uniting”.
About NSW but Media makes sweeping statements.
Although what has happened is in unique as far as I know to NSW, there are sweeping statements in the media about the Uniting Church nationally. This is even being picked up by international media with the UK daily mail Martha Azi (Dec 2, 2016) making these headlines “Australia’s Uniting Church is removing religious symbols and the word ‘Christ’ from logos and advertising to avoid being linked to child sex scandals “
PRAYER URGENTLY NEEDED.
I am asking you to please urgently pray for the Uniting Church in Australia, firstly for the NSW Synod for which this is directed but also for the impact that it will have on the whole of the Uniting Church.
Pray for sensitivity for those survivors of sexual abuse along with holding to our faith.
Please pray that whilst having a sensitivity, accountability and deep repentance of ways as a church we have handled sexual abuse in our UCA institutions in the past, we may not lose our identity as Christian. Pray that we may not be ashamed of Christ and the wonderful good news of the gospel. Pray that we as a church in losing references to Jesus, may not be a little like “scrapping bats in cricket or chicken from KFC” (editorial Telegraph pg 68 Friday 2nd December 2016).
Judging with righteousness and delighting in the fear of the Lord
This week in our Isaiah reading from Isaiah 11 we have a picture of the Messiah who rises up from the stump of Jesses. V 1 Even as he judges the poor with righteousness (v4) his delight is in the fear of the Lord (v 3).
Pray that all our leaders would open themselves to the fear of the Lord in this time of public crises in our church.
Media and the Uniting Church – Pray for wisdom this time.
If I am correct, the last time when the Uniting Church was blazed across the front page of papers in such a controversial and shocking way was in 2003. At that time we lost 5,000 people, many of them leaders.
Pray that we can be wiser this time round. That time it was about same gender relationships. This time even more is on the line. It is about the centrality of Christ in all we do as a church.
Pray for our UCA Leaders
Please especially uphold Stuart, Colleen and Deidre at this time for wisdom and discernment. Pray also for the NSW moderator and acting general secretary and Uniting NSW including Peter Worland.
Dividing chaff and grain – allow him to reign
In our gospel reading from Matthew 3, Jesus comes with a winnowing fork in his hand to divide the chaff and the grain. Pray that we may move aside and allow him to reign.
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12
John the Baptist calls the people to repentance. In our own strength we can call people to live a good life of justice and care for others. However John the Baptist also knew that there was one coming so much more than he. He could only baptize people in water but the one to come, the Lord Jesus Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The word “Baptize” means to immerse. Jesus will immerse us in a purifying flame. We may feel content with the concept of being washed clean by Jesus with the symbol of water. That is a beautiful symbol. But are we feeling confident to allow him to immerse us in his holy flame. This flame will burn up the chaff in our life with unquenchable fire. Christ is the head of the church. He comes, assesses and deals with us not just as individuals but also as the whole of the Uniting Church. This is so that we can live and endure through the changes of history through the news of His completed work on Calvary.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank you for Jesus Christ your son who comes not always to bring unity but sometimes to separate. Help us when we find this very difficult. Teach us to delight in the fear of the Lord as Christ did. Baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Immerse us in the purifying flame not only as individuals but also as a church. Separate that which is in us that is grain and that which is chaff. Burn up the chaff and purify us to shine in holiness, joy and undivided love for you in this coming age. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Azzi, Martha. 2016. “Australia’s Uniting Church is removing religious symbols and the word ‘Christ’ from logos and advertising to avoid being linked to child sex scandals” Daily Mail. 2 Dec 2016.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3990540/Australia-s-Uniting-Church-removing-religious-symbols-word-Christ-logos-advertising-avoid-linked-child-sex-scandals.html#ixzz4ReEJmwtu accessed 2nd December 2016.
Banks, Laura, De Ceglie Anthony. 2016 “Not our Cross to Wear: Top Church Losing its Religion – Jesus Wiped” The Daily Telegraph Dec 2, 2016. Front Page, 6.
Blair, Tim. 2016. “The Uniting Church not so Churchy these Days” Tim Blair Blogs. 2nd December 2016.
Uniting Prayer and Fasting are partnering with denominations, churches and prayer groups all over Australia to pray and fast for Marriages and Families during the month of October 2016. This initiative was begun the Catholic Church and with their permission they have opened it up for many to join. The National Day of Prayer and Fasting team are have been bringing together the churches for this important time.