The Grieving of the (Non) Gathering of God’s People

We now enter the third Sunday where our church is unable to gather together.

And this week it has finally hit me.

I’m grieving. I’m sad.

Perhaps I’m a little angry, but mainly I’m sad.

The Grieving of the (Non) Gathering of God’s People

I’ve been involved in church life all my life. Being born into a pastors family means church is part of my life and lifestyle of my weekly rhythms–as it is for many Christians around the world. And it is in this time of uncertainty and alleviated stress where we seek the rhythms of familiarity. There is something about our nature that seeks rhythm and regular structures in our lives.

And so over the last few days I’ve been aware enough to notice that my emotions have changed as I’ve gone about my responsibilities this week. Knowing we are not gathering as the local expression of God’s people here at Rowville changes the nature of how I think about my weekend. While I may well be on the premises during our livestream, while I may know many from our community maybe watching even, I know it is different and there is something sad about this.

In our secularised, comfortable Western world grief and sadness are not seen as positive emotions. In modern Christianity we are more inclined to want to speak encouragement, we want to push people to see the joy, and take up the opportunity of the season. And of course, we know that God is in control in all of this, there is hope; the peace of our souls does not rest upon the prevailing winds of the world.

Instead, we worship a God, who through Christ Jesus, laid his solid foundation of hope and joy upon our hearts–knowing we are still held in him with enduring joy.

Yet, I’m still feeling sad. I’m still experiencing the grief of not being able to gather with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

For two years I lived in a small village in the mountains of Lebanon. I was apart from my home church back here in Melbourne, but I gathered each week with a local community of believers and ex-pats that I was working with.

Despite being away from my home church, what I knew and what I experienced was still a closeness with those I gathered with each week. Even though I didn’t know many of them very well, particularly in the initial months, I was encouraged and reminded of our unity as part of the family of God.

This time it feels incredibly different.

It isn’t simply being away from the usual sheep pen I reside in, this time it feels like we’re all out of our usual sheep pens and left out in the pasture. This isn’t to say God is not with us. Nor is it to say we aren’t all alone–modern technology accounts for something, but not everything.

The feeling of isolation, loneliness, and sadness comes from not being able to gather together with our church family. Rather than try to find some sort of faux-joy in amongst all the strangeness, perhaps it is appropriate to lament…?

After all, we enter Passion Week tomorrow, the week that symbolises the final week of Jesus’ life, culminating in his horrific death and glorious resurrection.

And perhaps this is something we can take away from this season? As we recognise the aloneness of this season this year it may help us enter more into the aloneness of Christ during this time. Though Jesus was surrounded by his disciples, and though he continued his ministry in this final week, we read of the unique isolation he felt as he headed toward the cross. Luke 22:42-44 helps reveal this to us:

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me—nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. Being in anguish, he prayed more fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.

And so, while we may feel alone, sad, and grieved, unable to meet in the same physical location this week perhaps this provides us with an opportunity to see Jesus more clearly and walk his way more steadily?

Exploring The Habits of The Christian Life: Reading The Bible For Application

In recent time I’ve been exploring what modern Christianity would call the ‘spiritual disciplines’. These are the habits, the actions, the lifestyle, the regular practices, which shape spiritual formation for the self.

As you can imagine these practices are centred around the Word and prayer. However, they also bring with them other practices that can help in our communion with God (think: fasting, solitude, silence, giving etc). And in the end that is the purpose of these practices, to help in our communion with God, leading us to enjoying Him in greater depth.

Modern proponents of the spiritual disciplines are people like Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, Richard Foster, Donald Whitney and others. But generally when reading their books they are often footnoting the divines of ages past. This week, as I’ve been reading David Mathis’ book, The Habits of Grace, one such quote from the Puritan preacher Thomas Watson caught my eye enough to highlight. He writes,

“Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied.”

How often do we read the Bible and seek to apply it to ourselves in a way that brings it home to ourselves? Often we can read the Bible for the sake of understanding more of the Bible, it’s history, it’s context, the people it was originally written to, but how often do we apply it to ourselves in a way that means we need to apply it?

For those of us who have been walking with Jesus for a while, who are familiar with the Bible, and understand many of its contours we can easily skip the application of the text for us.

As Mathis rightfully highlights following this quote, it is important to understand the Word in its context, how it relates to Jesus and the cross, before seeking to apply it to ourselves. But after reading it in this way, do we take the next step in applying it for ourselves, meditating on it to find where it may be speaking to us, insightfully helping us to see how we may need to change our thinking or actions?

Published: The Stories Behind The Stories

The surface level small talk and the triviality of much of life, thanks to social media and the busyness of life, makes it hard to take time and listen to others. Recently I’ve been pondering this, particularly after observing the way people around me use social media and their devices. My ponderings made it into an article, which was then published on TGCA.

“Often it takes something significant to disrupt our regular practices and habits. The other week I had two funerals to attend. If there is ever something that will disrupt us, get us looking up and out from ourselves, then memorial services for the dead are the way to do it. For there in front of us is the reality of life and death. There before us is the end. And reflecting on the end can jolt us back into what really is reality.

Our social media stories give us a picture of a life in front of us. And however momentary this picture is, it depicts a false reality. For behind that picture is a person, and in that person is a heart, and in that heart is the desire of things greater than can be captured by a phone.”

You can read the whole thing here.

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You can read more of my recent publications here.

Published: Easter Reflection – Cleaning Feet

A little reflection piece I wrote about Easter was just published on the TGCA site.

You can find it here.

“Through his death on the cross Jesus has not just given us a symbol of humility and service but has acted in humility and service toward us. Jesus’ death provides us with the cleanliness we need. His death is the sacrificial service for our sin. It is an act that cleanses us. As Jesus washing his disciples feet, making them clean; so too Jesus’ death washes our hearts and makes us clean from sin.

As we solemnly remember the death of Jesus these next hours, as we enter into the remembrance of our Lord’s death, may we come to a new appreciation of this great act of humility and service, for us, for our neighbour, and for our world.

And boy, don’t we need it.”

You can read more articles I’ve written elsewhere here.

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Published: Hope In Distress

At the last minute I was tasked with preaching on Sunday. After contemplating what I should speak on, and not finding peace about any of my previous sermons, I landed on Psalm 142. This Psalm certainly spoke to me in the context of the last week–Christchurch and Cardinals, disaster and religious war. In the end I prepared as I could and preached the Psalm on the Sunday morning.

In the days after I turned the message into a piece published by The Gospel Coalition Australia. You can find the article here.

“The events of last week (or a look down our street, or an examination our own hearts) prove that we need rescuing. And through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the cross on which he died, we find that rescue.

Through  Jesus, and through the cross, we find our hope: hope in distress. And we can live in this hope knowing that God has already dealt with the evil of this world, and even our own pain and hurt and distress. He deals with us generously. He rescues and restores, comforts and consoles. Despite tragedy, we can hope and trust in God, our refuge and rescuer. May we say with the Psalmist, “Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him my Saviour and my God.” (Ps 42:11)”

Hope In Distress

Published: Fyre Festival and Our Perpetual Facade of Perfection

Having watched the documentary film about Fyre Festival a couple of weeks back on Netflix I spent some time working on a cultural reflection piece. I don’t often do that, in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever done it. Anyway, it seems to have turned out OK, and has been published on the Rooted Ministry blog.

“This power and influence of social media upon our world is highlighted in the recent Netflix documentary film, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. It’s a fascinating story. A story of deception and criminal activity on one hand, but also one that reflects more about humanity than we’d like to think.”

You can read the piece here.

You can read other posts published elsewhere through my ‘writing’ page.

Unlimited Access To God

The Melbourne Cricket Club membership is one of the most important and prestigious memberships in our country. I’m not saying that because I enjoy my sport, I’m saying that because it will take you 20 years to receive the opportunity to join, if you apply today. That’s right, 20 years. Currently, the waiting list is over 225,000 people long. It tells a story of its importance to our city and to our country.

With this MCC membership comes particular privileges. You see, access into the more prestigious part of the MCG, including the Long Room and the Members Dining Room are now open to you. Along with these privileges comes responsibilities. These include appropriate behaviour and dress. But unless you have a membership, and wear the appropriate gear, you don’t have access to the seating and rooms available to you when you are a member. A non-member has no such access.

Thankfully, when it comes to access to God there are no such barriers. We have personal, relational, and unlimited access to God because of who Jesus is and what he has achieved.

Unlimited Access To God

One of the key themes of the Christian scriptures is that of access to God. Access to God in the Bible is depicted in different ways through the various parts of the Christian story but it all heads toward an understanding that we can have personal, relational, and unlimited access to God.

In the beginning, back when God created the world and everything in it, access to God is personal, relational, and unlimited. But this is torn to shreds when his creation takes it upon themselves to do their own thing. As Adam and Eve are disobedient to God we find the entrance of sin into the world, drastically changing the shape of humanity’s relationship with God.

And from here the story of God and his people unfolds like a dance. There is the seeking of restoration with God but also the reality and tension of son, distorting humanity and their worship of God as God.

In the book of Leviticus God and his people are together again. Yet, for the proper worship of and access to God particular regulations put in place. These regulations come in the form of instructions or laws, led by a tribe of people designated as priests for all of God’s people. These priests would perform their duties in the Tabernacle, a large tent designed and built for the worship of God. Later in Old Testament this would become a Temple, a permanent residence where God would reside in the most inner place, the Holy of Holies.

And so access to God was limited to the priests, often limited to one day per year for the particular sacrifices and festivals expected. The ordinary Hebrew is cut off from access to God, their worship is delegated through the priests. Like an MCC membership, access to God is restricted to certain people.

Thankfully, however, we understand through the New Testament, that the restriction in worship to God has been once again opened up. Jesus comes and fulfils the role of the priest. He is the one who restores our relationship with God. He is the one who is sacrificed for the sin of the people. He is the one upon which this sin is placed. He is the one who provides access to God – personal, relational, unlimited access to God.

The writer of Hebrews outlines the way Jesus completes and fulfils this role. But more specifically, he writes in chapter 4:14-16:

“Therefore, since we have a great High Priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

The uniqueness of the Christian faith, the uniqueness of Jesus, is that we don’t have to do anything to have full access to God.

We don’t have to say any particular prayers, we don’t have to earn any particular merit, we don’t have to perform any particular rituals, we don’t have to give any particular gifts to earn God’s grace and mercy – to gain access to God himself.

No, God has provided for us personal, relational, and unlimited access to himself through this great High Priest Jesus.

We aren’t on any sort of waiting list. We aren’t required to have any particular dress code. We aren’t limited in our access to God because of what we have done. No, we can go with confidence and approach God, receiving his grace and mercy and help in our time of need.

Whatever our need, we find ourselves able to have access to God. And not just able to have access, but we can have confidence in coming to Jesus, the Son of God.

Published: Gospel of Mercy: Remembering Our Identity In Christ

A huge influence on the way we think of ourselves, particularly as youth ministry practitioners, is related to our identity. This is relevant to anyone who isn’t a youth pastor or involved in youth ministry work too, obviously. But recently I’ve reflected on this in relation to the youth pastor position, and had a piece published about it at Rooted Ministry a few days ago.

Part of what I write is that…

“Because of this new identity there are changes to get used to. Things which we used to hold as important and central to our identity become secondary. Our identity as a father or mother, as an accountant or barista, as a top student or college dropout, well, these become secondary to being part of the people of God. These identifying factors, while not redundant, become lesser as our identity in Christ becomes greater.

This even goes for our position in the youth ministry! Whether on a pastoral staff or a volunteer youth leader, our identity is first and foremost with Christ.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Published: Redeeming Love For Run-Down Parents

I have tried my hand at writing a post for parents. Thankfully it was published on the Rooted Ministry Parents blog this week.

In the post itself I focus on how the Book of Ruth helps remind us parents that we are not the saviours of our children. It is not us parents who redeem them, it is the Lord. We can rest in the knowledge that God is working in our lives, in our parenting, and in our children. We can rest in his faithfulness, his sovereignty, and his redemption.

“Thankfully, the story of Ruth reminds us that in among all the tasks, night terrors, and tiredness, it is God who faithfully rescues our minds and hearts. Behind the daily grind of parenting there sits a God who seeks our hearts and the hearts of our children. He has his providential hand upon us, calling us into his care and comfort, and rescuing us from our own ineptitudes, sinfulness, and character flaws.”

You can read the whole thing here.

If you would like to read other articles I’ve had published elsewhere you can find them here.

Published: Asking The Why – What Is My Calling?

I’ve written regularly about calling, and how to think through it.

Recently, I was interviewed by the YMI podcast “Asking The Why”. It was a fun conversation, and hopefully helpful too. Here’s how it’s described:

“What career path should I go down? Which relationship should I enter in to? Where should I live?

For many of us followers of Jesus, these questions can depend on what we feel God is calling us to do with our lives. In church language today, the term calling usually refers to a Christian discovering a specific job, ministry role, or use of gifts and talents that is out there for them. But for many of us who feel like we haven’t found that special “calling”, we can sometimes feel like we are outside the will of God or failing as a follower of Christ. So how then can each of us find out what the call of God is for our lives?”

You can also view the video here: