This is the latest blurb that is published on the front of our weekly bulletin

Sorrow at Christmas time?

Why is it that Christmas seems to bring with it not just joy, but sorrow as well?

On one hand all the joys of the past year are combined and relived on this one great day. And yet, at the same time, your troubled remembrances and sorrows are collected together and brought to mind.

Sorrows are felt in a few ways, always in comparison to the joy we feel.

We feel the absence of a family all the more on this day as we think how much greater the joy would it have been if they were here. In the midst of a joyful gathering, suddenly a broken relationship intrudes on our thoughts.

Of all the days, Christmas is when we want families to be right, and yet they seldom are. The tensions that arise seem out of place on this day and so are even more painful – we are sad that we could even be sad on this day.

The gap between our sorrow and joy is at its greatest, and so we feel them all the more.

What would the day look like if we’d just if we had room only for joy? What place does sorrow have on Christmas?

Without sorrow we would not be reminded of the need to forgive – for it is the hurts of others that are its most common cause. Learning to forgive brings with it a unique joy all of its own, a joy that is right at home at Christmas.

For it is impossible to forgive without first discovering the forgiveness of Christ. And this is the reason Jesus came, this is what Christmas is about – that God would enter our work and bear our sorrows upon himself. 

Even on that very first Christmas, the joy of the Angels was intermingled with sorrow. There was sorrow in the words Simeon prophesied to Mary “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” Luke 2:35.

I am hoping for the most joyous Christmas – one that reminds me of the birth of our Saviour. But I also know that in the quiet moments when a pang is felt, I am taken closer to the truth of Christmas too.


The start of a new era

I can still remember where I was standing when I answered the phone call from Bishop Peter Hayward inviting me to lead a partnership between Oak Flats and Jamberoo Anglican Churches.

To this day I still believe that this was a great opportunity for two churches to share resources for the sake of the gospel, and the fruit of this has been seen in the growth we’ve enjoyed over the four years we’ve been together.

Yet, like all growth, it has come with some challenges,most notably the need for both churches to cope with sharing their senior minister. However, this has also enabled both churches to enjoy the benefits of a larger, combined ministry, with resources that each parish would not have had on its own.

Through this, God has equipped our parishioners for personal mission, and in both churches, people have converted to Christ through the hearing of the gospel: praise the Lord!

Both churches face challenges in the future: Oak Flats now must find a new senior minister, and we now must find additional finances to support our increased staffing costs.

Yet, it seems that it is now the right time for both parishes to have their own, dedicated senior minister, to help each parish navigate, under God, the future opportunities for evangelism and discipleship in our local areas.

And so we must pray that God will continue to equip us all for works of service, so that the body of Christ might be built up, “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” so that we might “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:13, 5:2).

Grace and peace, Jodie.

Apology for survivors of abuse

On Monday 22 October in the House of Representatives, our Prime Minister, the Hon. Scott Morrison MP, delivered an emotional, heart-felt apology on behalf of the Parliament and the Australian people, to the survivors of child sexual abuse, including those in Anglican churches.

That our Church was complicit in any way in these events, by ignoring them, disbelieving the testimony of survivors, or allowing sex offenders to continue their horrendous conduct in what should have been the safety of a church environment, is itself a matter of deep shame.

Let me reiterate my apology to the survivors of child sexual abuse, for our failure to protect them as children, and also to the families of those who have died prematurely due to their abuse.

While we have adopted rigorous processes to ensure the safety of children in the present, I recognise that this will not overcome the trauma that accompanies the sins of the past.

Today is an opportunity for congregations across the diocese to acknowledge the failures of the past and listen with acceptance to those who have been harmed.

My fervent prayer is that this will in some measure provide healing for these wounds, raise our consciousness of the seriousness of child sexual abuse, and enable us as a Church community to play our part in protecting and giving voice to the most vulnerable among us.

I offer this apology confident of the comfort, transforming power and tender love of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Can Google help your Christian life?

CREDIT: Travis Wise, via Flickr.

One of my great joys of each week is the opportunity you give me to answer your questions. Some of the questions are familiar, but others make me think a little harder.

This week I thought I might share with you some of the ways I go about trying to prepare answers to these questions.

For many of the answers, I draw down upon my previous training and theological reflection from over the years, sharing with you some of the insights that I received from older and wiser mentors and theologians.

Many of your questions based on the current sermon series allow me to inform you of some of the things I’d really wanted to include in the Bible talk, but didn’t have time to discuss.

But then there are the other questions that are really tricky.

My (not-very) secret tool is one that nearly all of you also share direct access to: Google.

When you ask me a tough question, then I’ll often put some key words into my search engine, and see what hits come up.

Then, depending on which websites seem to offer a solution, I’ll then click through and have a read of what has been suggested as the answer.

The risk in doing this is that the democratisation of the Internet enables people with all sorts of perspectives to come across with the perception of authority.

And even those whom I trust might still have a perspective on things that I don’t share.

But as I read their answers, I take the time to consider their arguments, and evaluate their conclusions.

As you look to find answers to your tricky questions, here are a bunch of handy websites that are usually pretty helpful, but as with everything, need to be carefully tested:

If in doubt, ask a trusted Christian what they think… and remember, you’ve always got the option to ask a question in church and hear my attempt to provide an answer… drawing down upon my research in all sorts of places!


A great hope

One friend in ministry commented to me the other day that this fourteen year old girl she is working with doesn’t think that Jesus is real because “so many bad things have happened in her life”.

Often this is a topic that pops up in conversations I too have with Christians and non-Christians alike. The problem of evil seems so hard, and so big, that it makes people ask why God would let such horrendous things happen.

We see this continuously in our news, in troubles within our own families, and even in the places we turn for leisure like Netflix’s documentary series Making a Murder. Everyone’s right, the world does suck!

In those conversations we tend to think about sin and explain why the world is this way. While it is important to do that, and explain that the fall brought sin, death, and suffering into the world (Gen 3); it is also incredibly profound that nearly everyone notices that this is not the way it is supposed to be.

God created a world that was perfect and good (Gen 1). Though humans stuffed it up, it is important to encourage believers and non-believers to think about God’s promise of restoration(1 Peter 5:10; Acts 3:19-21). As Christians, we already have a taste of this restoration as we truly are new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). But a day will come where evil and suffering will pass, for God is just and he will put sin and Satan in their place for good and his people will dwell with him forever (Rev 21:1-5).

So take heart! Though some days the world is grim, there is great hope and comfort found in the person of Jesus who conquers all and promises to come again.


The only way to pray

CREDIT: Ninac26, via Flickr.

I am reading a wonderful book at the moment called “Teaching the Psalms” by Christopher Ash. His main idea is that before we apply the Psalms to us, we must hear them as the prayers of Jesus.

But as he began to explain this I came across a statement that may take many people by surprise. Because our prayers arise out of sinful hearts, “God cannot and must not hear them”.

Most people believe that God will always hear them no matter what. But in our natural state God cannot hear our prayers.

James describes our prayers as spiritual adultery (James 4:3). Our natural prayers to God are something along the lines of this: “God, is it OK if I commit idolatry?”

That’s because our natural prayers do not arise out of single-hearted love and devotion to God. Even our best prayers will have a mixture of pure and impure motives.

Our hearts are filled with sin, and it is a presumption to think that God would hear our prayers.

However there is one that God will always listen to.

When Jesus heals a man born blind, some of the pharisees are outraged at Jesus. The man defends Jesus, saying “We know that God does not listen to sinners, he listen to the godly person who does his will” John 9:31.

When Jesus heals Lazarus, he does so by praying to the Father: “Thank you that you always hear me”(John 11:41). Lazarus comes back to life, because Jesus is godly person whom the Father always hears.

There is only one that this is true of. It is only through Christ that prayer becomes a possibility.

The Spirit brings Christ to dwell with us so that our prayers are united with his: “For through Jesus we have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Eph 2:18

It’s humbling to remember our natural state before God. But when we do, we can appreciate the gift of prayer in Jesus through the Spirit all the more!


Not all Christians are H-A-P-P-Y!

CREDIT: Photo donnierayjones, via Flickr.

There’s a Christian song that we love to sing to kids which goes like this:

I’m H-A-P-P-Y, I’m H-A-P-P-Y, I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m H-A-P-P-Y.

I’m H-A-P-P-Y, I’m H-A-P-P-Y, because I know God loves me so, I’m H-A-P-P-Y.

It’s a great little song, especially for young kids who really understand only two emotions: sad and happy.

And so with this simple message is a simple truth: joy, satisfaction, happiness is found in the love of God.

Yet, we get much older, we realise that even as people who know Jesus and are loved by him, there will be times when we will experience great sadness.

I was reminded of this as I recently read Psalm 6 as part of my daily Bible reading. It says:

I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears. My vision is blurred by grief; my eyes are worn out because of all my enemies. (Psalm 6:6-7).

It’s a lot different to the “H-A-P-P-Y” experience of the kids’ song, but it shows that sorrow is an authentic experience of the Christian.

Yet, Christian sadness is not without hope. The Psalm continues in this way:

Go away, all you who do evil, for the LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD will answer my prayer. (Psalm 6:8-9)

As we experience sadness, we can know that God hears us in our grief, and he answers our prayers.

And our hope is future-focused: we look forward to him answering our prayer for deliverance from our enemies and the rescue that we are promised because of Jesus.

Whether you’re H-A-P-P-Y or S-A-D, you can look forward to being restored and rescued by our saviour Jesus Christ, as we await his return or our going to be with him.


Care for Victims of Domestic Abuse

CREDIT: Photo IsraGarcia18, via Flickr.

At this year’s Sydney Anglican Synod, we were again reminded about the tragic damage in the lives of people affected by domestic abuse.

Back in 2017 we approved a draft policy on responding to domestic abuse, but last night we were able to lock in some important, final details.

One of the important things to note was the reality that the people who commit domestic abuse will sometimes ‘groom’ people in our churches so that their sin is hidden and impact of the abuse is underplayed.

Another problem was the risk of us showing “cheap grace” in misreading the difference between remorse and repentance.

After all, it’s not enough for an abuser to show they feel unhappy about the way they have treated their spouse: they need to genuinely repent of the sin, and show their commitment to making concrete changes to stop the harm.

To help church leaders better care for victims of domestic abuse, the Synod members were reminded to make sure that victims were not only initially helped to be made safe, but that they would continue to stay safe into the future.

Furthermore, the Synod announced that a special fund has been established to help support spouses of ministers who are victims of domestic abuse whose marriages fail, providing assistance in housing and other areas of need.

Archdeacon for Women, Kara Hartley, fought to hold back her emotions as she shared the impact of domestic abuse in our church:

“As I have been preparing for tonight, I’ve been struggling to capture my own feelings at the evil that is done when God’s precious word is twisted and used to excuse violence. I feel sadness and then I get so angry. To act violently is evil in itself but to falsely claim divine sanction is so outrageous.”


Life in the Valley of Vision

CREDIT: Photo Brian Kelly, via Flickr.

One of the great treasures of the Christian faith is the collection of prayers found in ‘The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions’.

It contains two hundred or so prayers written nearly five hundred years ago, and their timeless words capture some deep reflections on the Bible’s teaching.

I first became aware of these prayers when an album was released by Sovereign Grace called ‘The Valley of Vision’, where several of these prayers were put to song, including ‘Let Your Kingdom Come’ and ‘O Great God’.

Yet it is the first song of the album, which is based on the first prayer of the book, that has been a great blessing to me in my Christian walk.

Here are the first two stanzas:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Let us pray that we will find God’s glory in our valley.


Are you resolute?

Being away at the LiT (‘Leaders in Training’ camp) this week, we were talking about being resolute.

Resolute isn’t a word we often use these days and I wonder if it is because people in the world today are not resolute in much?

Though failings are not always due to a lack of resolve, passion, or commitment, it is still the case that when things don’t work out, we often do not like to recognise our part.

If you get a poor grade in school, it’s because the teacher didn’t instruct well enough.

If your marriage is failing, it’s your spouse’s fault, or their job, or the kids.

If you get knocked over really badly in the surf, many will hang up their wetsuits before having the resolve to get back on the board.

We are simply used to giving up at what we are not gifted at rather than being purposeful, determined, and unwavering.

Yet, as Christians Jesus calls us to be resolute in following him towards eternal life just as he “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” in Luke 9:51.

Jesus’ setting out for Jerusalem was not just him going on a trip, but it was him being purposeful, determined, and unwavering in going towards suffering, humiliation, and hardship for the sake of saving us.

Michael Raiter, one of the speakers this week, told us that we all need to go through Jerusalem on our journey following Jesus to heaven.

We are welcoming suffering, and hardship, but for the sake of the gospel.

Though the journey will not be easy, we must be RESOLUTE just as Jesus was.

And along the way, hopefully we will find the strength to do our best in education, our families, surfing, and in all things for the glory of the kingdom.