Book review by Yvette McDonald of A Woman’s Place and the ongoing and contemporary need that it meets.
St Alban's and St John’s have recently introduced a new song called 'Nailed to the Cross'. At St John’s we will be singing this song alongside 'Crown Him / Majesty ' in the “Getting into Shape” sermon series.
“Nailed to the Cross” is composed by Northern Irish Christian band Rend Collective and “Crown Him / Majesty” is based on the tradition hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns” by Matthew Bridges with additional material by Chris Tomlin. These songs both speak of Christ’s triumphant victory following his death and resurrection on the Cross this Eastertide and the forgiveness we have in Him.
“Nailed to the Cross” reflects on our weaknesses and sinfulness and reminds us that when “our doubts and shame hang over me(us)” we should run to the Cross and in doing so should praise God for not only setting aside our sin but also cancelling the record of our debt.
My sin is nailed to the cross
My soul is healed by the scars
Now I'm alive forevermore
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
“Crown Him with Many Crowns”, the original hymn, presents several reasons for the crowns upon our Lord’s head. This particular arrangement includes only two of the original verses. The first verse represents Christ’s Kingship and his role as the Lamb of God now upon his throne who is worthy of our praise. The second crown belongs to Christ as both the divine Son of God and the Son of Man who became flesh. In the original hymn the final verses describe crowns of love, life, peace, and finally his crown as Lord of Heaven. Chris Tomlin’s additional material again reminds us to praise and adore God because he died for us.
Majesty, Lord of all
Let every throne before Him fall.
The King of Kings, oh come adore
Our God who reigns forevermore.
All hail, Redeemer, hail!
For He has died for me;
His praise and glory shall not fail
Whether you're singing these songs at church or listening to them at home, I hope both are great reminders of God's love for you in Christ.
Here are the links to both of these songs:
Music Director (St John’s Church Ashfield)
Getting into shape
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed…” Romans 12:2a
We are all being shaped. However we are not always aware of the forces which shape us. As Steve Wilkens notes in his book Hidden Worldviews; “Worldviews are all around us, but are so deeply embedded in culture that we don’t see them”.
His point is that we are often influenced by worldviews not because we have made a rational decision to believe what they claim is true about the world. But rather because we unconsciously buy into the vision of human flourishing which they promote. And so we develop particular practices and habits that are in line with that vision as we seek to satisfy our deep desires and longings.
However, not only do our desires drive our behaviour. It also works the other way! Our behaviour shapes our desires, especially once our behaviour forms into habits.
James K. A. Smith explains it like this. Our “cultural rhythms and routines... aren’t just things we do; they do something to us”. They “train us” to long for a certain vision of the good life.
- what visions of the good life does our culture promote?
- what are the “cultural rhythms and routines” that we are living out?
- how are they shaping us to be more - or less - like Jesus?
These are the kind of questions we’ll be grappling with over the next four weeks in our next sermon series called “Getting into shape”.
Each week we’ll examine a worldview which shapes our culture. And then we’ll see how the gospel provides a superior vision of human flourishing which drives us to develop a more Jesus-shaped life.
- 8th April - Getting into shape in a THERAPEUTIC world
- 15th April - Getting into shape in an INDIVIDUALISTIC world
- 22nd April - Getting into shape in a CONSUMER world
- 29th April - Getting into shape in a TRIBAL world
Assistant Minister - Five Dock
When looking at a work of art, the viewer is encouraged to reflect. What is this work about? What in the painting helps me to understand the intention of the artist? Viewing an artwork gives the viewer time to stop, reflect and consider how the work makes them feel and understand something new about the world or themselves.
This work by Piero della Francesca, from the early Renaissance is one such work that makes me stop, reflect and consider Jesus at his resurrection. It’s not a pretty painting.
Jesus here is depicted as a strong ‘athletic’ figure who has faced such bleakness;- betrayed, abandoned, beaten and crucified and ultimately cut off from his Father. And He conquered it all. His face speaks of the ordeal he has faced on our behalf.
The background, if you look closely on the left of Christ is dead and leafless, barren, yet to the right depicted as abundant life and flourishing. We can read there has been a change, earthly renewal, new life to the full. The regeneration of the earth. New creation. From death to life.
Christ is crowned not with thorns but in his glory as the king. He holds the flag of victory, robed in splendour and strides from death into his kingdom to reign with all authority as the creator and sustainer of the world.
What do we make of the four soldiers--asleep in the face of Christ’s victory?
I see a reflection of the disciples who in the garden of Gethsemane cannot stay awake or support Christ as he agonises over the cup he is about to drink. Or maybe it’s the way of humanity--subject to death where Christ now stands victorious over it--Christ who has broken death’s power and the first one risen to life eternal. And perhaps we are to remember the soldiers placed at the tomb by Pilate to ensure the body isn’t removed by the zealous disciples, but who lay powerless to reveal the truth by their inability to see.
I stop and reflect on this work not because of its inherent beauty but the beauty of the one it features. Christ, my lord who suffered and died in my place and now reigns with his Father in glory.
My prayer for us this Easter is that we will stop and reflect on Christ the Lord. That on Good Friday we might reflect on his punishment for ours, his death for ours and then on Sunday see his victory as our victory--over sin and death. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed!
Sometimes delivering postcards and inviting friends to outreach events is daunting - and it can be hard to imagine that any good will come of it. However, the event we held last Thursday called "Wine, Cheese & a Conversation about Euthanasia and God” abounded with good news stories.
As I stood at the door welcoming people I noticed many people came clutching a CCIW post card from our deliveries around the area.
There was Tina and Silve, two women in their 70’s with English as a second language. They’re not part of our church community (yet!). But one of them received a postcard and was interested in attending. And because she didn’t want to come alone she asked her friend to come with her!
There was Ozzie, who is Muslim but is looking to further connect with our preschool and other community activities. He expressed curiosity about the God of Christianity.
There were two young women from the area also came because they received a postcard. They participated keenly in the night’s discussion and then as they left they said to me: “You guys aren’t afraid to tackle the tough topics head on! What are the other topics coming up?”
And there other friends and family members who came along because they were invited. All these serve as a reminder that we never know who will respond to our invitations but God is at work!
It was also a reminder that our most successful outreach activities involve input from a large number of people. The topic of “euthanasia” wasn’t one we had originally planned to address. However, last November we asked for your input and this topic was one you suggested. It turned out to be our most well attended Wine & Cheese night so far. So thanks to all of you who voted, and to all of you who delivered postcards or invited friends or who simply attended the event. God is able to accomplish immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. To him be the glory.
Morning Congregation Pastor
The famous scientist Stephen Hawking died this week, by all accounts one of the most brilliant scientists of our age, and certainly one of the best known.
We live in a time when knowledge that comes as a result of the scientific method - repeatable experiments resulting in an explanatory theory and leading to testable hypotheses - is revered as the sum of all knowledge.
Of course, having described it as I have done, it's obvious that can’t be true. For example, it’s possible to have historical knowledge - knowledge of past events, and their causes and consequences - but it won’t be scientific knowledge. Likewise, personal knowledge - of people, love, joy, right and wrong - is every bit as real, and perhaps even more important than scientific knowledge.
One of the temptations of our culture’s love of science is that scientists can find themselves speaking for all knowledge, not just scientific knowledge. And so there are all sorts of quotes from Stephen Hawking about origins, meaning and destiny, which are ultimately questions about God.
And one of the areas that science will need to stay silent before is the Lord who created the universe which science describes.
The arguments for euthanasia are emotionally powerful. It’s not hard to imagine unbearable suffering ending only with inevitable death, and the natural desire to relieve that suffering by intervening to bring forward that death.
At the same time, the fact is that what counts as ‘unbearable suffering’ is expanding in those countries where euthanasia has been legalised. I recently read an article detailing how in Belgium and the Netherlands, “the category of ‘addiction’ is now valid grounds for euthanasia”.
Euthanasia is an issue that will continue to be pressed in our own nation, already legal in Victoria. There are many questions, both of fact but also of deep world view conviction involved here. What is human life, what is its meaning, is there any way in which suffering is redeemable, and how can we remain implacably opposed to death as the ‘last enemy’.
Our Wine, cheese and a a conversation about euthanasia and God event, coming up on Mar 15, 7:30-9:30pm in the St John’s Ministry Centre will open up these issues. With a panel including Dr Megan Best, a leading researcher and writer on the topic, as well as an aged care chaplain, it promises to be an insightful and informative evening, well worth inviting friends and family members to.
Over the summer, I learnt something new about reaching out to people in the Inner West with the gospel of Jesus.
On the one hand, what you might call the ‘macro-culture’ is very critical of the church and Christianity. Reinforced constantly by the media, and given credence by failures within the church, and a failure to admit those failures, there is a deep macro-level hostility out there.
At the same time, the micro-culture can be quite different from that. Literally hundreds - possibly even 1000 - non-church people attended the different summer outreach events that were held across CCIW, with real enthusiasm, and even thankfulness. One Ashfield neighbour commented to me at Basecamp, “This church is doing a great job”, and it seemed to sum up the mood.
And the curious thing is, the same people can inhabit both the macro-culture and the micro-culture at the same time!
One implication of this is that we mustn’t listen only to the macro-culture, and we mustn’t base our activities, decisions, or our expectations on it. The soil for outreach is crusty on the outside, but in many cases, softer under the surface.
And so, it is with great hope in God that we re-launch this coming week the Adopt-a-Block program, with many more people involved and lots more blocks covered. If you haven’t been contacted about that, but would like to be involved, then let me know.
And can I also ask you to put in your diary, and pray for, our 'Wine, cheese and a conversation about Euthanasia and God’ event, coming up on March 15, 7:30pm in the St John’s Ministry Centre. This is a really significant topic for our society, and one on which informed, respectful dialogue is very much needed, rather than slogans and anecdotes. Our panel includes Dr Megan Best, arguably Australia’s foremost medical ethicist and researcher in this area, and so it promises to be an excellent night. Is there someone you might be able to invite who would be interested in the issue?
In the end, of course, our confidence in outreach is not a product of the closed-ness or open-ness of the culture, but of the glory and grace of God. Which is why we join with the Apostle Paul in affirming that we, too, are not ashamed of the gospel!
“When you’re 20 you care what everyone thinks, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60 you realise no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.”
50 Plus is a group designed for people for whom this is true (no matter what your age) - a group who meet and share ideas, where you can be yourself, bring your friends along and get to know others in a friendly informal setting.
Now in its 4th year and still going strong, 50 plus meets from 10 - 12 on the third Tuesday of every month in the ministry centre at St Johns.
There are engaging speakers like Tom Tresseder who was instrumental in helping to design the first solar powered audio bible which is now available to millions around the world.
Or we have the very entertaining Bruce Shying speaking to us on not so well known Sydney Harbour history.
In March we are going to North Head for a picnic. Other activities include quizzes, a music recital or even games, but there is always morning tea with a cuppa and a chance to catch up with friends or to make new ones.
It is a very easy group to join and be part of.
I would commend it to those members of CCIW who are 50+ (or really anyone who is past caring what other people think) both for themselves and as a way of bringing your friends into the church community.
If this group is not for you then perhaps you could consider supporting by praying as we meet and seek to care for one another and reach out as Gods people to the community around us.
Pastoral Care 8am
On Wednesday February 7 we had the first of our CCIW prayer meetings for 2018. Our hope is that when we as a community bring our prayers to our Heavenly Father, that God answers those prayers and we are encouraged to keep praying without ceasing.
Over the course of the day, with morning and evening meetings, we brought before God prayers for the start of the church year coming out of Vision Sunday and for the many events and programs of CCIW in the coming term.
We used this personal prayer of dedication adapted from Ephesians 3:14-21 and I commend it to you as a prayer to keep praying throughout the year.
According to the riches of your glory,
grant that we might be strengthen in our inner being
through the power of your Holy Spirit
so that Christ might dwell and reign in our hearts.
Lord, grow us deep in your love so that we might,
together as a community
and by your power,
grasp more and more,
what is the breadth and length and height and depth
and that we might know the love of Christ
that surpasses knowledge,
so we might be filled with the fullness of God.
There will be further opportunities to join in prayer as a whole CCIW community on the first Wednesday of each school term at both a morning meeting (with child care) and evening meeting. Those dates are Wednesday May 2, July 25 and October 17. Listen out for location details.
I highly recommend these prayer meetings for your own encouragement and the excitement of seeing how God will answer our prayers - for he can do far more than we can ask or imagine.
Some years ago, there was an exhibition in Canberra of rare and historically significant books. It’s an incredible experience, to see these documents which changed the course of history – the so called Guttenberg Bible, which is the first Bible every printed on a printing press; the actual bit of paper that Einstein first wrote e=mc squared; the original handwritten copy of Darwin’s Origin of the Species.
Those are impressive documents, but even more impressive is the document we are about to cast our eyes over, arguably among the most historically significant ever written, and we have the privilege of carrying it around in the bottom of our bags getting crinkled, or as an app on a phone.
It was the letter to the Romans that ignited Martin Luther and the 16th century Reformation, which changed the course of the spread of the gospel; it was the letter to the Romans that ignited John Wesley and the Evangelical Awakening in 18th century England and America, applying the blowtorch to the belly of a church that had gone to sleep and become feeble; and it was the letter to the Romans that ignited Karl Barth early in the 20th century, halting the progress of the watery liberalism that had seduced the church then.
I suspect God has used this letter more than any other part of the Scriptures. And our joy over the next few weeks is to allow it to do its work on us. And to get started, here’s a video overview!
It’s an interesting thing to explain to people overseas how and why the Australian year begins in the week after Australia Day in late January, especially to those from the Northern hemisphere. They look longingly at our long, languid summer from Christmas Day to Australia Day!
Perhaps you are feeling the sudden increase in traffic again! Kids back into school routine! Or politicians back trying to win our votes.
Our year at CCIW also takes a big step forward this week, with some key events. In particular, this Sunday we join together as one congregation for Vision Sunday, a wonderful occasion of giving thanks to God for the year past, and setting ourselves for the year to come in the grace and service of the Jesus Christ. This year, we meet at St John’s at 10am, and with the Ministry Centre now well settled in, we will have the opportunity to rejoice that God is wonderfully and powerfully present with his people.
And then, on Wednesday, Feb 7 from 7:30-9pm, having thought and talked about our vision, we’re going to gather in an extended way to pray about it. This year sees a new initiative, with a “Launching Prayer Meeting” to be held the first Wednesday of each term, to bathe our efforts in outreach and inclusion and growth in prayer.
I hope you can make a priority of these important events in our life as a church, as we begin another year in the Lord as his people.
“Pursuing Justice” by Ken Wytsma (founder of the Justice Conference in the USA) 2013.
It’s an easy read and available through Koorong.
I was very pleased to receive this book for Christmas as a biblical perspective on justice is a valuable thing. It enables us to understand how we can follow Jesus better, and answer the prophet Micah’s call to “live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”
Ken Wytsma writes that “Justice is a hallmark of God, a distinctive and pure feature of His character” and is “the broadest, most consistent word the Bible uses to speak about “what ought to be.”
He says that to “do justice” means to render what is due to each person, and to God. Central is the notion that all people are made in the image of God. This means that all people have inalienable dignity and infinite worth (see Genesis 1.27). And Jesus taught that what you do for the least of people you do for Him.
I found the book helpful in the way it looked at the history and meaning of the terms “social gospel” and “social justice” and how these relate to evangelicalism. It also considers how politics intersects with attitudes to justice and to the poor.
The author writes, really by way of conclusion, that “injustice is a cold, unrelenting reality. It can be tempting for us to use our comfort to ignore injustice or rationalise it away. But God would have us join His work”. This does not mean that we have personal responsibility to fix every injustice in the world, but does mean we should take positive steps consistent with God’s will wherever He puts us in this world. In doing this we will be showing that we have grasped the meaning of God’s grace to us.
I recommend this book to you.
Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen (published by Penguin Press, New York 2016). A brief recommendation by Jono McKeown.
I heard Adam Cohen interviewed on Radio National a while back and was at once intrigued by the subject of his book – the shadowy history of American eugenics – but also impressed by the fact that when asked about his motivation for writing it he linked the endeavour explicitly to his Christian faith and vocation. I scrawled down the author’s name and the title of his book on a scrap of paper (while stopped at a set of lights) with the intention of ordering it on-line when I got home later that evening, but in the hurly burly of the day lost my note and it slipped my mind. Until one day, a couple of months later, while shopping in Gleebooks for a present for a friend, I came across it and was reminded. I bought it, took it home and it sat on one of my piles for a few months more before I got around to actually reading it, but once I’d embarked there was no looking back. It is a well written book and more compelling than many novels I’ve read (or started to read). The story of Carrie Buck is told in a series of biographical sketches of the key players and personalities that were decisive in her fate. Carrie was a humble, helpless, unfortunate young woman who was used as the “test case” culminating in Buck v. Bell and the Supreme Court ruling handed down in 1927 that “championed” the mass sterilization of undesirable citizens for the greater good of the country. (That’s right, 1927, before the Nazis gave eugenics a bad name.) Before doing this, however, her “people” (as she trustingly referred them on the one occasion she was invited to speak for herself in court) had to build a case that Carrie was a hereditary “mental defective” who would produce more “feebleminded” offspring which the state would have to support unless and end were put to it – that is, by state-sanctioned sterilization. The process of building this case entailed, among other highly dubious methods, being assessed by scientific experts of the day using the Binet-Simon intelligence test, as a result of which she was designated a “Middle grade Moron.”
What struck me most forcefully as I was reading was just how suasive ideologies can be, in this case Social Darwinism. From the beginning to the end of the story it was not unintelligent or uneducated people (though they were certainly ignorant) that were tempted and ultimately perverted by a ripening idea, it was the elite of American society: doctors, lawyers, politicians, scientists, academics. “The 8-1 ruling was signed by some of the most revered figures in American Law – including Chief Justice William Taft, a former U.S. president … Louis Brandeis, a progressive icon … [and] Oliver Wendell Holmes, considered by many the greatest Supreme Court justice in history.” Interestingly (although this was not over-stated in the book), the one and only dissenting voice to this ruling was a Catholic Christian. To see how ideological convictions perverted the highest legal court of justice in America was eye-opening to say the least. And the result was not just the sterilization of Carrie Buck for the good of the nation; seventy thousand other Americans were also sterilized as a consequence of that ruling before the horrors of German Nazism woke American justice from its moral and intellectual slumber.
This book gave me a better vantage from which to reflect more critically – not just on the contemporary (potential) forms of eugenics on offer (screening pre-natally for down’s syndrome and other “defects”, “designer” babies, our (medical) culture of abortion on demand, IVF, and euthanasia) – but on other ideologies that have taken possession of our own era and that make it virtually impossible for us to see anything other as possessing rational or moral plausibility, let alone validity or legitimacy: “gender theory” and its dogma of “gender fluidity”; “globalization” whose dogmatic buzz word is “economic growth”; even, dare I say, “feminism”. (To see, during the recent staging of the same-sex marriage “debate”, how even public institutions like the ABC can be hijacked by ideological agendas was a wake-up call to me.) Or most subtle of all (because most profound) is the Nietzschean-Heideggarian-Foucauldian ideological program of “deconstruction” which has all but succeeded in remaking categories like “true” and “good” and “beautiful” (to name just a few) into mere trophies of a will to power.
Imbeciles inspired me to be more vigilant and clear-sighted as a Christian. I closed the book feeling many things but above all proud (in a humbled kind of way) that it was a Christian, justice Pierce Butler, that had courageously dissented to the Supreme Court ruling, and that it was another Christian, Adam Cohen, that had bothered to do the painstaking work of research and writing to bring this secret history to light. That was how they served and, in so doing, bore witness to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
P.S. My holiday reading list: I am currently reading a book of short stories by Anton Chekhov About Love and Other Stories; The Hidden and the Manifest: Essays in Theology and Metaphysics by David Bentley Hart; Birds: Poems by Judith Wright; and have just finished Who Is That Man? In Search of the Real Bob Dylan by David Dalton. Next on my list is Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler.
Boxing Day to Australia Day - is it unique to Australian culture to stage a collective ‘relaxed’ month, when the usual intensity that marks the rest of the year is both over and hasn’t yet started? Either way, it’s a great invention!
One of the joys it provides is a space for more sustained reading. Making time for reading can be challenging, and there’s not much about a twitter world that encourages the kind of deep thought and sustained commitment that are needed to get through a whole book! But reading has always been a core Christian discipleship practice.
I try to be fairly picky about what I’ll read over summer - usually a novel, a Christian / theology book and a ‘secular’ non-fiction book, to try to keep a balanced diet.
How about you? If you read something, and would like to share some thoughts, send them in to Meagan Lacoba, who puts together the eNewsletter each week, and we’ll include your review / reflection in the next edition. Meagan can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy new year!
Fresh eyes are always a gift!
Some weeks ago, we had a visiting preacher for our Missions sermon series. As I often do, I asked him what he noticed about us - our church life, our culture, our services - because he was seeing things with fresh eyes.
He mentioned a few things, but one that stood out was how encouraged he felt by the extent and diversity of the outreach activities we were doing. And it got me thinking, he was exactly right!
In December alone, we have had 2 Christmas festivals, a Fifty+ Christmas gathering, an English Corner Christmas party, gingerbread making, Christmas wreath making, and of course Basecamp, each of them wonderful occasions.
Overall, I would guess more than 300 non-church people of all ages have directly connected with us and heard of the grace of God in the gift of a Messiah, and that’s before we’ve even had the Christmas services! It’s been a great team effort, with a huge number of people from CCIW involved, which says something really significant about our heart to reach those who are strangers to the love of Jesus. Praise God!
Do keep praying that God would use these events - the songs sung, the relationships strengthened, the conversations had, the Bible talks heard - for his glory as he draws people to Christ.
We’re five days away from our third time around at Basecamp, with a record number of kids (120!) coming from Tuesday to Thursday to hear the gospel clearly taught through Luke’s account of the Christmas story.
There are two particular ways that I think God is using Basecamp to grow his kingdom.
Firstly, of the 120 children attending, at least a third, and maybe up to a half, are from non-Christian or nominal Christian backgrounds. Praise God that these children will hear the gospel next week, and pray that it would take root in their hearts.
Secondly—as things stand—over 50 people in the CCIW community will be helping by leading groups, running activities, supervising free play times, cooking for leaders and in a number of different other ways. What an awesome way for God to be building us up as a church through service!
Please pray for the leaders and the kids next week, that God would sustain the leaders and most importantly put his word on the hearts of many children.