Following up on Augustine

One of the joys of being in full-time ministry is that you have the opportunity to look deeply into the writings and the thoughts of great minds. Last Sunday, as we started our new occasional series on The Great Christians of History, I got to spend some serious time looking at the Amazing 4th Century philosopher and theologian, Augustine of Hippo.

One of the great frustrations of being in full-time ministry is that you spend so much time looking at this amazing person and you learn so many interesting and helpful things, but we only have so long on a Sunday to explore them. With this in mind, I thought I’d offer access to some of the resources that I looked to in preparing for the sermon, so for those who want to explore a little further, you can take a look.

If you’re interested in Reading Augustine’s “Confessions” you can find the whole book online here thanks to “Project Gutenberg”. The Kindle version can be found here for $2.50US, or you could order a print copy for $11 here (which includes postage!). Confessions is the easiest of his books to read, being a biography of his life written as a prayer/confession to God. You will find few books in the world that are so easy to read 1500 years after they were written!

If you are interested in “City of God” you can find it online here, on kindle here for $2,  or a print copy here for $18 (including postage).

Thanks to the wonders of Kindle, you can even get the complete works here for only $1.58US!

One of the best resources I have found for Church history is the course that the “Covenant Theological Seminary” from St. Louis, Missouri offers. You can listen to all of their lectures online, you can download transcripts of the lectures and even download the lecture notes and all of it is FREE! All  you need to do is click on the link above and sign up for a free account, then follow through in Resources to Ancient History with Dr. David Calhoun.

If you enjoyed Sunday’s sermon and you have a little free time, you won’t regret any time you spend taking a closer look at St. Augustine.

 

 

 

Day of Days

February 19th will go down as a momentous day in the history of the Anglican Parish of Kincumber. This is the day when we met together to discuss, then vote on whether we would go ahead with the sale of St. bede’s, Saratoga, and the redevelopment of our Kincumber Ministry Centre. It’s a massive decision that will stretch us financially, challenge us physically (as we pack up the church in coming weeks, then prepare for services in the local Neighbourhood Centre till December) and it will also affect us emotionally.

The decision to go ahead was made on Sunday with a vote of 107 to go ahead, 4 against and 5 abstentions. This is an overwhelming show of support as we move toward this massive undertaking. That said, a massive show of support should not let us think that this isn’t a difficult and even painful decision for many people in our church family. I want to suggest a couple of ways that this wonderful decision, working toward a stable future for our parish, ought also be approached sensitively and pastorally.

The loss of historic resources

St. Bede’s has been a shining beacon in the Saratoga area for many decades now. As I took a funeral there today (Feb 22nd) of a lady who had served a youth group many years ago and whose husband had helped build some of the church, I was reminded that the walls, floor and roof also represent baptisms, funerals, marriages and many other experiences in between. It’s painful to have to let go of a resource that has played such a large part in so many lives.

The stress of finances

There is a certain empowerment that comes from stepping out in faith, trusting that building our new ministry centre will provide the best possible opportunity for a healthy and flourishing future. It’s exciting for Christians to take bold new steps, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re making a significant financial risk, and though Allan, the parish council, the diocese and the parish as a whole has looked over the numbers and are confident that we can do this, that doesn’t mean that we won’t feel a little nervous about the whole process.

Maybe, rather than seeing this as an anchor to stop us from moving ahead, we ought to let this concern inform our decisions, so we can be prudent in what we do and make the most out of the resources we have.

Transitional time

Because of the big decision concerning St. Bede’s, much of our recent debate has been framed within the context of this congregation. In reality, 8am and 10am are on the cusp of experiencing a massive shift in their worship habits. Soon these services will be moving to the Neighbourhood Centre and the congregations will get a feel for some of the problems that Se@K has been experiencing over the last couple of years. This will be a time where we need to be particularly thoughtful and careful with each other.

Change

Even if we fast forward to this Easter 2018, it will be a new start for many St. Bede’s attenders, BUT it will also be a new start for St. Paul’s members. We’ll be meeting in a new part of the building, the whole centre is going to have a new feel, and it won’t be a matter of “St. Bede’s coming to join us here” but the whole of the parish having to find a new rhythm and rediscover how we do church as a new entity

Conclusion

It’s a wonderful decision that was made last Sunday. I am absolutely convinced that what we did with this decision was ensure that there will be a future for the Anglican Church in this region for generations to come. With that said, the decision was just the start of the process. The next year will be a massive transition for us, and then the real work begins of reestablishing ourselves as a parish with a new identity, and God willing, many new opportunities to engage with our community. This is the real challenge that lies ahead of us!

The Power of Open Doors

Those of us who have grown up in the Christianised West have little appreciation of what persecution really looks like. We are likely to feel a little uncomfortable when talking about Christianity because we fear that we might be called a “Bible basher”, or maybe our friends won’t really think we’re cool anymore.

On the other side of the coin, there are countries in this world where a profession of Christian faith is tantamount to confessing one’s own death sentence. Being a Christian is punishable, telling others about your faith is even worse, and converting to Christianity from the state-sanctioned religion may be seen a crime worthy of the most heinous revenge killing.

Since 1955 the Open Doors organisation has been committed to the very task of ‘opening doors’ of opportunity for the gospel in some of the most gospel-poor regions of the world.

Earlier this year Open Doors relaunched their website. Their new-look site now has easy access to a range of different resources including their “world watch” interactive map, and details for their guidebook and more.

As we enjoy and often take for granted the many blessings we have here in Australia, it’s worth taking a closer look at Open Doors & appreciating exactly what we’ve been given and how we might be able to empower others who are less fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Alain De Botton’s “The News: a user’s manual”

We all have to eat every day and most of us eat at least three to five times a day, so no one would be surprised if you told someone that you were going to take stock of your dietary intake. Whether it’s active dieting or just eating healthily, it’s healthy to look at what it is that we’re consuming, whether we’re having too little or too much, or whether or not we’re consuming the right things?

As Alain De Botton prepared to write his 2014 book “The News: a user’s manual“, he recognised that when it comes to consumption, the news plays almost as ubiquitous role in our day to day lives as food does. Whether it’s flicking through a broadsheet over breakfast, listening to the radio in the car, checking up on the latest online, or watching the evening news on TV, we constantly consume what the news has to tell us. But do we regularly take stock of this diet? Do we cast a critical eye at the news and ask whether we’re consuming too much of it and whether or not the news we do consume is healthy? These are some of the questions that De Botton considers in this intriguing book.

In chapters looking at Politics, World News, Economics, Celebrity, Disaster, and Consumption the author encourages his audience to think about what is being said, what is ignored and what underlying agendas appear for both the producers and the consumers of news. De Botton notes “The noblest promise of the news is that it will be able to alleviate ignorance, overcome prejudice and raise the intelligence of individuals and nations”, yet, quoting Gustave Flaubert, he claims “now the press has made it very possible for a person to be at once unimaginative, uncreative, mean-minded and extremely well informed. The modern idiot could routinely know what only geniuses had known int he past, and yet he was still an idiot – a depressing combination of traits that previous ages had never had to worry about. The news had…. armed stupidity and given authority to fools.”

De Botton challenges both the media and consumers to broaden our minds when it comes to the stories. Whilst Afghanistan is a place of war and suffering, it is also home to thirty million people, and many lives in that country are shaped by more than just their experience of war. Media photography can corroborate a story (If President Trump is giving a speech, we have a picture of the President speaking) it can also play a revelatory role, capturing the emotion of a speech, or more of the context around an address. Economic reports might boil down to the strength of the dollar and our GDP, yet Alain says “the numbers and graphs in financial news are only ever a shorthand for the stories and images that we need in order to understand the world we have built. Business is ultimately too interesting and too significant to be described only for the sake of those who want to invest in it.”

From a Christian perspective, De Botton is on public record as being an atheist, yet his respect for religion, even in this book is clear. His willingness to look beyond the surface level, to ask deeper questions and to be self-reflective is a healthy model for the Christian, even if the final conclusions he comes to may differ to ours.

When we come to the end of the book, if we applied every suggestion that De Botton makes, we wouldn’t have time to do anything else in our lives. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to adequately reflect on everything we see and hear. Nevertheless, much of what De Botton says in worthy of deeper consideration; he writes in a warm, engaging and readable manner, and accepting that not every idea will resonate with every audience, there are still plenty of gems to be found for anyone willing to have a look. Not only did this reader enjoy reading the book over the summer holidays, I think I might come back to it again in a year or two’s time!

 

 

Summer Reading

So you have a week set aside to sit by the beach, relax & flick through a good book? Maybe you’re heading up to the mountains to escape the heat (good luck, 32 degrees in Katoomba this weekend) with a picnic and a romance novel?

This is the lovely time of year where businesses slow down, holiday leave is taken and all of those books you intended to read during the year pop up as viable possibilities for a little January relaxation.

But what to read? Is this the time that we start to feel guilty about how often (or little) we read our Bibles, so we come together with a grandiose plan to sweep through from cover to cover? Truth be told, this rarely works well. To start with, there’s a lot to take in when we’re reading the Bible, this is why we spend our lifetime immersing ourselves in God’s word.  Secondly, it’s not all an “easy read”. Let’s not kid ourselves, some books of the Bible, like Leviticus, can be hard work to get through. The grand gesture to read through the whole Bible often falls short a couple of books in.

So what to do? I’ve got three suggestions for you.

1: Don’t feel guilty for reading fiction. It can actually be a really valuable thing to do.

2: If you want to read your Bible, why not find a way to pace yourself and make sure you get the maximum value out of it.

3: Remember, there is lots of other great material out there that Christians can read for their edification!

How about I expand a little on each thought.


1: Don’t feel guilty for reading fiction. It can actually be a really valuable thing to do.

The great American author and pastor, Eugene Peterson once wrote about how he diarised at least one hour a week for reading his favourite author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Not only was it valuable downtime for him, but the Russian Author’s sense of imagination and wonderful use of language opened Peterson’s mind to the power of effective communication. He felt more relaxed and he felt encouraged to try and capture a little of Dostoyevsky’s grandeur in his own writing.

Reading fiction is a wonderful way for us to grow in our appreciation for communication and creativity. Whether you like classic Russian authors, whodunnits, or fantasy books, reading fiction reflects, to my mind, a little bit of the creative spark that God has given us. Authors reflect the God who created everything when they create their own worlds, and we show a little of our creative capacity when we imagine those worlds as we read.

With that said, we also have an opportunity, as we read, to think critically about the characters we read, the moral and philosophical assumptions that the characters (or the author) make and how we might take a Christian viewpoint if we were a part of this story. The goal of doing so isn’t to suck all of the joy out of the material we read, but to open our minds to what the things we read say about what we value and where we find true happiness!


2: If you want to read your Bible, why not find a way to pace yourself and make sure you get the maximum value out of it.

We all know that the Bible is actually a collection of 66 books, spanning many human authors (all of whom were divinely inspired) and covering several millennia. It’s a book made up of Law, Historical stories, Poetry, Songs, Prophecy, First Person accounts, all kinds of great stuff. It’s not written in Chronological order either! With so many different styles and with so much content, it’s a book that is worth taking your time over.

It can be really enjoyable to take an individual book like one of the gospels, or a pastoral epistle and read it from cover to cover. They were written to be experienced that way and it gives us a sense of flow. But it can also be worthwhile to take our time, maybe reading a couple of chapters a day and really meditating on what it’s about. There are all kinds of great materials out there to help us do that.

  • Don Carson has written a wonderful book called “For the love of God” that will take you through the whole bible in a year (or two if you only want to do 2 chapters a day instead of 4), with a one-page meditation on a passage each day.
  • I have a good friend who buys short Bible commentaries like the BST series and he reads a commentary in tandem with a book of the Bible.
  • This year I’m doing a Bible reading programme that will take me through the whole Bible in a year, with a different style of writing each day. Pastoral Epistles, Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy & Gospels.

Whatever you pick, it’s worthwhile reading God’s word, and it’s worth giving it a chance to sink in too.


3: Remember, there is lots of other great material out there that Christians can read for their edification!

There is no shortage of wonderful Christian material out there that can help us understand God and the world we live in better. Whether it’s a timeless classic like “The Pilgrim’s Progress“, a 20th Century great like “Knowing God“, or even a piece of Christian-inspired fiction like “The Narnia Series“, there are Christian books on almost any subject, there are Christian stores chock full of great materials, and you have brothers and sisters in Christ who would love to share what they’ve been reading with you too!

This Summer I’ve got two books I’ll be reading.


Sometimes we pick up a book & we can’t rest until we have finished the very last page. On other occasions we need to take our time, bit by bit. Why not pick up a couple of books this summer. Something simple to enjoy, something that expands your Christian world view, and finally, the best selling (and most wonderful) book of all time, the Bible!

Building a new Website!?

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Building a new website is a big and relatively expensive task. It takes time and energy to design, you have to think through, not only the content that will go on each of the pages but how you communicate what’s there and how people are going to navigate their way there!

With all that we have going on in the parish on any given week, why would we commit ourselves to having a website also?

Quite simply, in the 21st century, it’s a no-brainer. Gone are the days when a young family might do a drive-by of a church to work out what it’s like and whether they’d visit. Now, punch a couple of keys into google and you can find out all about a church and its members (good and bad). On the flipside, if a church isn’t working at having an online presence, then the only information people will find about you is things that other people say.

There’s another big reason why we’ve taken on this task, even though, as some have said: “we had a perfectly adequate website before”? . The needs and the opportunities to engage and connect with people online are only getting greater! Now, if you enjoy a sermon, you can send a copy of it to a friend, or if you are thinking of inviting someone to a parish event, they can sign up and even pay for it online!

It’s been quite a task getting this website to the point where it is up and working, but God willing, it will serve us well as we move into a technological future!

Tim Goldsmith