Archive for November, 2014

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Life is made up of experiences, sometimes dramatic or traumatic, but most of the time simple everyday events that come and go without a second thought.

Eating, playing, worshipping, creating, and sharing become the raw materials that over a lifetime come together to produce a mosaic that we call life, and while we may have missed the significance of some of them at the time, we can look back and realise how valuable they were in the overall picture.

On Saturday night we participated in our monthly church activity, Messy Church, and I had that sense that this one of those moments that made a significant contribution to the fabric of life. It was the last Messy Church for the year and we had a Christmas theme. It was a joy to see people of all ages from babies through to grandparents working together on an activity (I’ll tell you about that in a moment), singing Christmas songs together, playing games, hearing the story of Christmas, praying, and eating together.

These things happen in our own families every day but to bring many families together in this way is what I think the apostle Paul was thinking of when he said, Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. In an age when people seem to be withdrawing into virtual relationships it is great to participate in an activity where real relationships are formed with people across generational barriers.

Now, I mentioned the activity that we participated in at Messy Church on Saturday. We built a Christmas Tree. Have a look at this video to see what happened:

tentIt was a sweltering hot day and Sarah was thankful for the shade of the great oak trees under which Abraham had pitched their tent. She had hooked up a corner of the tent to allow any breeze to blow through but in the middle of the day there was no breeze and the only respite from the searing heat was to lie quietly and wait until the evening before attempting any work.

Despite the heat and the perspiration dripping down her forehead into her eyes Sarah was close to sleep when a noise prompted her to pull herself up onto her elbow. Abraham had been sitting at the door of the tent taking advantage of the shade from the oak trees. He was a good man. He was nearly 100 years old and had been a faithful husband. It was harder to get around these days and although she was a few years younger than Abraham, Sarah was feeling her age as well. There was only one thing that had been a note of sadness in their long life together. Abraham and Sarah had no children.

Sarah could see Abraham slowly pulling himself up onto his feet and she peered out of the darkness of the tent into the dazzling sunshine to see what had prompted him to move away from the shade. She could hear a voice and wondered who would be visiting their tent in the heat of the day, so moved a little closer to the door of the tent to get a better view of what was happening outside. Abraham was moving away from the tent and she could see what looked like three figures standing in the shade of the oak trees.

She made sure that no-one would be able to see her, but was anxious to get into a position where she could see what was happening and hopefully overhear the conversation. They lived alone and visitors were rare. There was something about the three figures under the Oak trees that intrigued her.

Now Abraham was moving quickly towards the strangers and Sarah watched as he bowed low to them. Abraham obviously didn’t know who these visitors were, but she smiled to herself because the way in which he bowed before them was typical of his gracious approach to all people, particularly strangers. He was only with them a few minutes then he began making his way back to the tent. Sarah slipped back to where she had been lying so it wouldn’t be too obvious she had been watching what was going on.

Abraham leaned over and stepped into the tent. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread. I’m going to get a calf and kill it for these visitors. Oh, where is that curds and milk? Sarah quickly got up and began preparing the bread as Abraham headed out of the tent at a rate that Sarah found a little disconcerting considering his age and the heat of the day. “Take it easy,” she called out to Abraham as he disappeared into the harsh sunlight.

While she was waiting for the bread to bake, Sarah edged back to her place near the door of the tent where she could remain unseen, but could watch what was going on. Abraham had found a place under the oak trees for the visitors to sit and was ably fulfilling the role of host to these strangers. Fortunately they were just within earshot, so although Sarah couldn’t catch everything that was being said, she could hear just enough.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked Abraham.

Sarah was taken aback: “Who were these men? How did they know my name,” she thought to herself.

Abraham was answering them now: “She’s just there, in the tent.”  Sarah quickly pulled back away from the door of the tent just in case they looked up and saw her. She tried to stay within earshot because she didn’t want to miss anything now.

The one in the middle was an imposing figure. There was something distinctive about all three of the men. Something that made them stand out from other men she had seen. They didn’t look like locals, but she couldn’t place where they might have come from. The one in the middle then said: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Sarah nearly blew her cover as she gasped. She pushed her shawl over her mouth to cover the sound of her laughing. Who was this man? Who did he think he was? She was well past childbearing years and although Abraham often talked about how sad he was that he didn’t have children, she knew that it wasn’t going to happen.

She tried to compose herself and was glad that the bread had finished baking and she was able to take it out to the visitors. It may give her a chance to see them a little closer. But as she approached them, one of the men asked Abraham why Sarah had laughed when he said that she would have a son.

It was an embarrassing moment. Abraham looked flustered, unsure how to answer the question, so Sarah piped up.  “Oh, I didn’t laugh,” she lied. But the man looked directly at her said, “yes, you did laugh.”

At that moment Sarah knew that these were no ordinary men. She had a sense that this was God himself, the three in one, who could not only predict the future, but knew what was happening in the darkness of the tent, and more significantly, in the secret places of her mind.

As the men stood to leave, the one in the middle said: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

Abraham and Sarah looked at each other as the men disappeared into the distance. We have just been visited by the Lord Almighty, Abraham stammered. I have hosted the Lord and he has eaten my bread and meat. Sarah looked up at Abraham. “And as you provided for him, he has provided for us. Our guest has provided a great gift.”

You can read the story yourself in Genesis 18. This post is the first in a series on “The Art of Hosting”. If Hospitality is a characteristic of God, then there is a need for God’s people to learn to exercise hospitality as well. I’m presenting the series each Sunday morning at Maida Vale Baptist Church. You can also hear the messages here.

The choir of the Perth Chin Baptist Church

The choir of the Perth Chin Baptist Church

I my last post I talked about my experience in attending a service of the Perth Chin Baptist Church, a wonderful group of people from Myanmar who have formed a Baptist Church here in Western Australia.

Lunch after church at the PNGWA Fellowship.

Lunch after church at the PNGWA Fellowship.

Today I preached at the meeting of the PNGWA Christian Fellowship. This is a group of Christians of all denominations from Papua-New Guinea who have made Western Australia their home.

Switching from participating in worship in the Chin language to worshipping in Pidgin is interesting, but is a great reminder that the worship of Jesus Christ reaches across cultures and language groups and we live in a country where freedom of religion is still a part of the fabric of our society.

While I didn’t necessarily understand everything that was being said at these two services, I experienced a spirit of joy that was infectious. It’s a great reminder of the words of one of the Old Testament leaders:

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

chinch

After all the things I have heard and read about refugees in Australia it was a privilege to attend a church service this afternoon with the Perth Chin Baptist Church. From today the church that was started earlier this year, held its first service in High Wycombe, guests of the Maida Vale Baptist Church.

The Chin people are an ethnic people from Myanmar (Burma) and most of the Chin in Australia came here as refugees from Malaysia where they fled because of religious persecution in their own country.

Rev James Tin Kung, Pastor of the Perth Chin Baptist Church

Rev James Tin Kung, Pastor of the Perth Chin Baptist Church

It’s interesting that this congregation of people, who are newcomers to Australia, is bigger than our own church which is acting as host to the Perth Chin congregation. Perhaps that says something about the nature of the church in Australia. At some level it would seem that Australians have had it so good that we fail to appreciate what we have, and we have begun to take our privilege for granted.

We are one of the richest and most privileged nations in the world, but instead of living a life that reflects our appreciation for God’s blessings we squander what we have. We eat too much, drink too much, spend too much money; we waste the resources that are available to us, and we fail to acknowledge the God who has provided for us in the first place.

Spending time with a group of newcomers to Australia and worshipping with them, despite not being able to understand much of what was said, has helped me to appreciate afresh the wonderful land in which we live and the great God who has blessed us in so many ways.

It’s time for us to learn to say thankyou and to live in a way that reflects that sense of appreciation.