Emma and I have now been living in Sydney for 1 year and 3 days, thereâ€™s a nice little milestone. The big Plane Tree that shades our front balcony has dropped all its leaves (on our front balcony) and re-grown them completely. Iâ€™ve finished my first year at College (I found out yesterday that theyâ€™re letting me come back again next year). And Emma has made me and the Tree feel like its worth it.
Probably of more immediate interest to you folk, is that Emma is enjoying her work at the Anglican Diocesan Secretariat. She works with a good team of Christian people, with a variety of strongly held beliefs and quirky habits. Which is a good things when you get on well with them (which she does). At this point I should come out and say that the following (and previous) opinions are entirely my own – Emma hasnâ€™t even looked at what Iâ€™m writing, sheâ€™s at work.
Emmaâ€™s boss has been great at making her feel welcome, giving good feedback, and finding ways to help her grow in her job. She recently got to take part in a round-table discussion on the Sydney Anglican response to Climate Change. It was a group of scientists, conservationists, theologians, less interesting types, and Emma! Emmaâ€™s communications role would involve her in presenting and communicating Climate Change management programmes to the Diocese. I reckon this sounds like fun, maybe sheâ€™ll give me a job?
Iâ€™ve had a busy December, but thereâ€™ve been two big highlights. First was the AFES National Training Event. This year was the 10th Anniversary Edition. Iâ€™ve been to every one. The conference had a big impact on me back in 1997, it was a major step in understanding how the parts of the Bible work together to tell the one story of Godâ€™s work in Christ. I went home from that conference and read everything I could get my hands on that had to do with Biblical Theology (which completely spoiled the strand 2 material the next yearâ€¦) This year I was back again, but now Iâ€™m leading strand 1. It was a privilege to be able to pray for and lead a group of young guys and see some of the pieces fall into place for them. Thereâ€™s a good lesson about ministry for me in that: our service is not to know new things or more things, but to pass on old things, passionately and faithfully. Honestly, it was a great refreshment and relief to be studying and interacting with people over the Scriptures. My time at College is a great blessing from God, and Iâ€™m learning and being stretched – but I went there so I could train to be a better servant of Godâ€™s people, particularly through teaching. The reality is that College doesnâ€™t provide many opportunities for the hands-on ministry that is the rationale and inspiration for Studying Like a Maniac during the rest of the year. Conferences like NTE and Focal Point keep me sane.
The second highlight was preaching at Church last Sunday. I very rarely enjoy preparing a sermon, and this was no different – but I always learn something new. This time Iâ€™ve been challenged to think more deeply about Jesusâ€™ incarnation. I preached a sermon on the Magnificat, Maryâ€™s Song from Lukeâ€™s Gospel. At the same time I was finishing off a book that Iâ€™ve been reading with a group of friends at College called God Crucified by Richard Bauckham. Itâ€™s a great little read and it reminded me of some important truths about Jesusâ€™ birth and death. In particular, that when Paul says,
â€œJesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.â€
Paul is not saying that â€˜Jesus was equal with God, but chose to give it up for a whileâ€¦â€™ Rather, he is saying, â€˜Jesus, who is God, demonstrated what it means to be God by coming as a servantâ€™.
Serving was not something that Jesus volunteered to do on behalf of the Trinity. Serving is what God does, its what he is like, it goes all the way down. This is not something that we discover only in the New Testament, it is stated loud and clear through the words of the Prophets.â€¨For the High and Exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy says this:
â€œI live in a high and holy place,
and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and revive the heart of the oppressed.
It is Godâ€™s nature to give himself in love.
Our response is trust. â€¨
How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me! She who has believed is blessed because what was spoken to her by the Lord will be fulfilled!â€ (Luke 1:43-45)
Notice how Elizabeth changes from the 2nd person greeting (for you seeâ€¦ the sound of your voiceâ€™) to the third person statement (She who has believed). Itâ€™s a great little twist that Luke uses to make this a thematic statement for the whole section. Itâ€™s like Elizabeth looks outside the frame of the picture and talks straight to us. Mary is blessed, and anyone who believes will be blessed, because God is going to keep his word to Mary.
There is nothing so blessed as having nothing but Jesus. Iâ€™ve got to keep reminding myself of that, Emmaâ€™s work keeps bring in money, Iâ€™m doing well in my courses, there are lots of other things that we could trust in, but none of them ever really bless us in this way.
Anyway, I always rabbit on when I sit down to write anything. We hope that youâ€™ll come and visit us soon. If this letter does nothing else, itâ€™s reminded me to pray for you, and I hope you will keep us in your prayers.
This year we are planning (under God) to travel to South Africa with a Moore College Mission team. Emma and I are hoping to spend a little while travelling in South Africa and checking out ministry opportunities over there. We donâ€™t know what will come out of this trip, but we are praying that we can be an encouragement to the people we are serving with while we are there, and that we will get some more ideas about how to use these lives to serve Jesus. Praise God for contacts and some very generous financial support that is making this a possibility.
Here we are, at the End. You really are very special friends. Thanks for reading and lots of Love.