The Gospel Coalition Australia: Victoria

Around 50 church leaders from across Melbourne met yesterday (Feb 17) to pray for our city.

The Gospel Coalition Australia (TGCA) launched in Brisbane last year, and a Victorian Chapter of TGCA is starting this year.

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Photo courtesy of Shebu John

I appreciated the thoughtful approach taken in organising this first public gathering:  there was no mass advertising beforehand, no elaborate staging with a ‘worship’ band belting out Christian anthems and celebrity preachers taking the stage. I’m not criticising doing any of those things, but to begin by saying, ‘hey, come and join us so that we can listen to God’s word and pray for Melbourne together’, communicated something beautiful about the tone and purpose of the event.

A few years ago a small group of pastors began meeting to pray for Melbourne and to discuss how evangelicals can more effectively work together in order to see the Gospel grow; not that God is constrained by our prayers and unity, but Scripture teaches us that these things are desirable and useful. Yesterday, was the first of gatherings, purposed to encourage Victorian Christians with the Gospel, and to find ways for working together for the sake of the Gospel.

The morning began with a exposition from Romans 1:1-17, ‘what is the Gospel?’ Andrew Reid (of Holy Trinity, Doncaster) exhorted us to be clear about the Gospel, and to remember that God’s power to save is in this Gospel of Jesus Christ, and not in our methods and personalities. Such a message may be Christianity 101, but it is always good to hear it again, and was particularly relevant given the nature of yesterday’s gathering. If the Apostle Paul felt the need to remind his readers of the Gospel multiple times in every letter, I think we would do well to remind each other when we meet.

Peter Adam then gave a brief and insightful history of Christianity in Melbourne. It was encouraging to be reminded of how God has graciously worked throughout our history, and to consider, if God has worked through his Gospel in the past, can he not also do so today?

For much of the morning we prayed together, for Melbourne itself, for God to grow his Gospel throughout Melbourne, and for each other’s local ministries. It was a rare although enthralling yet ordinary scene, seeing 45-50 Melbourne leaders from many denominations, churches, and organisations, expressing our unity in Christ, and a common desire to see men and women coming to faith in Jesus.

TGCA Victoria will meet again in June/July for another morning of prayer, and there is a more formal event being organised for November with William Taylor (of St Helen’s Bishopsgate).

For details email admin@tgcavic.org

The American Headline capturing Australia today

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This headline has captured attention not only in America, but also the major Australian newspapers, and because the local media are engrossed I am picking up the story.  I don’t like the headline, but I understand it, and I have sympathy for those who had the audacity to write it.

Next week it will have been three years since the Sandy Hook massacre, when 20 children and 6 adults were shot dead in an Elementary School. The act left us shocked and horrified, even in Australia, and I remember thinking, surely this will change the minds of Americans about their guns laws. Three years on, and there is a mass shooting almost every day of the year in the United States, with latest being the appalling shooting murders of 14 people in San Bernadino, California. It is little wonder that gaskets are blowing  and voices screaming for action. In this way, I understand the front page of the New York Daily News.

No one likes platitudes but we all use them. Perhaps a reason for this dependance on blah phrases is because of the politically correct prison that we have erected around society, both in America and in Australia. We fall back to language that is deemed acceptable and palatable. This also partially explains why the New York Daily News headline is so shocking, because they’re torn up book of etiquette.

And then there is the hypocrisy of tweeting about praying. I don’t have access into the hearts of those men and women whose tweets have been published, but I wouldn’t be surprised should much of it be sanctimonious public talk, although some of it genuine and sincere. Apart from the hypocrisy of “praying” to God when you know that for the other 99% of life, you couldn’t care less about God, there is also a hypocrisy when people who are in position to effect change, won’t. I am no expert in American cultural studies, and so I want to resist throwing around more platitudes about guns and violence. What is obvious, is that the gunmen are to blame. From where I stand, it seems to me that having such easy access to firearms, including assault weapons, borders on insanity. Given that, one can understand the frustration and even anger of many Americans: don’t pray, take action.

But can’t we do both?

There are times when the only thing we can do is pray. I’m not suggesting that this  is the case for those in the sights of the Daily News, but for many people it will be. And prayer is not a useless activity, that is, if we are praying to the God who made and continues to oversee this astonishing universe, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. The way prayer works is less to do with convincing God about what we want and need, as it is about having our hearts so that our lives increasingly conform to God’s heart. That means, prayer is more needed than we realise. If we pray, ‘your kingdom come and your will be done’, then surely we will seek more deeply and intently the things that conform to God’s character. That will have enormous implications for how we ‘love our neighbour’.  Pray more and more will be done, that is, when our prayers are not simply platitudes or hypocrisy, for which Jesus himself warns about repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount.

“prayer is not a useless activity”

From our distance here in Australia, the picture we are seeing  is one where cultural Christianity is unravelling in the United States, and the public (as in Australia) don’t have the framework for distinguishing between biblical and civic religion. The headline, for example, assumes that God is on the side of particular politicians, or at least that politicians believe that God is on their side!

“God isn’t fixing this”?

There is a problem in the United States but it isn’t God, it’s people and money and politics. If America is anything like Australia, then the issue is our unwillingness to listen to the God of the Bible, and I don’t mean taking out pithy verses and misapplying them to our own ends, but deeply engaging in the teaching and significance of Jesus Christ. What does it mean to ‘love our neighbour’, as Jesus taught? What does it mean to ‘weep with those who are weeping?’ What does it mean to forgive our enemies? What does Jesus mean when he says, ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’?

 

 

 

 

Praying with our children about Paris

Praying with our children is a wonderful opportunity and privilege. It not only helps us in talking with our children about what happened in Paris, it reminds us that we can take everything to God in prayer, and it teaches our children how to pray when evil comes.

My suggestion is that you  firstly sit down with your children and answer their questions about Islamic State attacks, and then explain the pray to them before praying it with them. There is little point praying what we don’t affirm or understand!

Here is a prayer that you might like to pray with your children:

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Heavenly Father,

We thank you that you are God, and that you are good, and are in charge of the world today.

We thank you that we can talk to you in the good times of life and in the sad times.

We are sad and want to cry for the people of Paris, Beirut and Baghdad.

We ask that you may comfort them in their grief, and that you might show them your great love in Christ Jesus.

We pray for the injured, that they will receive the medical help and pastoral care they need.

We ask that Governments and authorities will have great wisdom as they protect their people and as they respond to these attacks.

We thank you for the refugees who are arriving in Australia from Syria. May they be welcomed and cared for. Help us to love our new neighbours as ourselves.

The Bible tells us that evil makes you angry and the cross tell us you have done something about it. Thank you Father for sending your only Son into the world to die on the cross and to rise from the dead so that we know your forgiveness, and have new life and hope.

May the world come to know and see the peace that Jesus brings.

Help us to keep trusting Jesus and to show others that he is trustworthy.

And we ask this in Jesus’ name,

Amen