Vacation or Holiday?

We are in the holiday period at the moment, when school is out and many people in our part of the world go away for a while to seek a warmer climate.  We often use the term ‘vacation’ to talk about this kind of time, but from a Christian point of view that might not be the best word to use. A vacation implies that we ‘vacate’ our normal lives and leave them in order to have a rest and to finally enjoy ourselves. In contrast, the word ‘holidays’ comes from ‘holy days’, the special days of the Christian calendar when people used to rest and focus on worshipping God and having special celebrations and feasts together. This is still part of ‘normal life’, but a part that is set aside as special in order to spend time with God and with others. This ‘holiday’ idea is similar to the idea of the ‘Sabbath’ which we find in the Bible. The fourth of the Ten Commandments tells us to ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God’ (Exodus 20:8-10). When God finished the work of creation, he rested to enjoy what he’d made. I think it’s helpful for us to think of our vacations and our weekends as holidays, or even as a Sabbath, part of the rhythm of our lives that brings us a time to rest and enjoy that God is good. Then we might find it easier to experience joy in our work and our other responsibilities when we return to them.

-Andrew-

 

Where to from Here?

We have just finished the first Alpha Course we have run at St. Mark’s, which was a great experience. Taking part in Alpha and watching their videos reminds me of the positive and transformative power of Jesus and the Christian faith. But they are keen to emphasise to us that Alpha is only the beginning of a journey with Jesus. The final Alpha session is on the topic ‘What About the Church?’.

Part of our journey as followers of Jesus means coming to terms with ‘the Church’. Australians have often had a difficult relationship with organised religion, as it seems to be something that conflicts with our independent, easy-going view of life, and our scepticism towards authority. Often members and leaders in our churches have not proven to be trustworthy, or even basically decent people. In the recent census, the decline of people associating with Christianity, or any religion, has continued.

One of my hopes in the next part of this year is for us at St. Mark’s to reflect again about what the church is, and should be, in the plans and purposes of God. Starting in Term 3 we are going to do a series looking at the letter to the Ephesians, which I’m calling ‘Being the Church’. The Apostle Paul gives, in Ephesians, a big and inspiring vision for what the Church is supposed to be and to do in the world. Hopefully this brings us back to what the purpose of our church here in Emerald is supposed to be, and helps us to see what God intends for us in the future.

Paying Attention

As someone who tends to spend a lot of time focussed on my own thoughts, I’m known for not noticing the details of the world around me. It’s easy to miss things when I’m distracted and not paying attention. One of the great things about moving to Emerald is that the surroundings are so beautiful that they draw me to look around and pay attention every time I go out!

On Sunday I said in my sermon that I believe that the central thing we need to learn as Christians is how to pay attention to Jesus in every part of our lives. One of our great failings as human beings is our forgetfulness and distraction when it comes to God. The reality is that God has made us in such a way that we have a natural awareness of his existence and goodness. All we have to do is be aware. Everywhere we look, whether in the world around us, in our relationships, or in ourselves, God is present and at work. But we get distracted, we turn away from him, and fall into all sorts of troubles. We need to come back to our home. In Jesus, God has entered the world in a new way, and is calling us back to the way we were supposed to be. Jesus himself was always aware of God the Father in everything that he did. He has given us the power by his Spirit to do this as well.

My encouragement for today would be to practice being aware of God throughout the day, whenever you can. When you meet someone, when you go to a new place, or when you have a quiet moment to yourself. This is one of the great disciplines of the Christian life.

-Andrew-

A New Season

I’m writing this now, just a week after my commissioning service as the Senior Minister of St. Mark’s. Along with Camille, Ethan and Finn, I am pleased to be in this place. Our family has been so blessed by the experience of joining this church, and I’m looking forward to becoming a part of this community and sharing our lives with you.

As yesterday was the shortest day of the year, it made me reflect on the different seasons and the benefits and difficulties they bring. For instance, I love the cold weather, but I also love the sun! Churches have their own seasons too, when we have different opportunities to learn new things from God, and when we face different challenges.

Many people have said to me that they feel our church is now entering a new season of its life, after a period of reflection and strengthening in our dependence on God. This new season is likely to be one of change and renewed vision for the future of St. Mark’s. Our challenge is to take the lessons of grace and dependence on God that we have learnt, and apply them to this exciting new season.

My first job as your new minister is to get to know St. Mark’s, its people and ministries, and to begin to understand our community. I also hope to start our conversation about our church’s vision, and through that, to take us back to the heart of our mission as a church. So I aim to be in regular communication with you about this process, and to keep the big picture in front of us all as we go along. I’m starting my time here with a series of sermons I’ve called ‘Signposts’, which are principles that I deeply care about and which I believe need to be part of the future of our church. On Sunday I put forward my first principle, ‘Grace Comes First’, which means that everything we have and everything we do is a gift from God, both as our Creator and as our Saviour in Jesus Christ. This sets us free to face every season of life with hope. If you want to stay in touch with this series, you can follow our podcast at www.stmarksemerald.org.au/stm_podcast/  I also expect to update our blog and Facebook page twice a week with various reflections as we go.

I’m looking forward to getting to know you, and please say hello and drop me a line if you want to talk more about what’s happening at St. Mark’s. My email is andrew.bowles@stmarksemerald.org.au.

-Andrew-