Monday the 17th August
That’s quite a familiar 2 word phrase isn’t it? I suspect that in everyday conversation, we use it more as a discussion starter than a real question. We don’t really want to hear a list of all of the things that are new in the other persons life now do we? It’s a bit like asking “how are you going?” Do we really want to know or is it just our way of engaging with another person.
I used to own a business in a major shopping centre. Amongst other things, we sold really good coffee. I was working out the back one day when my business partner came in and was laughing uncontrollably. When she calmed down enough, she told us about some guy she had just made a coffee for. While she was making the coffee, she had tried to strike up a chat with the guy who had placed the order. She commenced by simply asking, “so, how have you been on this fine morning?” Not too good; I’ve just been told that I have cancer and that I only have 3 months to live. My business partner, not expecting such a response said that “there was an awkward pause, and then I looked at this guy and said “Oh; $4.00 thanks””
Now, there’s nothing remotely funny about being sick; there’s certainly nothing funny about being told that your mortality is about to take centre stage. I just think that it’s a good story to highlight the idea that when we use phrases like “how are you going”, or “What’s new”, we are not generally prepared for a response that actually answers the question in some detail. I want to spend a coupe of paragraphs looking at the phrase “what’s new”; come for the journey with me yes?
Just last week, I put up a video on this website with a wonderful bit of teaching from Erwin McManus. Click here if you want to have a look at that 10 minute message. It’s certainly worth the time. In the message, he starts by asking us to think about the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 1:9; “there is nothing new under the sun”. He goes into some detail about considering how this claim from Solomon stands up against a whole bunch of scriptural directives: Isaiah 43:19 - Behold I am doing a new thing. Lamentations 3; 22 & 23 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning just to name a couple. Rather than me explaining his argument, you would be better off just having a look at the video. I more just want to use the concept to get our heads into that space of considering what it means for us if these words from Lamentations & Isaiah are true.
For a believer, someone asking us “what’s new” should be one of the most arresting questions that we ever get asked. The more I think on it, the more I am convinced that even just beginning to understand the words of Lamentations and Isaiah, is the path to two of the most liberating concepts in all of Christendom. Add your reflections on these scriptures to the transforming power of the cross, and you begin to construct a pillar of belief upon which you can build your entire belief system. What’s new? Everything!! I have been transformed by the renewal of my mind; what’s new? God extends new mercies to me every morning. Think about that. When you roll out of bed, clambering for the heater and a coffee, God is also there extending his mercy to you afresh. You can start again. I’m not for a minute saying that anyone who asks you “hey what’s new” should get a full frontal theological assault; what I would be hoping is that the next time someone greets you with that phrase, you should remember these words and smile a little smile at the knowledge of every single new thing that God is doing in you, every day.
A few weeks ago, in the middle of isolation & lockdown, Bernie & I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. Someone asked me if we did anything special. I replied, “yep, we went for a trip to the lounge room, then followed up by having lunch in a little table by the window in the kitchen”. I guess I’m adding this story to look at the idea that all of us have to live within limitations that are not all of our own doing. However, even in the middle of these externally imposed restrictions, we can still embrace the idea that God is doing a new thing, and that there are new mercies available each day. Paul & Silas famously ended up in prison; locked in by circumstances imposed by external forces, they chose to continue worshipping God. We are locked in and locked down, but now more than ever we need to embrace the fullness of what God is offering us through these words; the offer of mercy is there; the offer of new life and a new way of thinking is there. We have to learn how to embrace it. It is my belief that when we do, doors on our core purpose will be flung open, much like the jail doors around Paul & Silas were opened. Then we can step into that creative realm where I believe God invites all of to discover Him more deeply.
But that’s a subject for another day.
So, what’s new?
Thursday the 13th August
Some thoughts for this season.
It’s a little bit hard to believe the changes that this year has brought about to our every day, usually steady, mostly predictable lives. However, these changes have also brought about a season of possibilities and a season where the miraculous has occurred, and continues to occur.
I look around to see individuals rising up and blessing others in such wonderful ways- dropping into letter boxes, cards; letters; food; flowers… making calls to people who may be in need of a touch of God’s love, a kind word through one of His faithful servants.
I see a community that continues to bless and encourage each other in practical ways. I see the school community- never in a more unpredictable educational climate – morph into providing education in a more caring, more practical, more balanced way and caring for the needs of the whole family at the same time. I see teachers stepping out of their comfort zones, connecting with families on a whole different level.
I see churches working together more through the emergency relief network- all asking how can we support each other more in meeting the needs of those around us?
I see generosity of spirit rising up daily. I see a commitment to the principles of the gospels and the calling placed upon us all.
I see you, River Valley as being such a blessing to each other, to your families and to the community.
Keep up the good fight, remembering what and who is important. Our God is totally amazing, reliable, trustworthy. His love is transforming. His promises to us are for yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Tell everyone about God’s power. His majesty shines down on Israel; His strength is mighty in the heavens. God is awesome in His sanctuary. The God of Israel gives power and strength to His people. Praise be to God!
Take a moment today… don’t reach for a book or a device…close your eyes… keep your thoughts from wandering on the things that are occurring around you and simply fix your heart on the One who loves you. Think about His compassion. Dwell on His promises. Consider His majesty and the army of angels He commands. Whatever your needs are , He will provide. He alone is the answer.
Psalm 16:8 states: “I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me”.
May you be richly blessed in His presence today.
Jenny (Simmo) Syme
Sunday the 9th August
New Wine & Bolognese
Tonight God showed up in the Bolognese sauce!! Now that I have your attention, let me explain. Sunday night is pasta night in our place. Has been for many a good year. So tonight, as the tomato puree was just coming up to the right temperature, I had a moment of pause. I know what the Bible says about God’s timing, but frankly, there have been many an occasion where I thought that God could have timed that better. I’m a songwriter & I’ve got to tell ya, there are so many times when I’ve woken in the middle of the night with a tune or a key word/idea in my head. Really God?? I would be much more receptive if you wanted to convey all of that stuff to me just after I’ve had my morning coffee. For those who are wondering, I am of course, joking. Not about the Bolognese though.
Tonight, as I was preparing dinner, Bernie was working on something on the sewing machine; we had some music playing; life was fine. I had a music playlist randomly shuffling on my phone. When an old favourite song came up, the awakening and revelation was like a slap in the face. The song was New Wine, from Brooke Ligertwood at Hillsong. At the start of 2020, this seemed to be an important song for us at River Valley; it seemed to create a moment where we just knew that God wanted to communicate something special for us, to us & through us. In short, I now believe that God wanted us to individually and collectively recommit ourselves as we grew in our understanding of what the “new wine” scripture (and hence the song) was all about.
No one pours new wine into old wineskins. The wine would swell and burst the old skins.[b]
Then the wine would be lost, and the skins would be ruined.
New wine must be put into new wineskins.
Both the skins and the wine will then be safe.
The parable here is an exciting promise direct from God. It is the precursor to God doing something new and wonderful, but we must prepare for it; we must get ready to receive it, even though we don’t know what it is yet. If we don’t prepare, Jesus is telling us that the thing that God is going to do may well tear us. Sounds terrific & terrifying in the same sentence. I believe that God was commissioning us at the beginning of the year, to prepare for what he was going to do. To let our lives embrace the new wineskins so that God could pour out what He is going to do in each one of us. But here’s the thing that caught hold of me whilst stirring the bolognese; you can’t (I can’t) sing the song about New Wine, with all of the depth of it’s meaning, and then be surprised when God does something that we weren’t expecting. You/I, asked Him, to do it!!
I don’t for a second think that God has caused this global virus; I do however believe in the scripture “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord” (Rom 8:28). So, what if God was using this time to draw us to a place where we empty our old wineskins out, leave them behind & get ready to embrace and fill the new ones? Our old ways and understandings of this church that belongs to God? Lay it down, pour out the old wine. Our understanding of how God actually engages with humanity? Lay it down. Our understanding of what it means to represent Jesus Christ in this contemporary world? Lay it down. Our concept of how God provides, of how he answers prayer, of how to be His hands & feet? What if every aspect of how we understand our lives with God is being tipped on its head and God is saying “just empty yourself out; get rid of the old wineskins; I WILL do something new, you just need to get ready to receive it. And when I do pour it out, you will be glad you took the time to get new wineskins ready”
We can’t meet as a congregation; we have to obey a curfew; we have to cover our faces; most of us can’t catch up with the ones who are closest to us. What we each do have (well, most of us) is time to get on our knees and pray the prayer that this beautiful song evokes. I don’t know what Brooke was intending us to see hear and feel when she wrote this; as you listen through again, maybe focus in on this prayer, the chorus of the song.
Make me Your vessel
Make me an offering
Make me whatever You want me to be
I came here with nothing
But all You have given me
Jesus, bring new wine out of me
Monday the 3rd August
In the era of Global pandemic that we find ourselves in, I’m wondering about lots of things that I’ve never really thought about before. You are probably the same. Some of them trivial and minor, and some of them are meditations on core existence thoughts. I do my best to invite all of them into my circle of thought and let them roll around for a bit.
Here we are, on the first day of stage 4 lockdown and I have so many thoughts on this matter that are competing for space. Is this the end times? Are all of the people that I love and care for going to get through this time? What will the church look like on the other side of all this? What lessons do we as the church need to embrace & act upon? Why do people panic buy? Which bits of the media do I need to listen to and which do I need to ignore? With so many issues, how do I focus my prayer and not lose heart? Believe me, this list could keep on going. In the middle of all of this pondering, I received a text from an old friend. He said,
“ I am retiring on Sep 30, but who knows what that will look like now that we are in Category 4 lockdown. The good news is that Jesus is with us and that the Holy Spirit is leading us in the right way forward. More than ever, it’s time to be encouraging others.”
What a wonderful text to receive. It got me thinking. The answer to many of my questions, or at least, the beginning of the answer, is quite simple. Not simplistic but simple. God does have answers for us; through His word, through the life of His son, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at a few pertinent examples.
“Will the church survive? Will the church look different on the other side of this? Well Matthew 16:18 tells us that Jesus spoke to Peter saying “You are Peter (which means rock), and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”. So will the church survive? According to our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ, yes. Will it look different? Any quick or detailed look at the church will tell you that the church has been changing since the day it was commissioned. It is an organic entity which by default should mean that it is always changing as we learn and grow and as the circumstances around it grow. The core of the church, that is the salvation message of Jesus as good news for all, is alive and well and a constant heartbeat; this part doesn’t change as God is the same today, yesterday & forever. The Church needs to keep finding new ways to tell that ancient story to every successive generation. So you ask, “will the church look different at the end of all of this?” Oh I hope so.
What about “Is this the end times”? Hmm; I’ve been bombarded with a lot of theories on this subject over the years. Whilst it might be a fun “late night” discussion topic, I have 2 thoughts; I was once at a lecture on church history where the professor opened with this statement; “do you realise that every generation throughout history has thought it was living in the end times?” What a sobering observation. My second thought is this; Matthew 24:36 which says, “however, no one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven nor the son Himself. Only the Father knows”. This word from Matthew is pretty conclusive. Not convinced? Here’s my own take on it. Whether Jesus comes again in my lifetime or not, at some point in the undisclosed future, I will take my last breath; I will as it were, enter my own version of the end times. This is one of the very few things that you & I can be certain of. Pandemic or not, I can be comforted by the idea that every day I wake up, it could be the last one for me, or for someone that I love & care about. I need to live my life, knowing that in whatever form each day takes, Jesus is just around the corner.
With so many other thoughts popping up that I could reflect upon, I would rather leave that for another day, and end with this thought; I mentioned a scripture above, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today & forever”. Ponder that one for a few minutes and see what conclusions it brings you to. If you are feeling discouraged, then let this word encourage you. The continuity that God is telling us about is very real & accessible & can lift our relationship with the creator to a whole new level. I listen to the news, but if God is the same as this words assures us, then I listen with a different set of ears; I listen with a prayer on my lips; I listen, free from fear; I respond much like Paul & Silas, not bothered by what looks like chains and locked doors keeping me imprisoned; I listen to what God is saying in the middle of all of the noise. And you my River Valley Brothers & sisters; I listen & I pray for you, for our local expression of His church. Be encouraged; Jesus Christ is the same in the middle of this pandemic, as he was before it.
Lord, I trust your word, I trust you, free me from fear, ground my hope in hope; even if the cell doors are locked & I feel like I am in chains, I will worship, praise & trust you.