things I have learned from John the Baptist - part two

Not only have I been struck again by John's humilty, and clear awareness of his own role in relation to Jesus - I have also grown through unpacking just what it was that John was called to do.When the Jewish people, especially those sent by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, ask John who he is, his answer is:

"The voice of one calling in the wilderness, make straight the way for the Lord." (John 1:23)

Definitely a cryptic answer when viewed from a 21st century perspective - but no doubt many of those listening would recognise the quotation from Isaiah 40:3.  John is stating that he is the forerunner to Christ, as prophesied long ago.  John's job is to make straight the way for the Lord, to prepare the way for Jesus, to shout out in every way possible - "Get ready!  Jesus is coming!  Sort yourselves out!"

Getting ready is something we're used to in everyday life.  Anyone else with young kids will confirm that getting ready to leave the house is a mammoth task in and of itself.  Forget a spare nappy, or some snacks, or worst of all a stuffed elephant, and the day is pretty much a write off!  While it takes soooo much time, it really is worth being ready!

The people of Israel were totally not ready for Jesus to come amongst them.  John's role was to nudge, or rather, shove them into action.  Luke fills in a few of the gaps about what John's 'get ready' role was to be (Luke 1:14-17).

  • To turn people back to their God
  • To turn the hearts of parents to their children
  • To turn the disobedient to the righteous
  • To give people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins

This grabs me most of all when I realise that John wasn't just an interesting, if not slight weird sideshow to the main event of Jesus.  John, the prophetic preparation party for Jesus, was a significant part of the story, one foreseen by Isaiah a few hundred years earlier.

Jesus could surely have just rocked up and started moving and shaking (!), but instead he wanted his people to be ready, to be prepared, to be in the right frame of mind - and life - to get the message. 

"Get ready" was a hugely important message for the people of Israel two thousand years ago.  "Get ready" is a massively important message for me, for us, for followers of Jesus, and for the world in 2012 as well.

Am I ready?

Update on ministry in Tasmania

For those who are further away (and maybe interested people closer to home too) here is an article I wrote recently for the Bush Church Aid Society - our partner mission organisation (who are very generously funding a significant portion of my position here in Tasmania).  It gives a brief overview of what's been happening and what we're up too in Tasmania since we arrived here in 2010.

We moved to Launceston in April 2010, just two years after arriving in Australia, and  following nine years church planting and student ministry in the UK and Germany.  Our growing family (Liz was six months pregnant when we moved!) was made to feel very welcome by the small congregation at St Barnabas' Anglican Church, Newnham and by Bishops John and Ross and other members of the Diocesan team. While we were hugely excited about this opportunity to serve God in pioneering ministry with students and young adults and within the Anglican church - each of these elements being things I feel specifically called to - we also realised the amount of work, time and energy which would be needed to even begin seeing this ministry develop.

Our ministry in Launceston is a long-term ministry with small beginnings.  I have come to see that we have twin priorities here: 1. the creation of a culture of discipleship and mission among students at the university, and 2. the replanting of St Barnabas' Anglican Church (Barney's as we now call it!) to be a healthy, missional community of disciples.

In February, we began gathering university students together once a fortnight on Thursday evenings - for worship, teaching, prayer and sharing what Jesus’ is doing in our lives.  We began casting vision for a network of small groups, across the campus, sharing life, reading the bible together, growing as disciples together, and praying and ministering together, and witnessing to their friends together.  In the last few months we have seen four groups emerge, who are beginning this journey of discipleship and mission together.

I have been able to gather sixteen student leaders with a proven desire to grow as disciples, into three leadership huddles meeting fortnightly - where we explore together some of the key principles of discipleship which Jesus taught, and hold each other accountable to applying these principles in our own lives.

Despite the hope that the refurbished building at Barney’s would be completed around the time of our arrival, we were finally able to move in May 2011!  Yet even in the midst of this very challenging situation, we saw God’s faithfulness, providing people with the gifts needed to complete the project just when we could see no way forward.

Even after the building opened, we were challenged with some key members of the already small congregation falling ill and being unable to contribute all they had previously been able too.  And yet here again, we see God lifting us and calling us to greater faith in him.  We have had some really encouraging gatherings at Barney’s in the last three months or so, with some teenagers becoming Christians, a couple of young families joining the church who have been away from church for some time, and still others feeling called to join us in replanting the church.

The biggest lesson we have been learning over the last few months is the real wisdom of trusting everything to God, and learning to abide in him, and follow him like the Israelites followed the pillars of cloud and fire.  I am learning to lay down my “good ideas” and really discern what God is doing and trust him.  Zechariah challenges the remnant of the people of Israel not to despise the day of small things.  I no longer do.  I’m excited to see God’s work beginning and growing, even though there is a long way to go. 

As you can tell, this is very much a work in progress, and we're learning loads of great 'trust in God' type lessons as we go.  Which I am really grateful for...

About BCAThis article was originally written for the Summer 2011 edition of The Real Australian - the quarterly magazine of The Bush Church Aid Society.

If you want more information on BCA, visit their website.  You can also read about the many other missional projects around Australia which they support, or sign-up and receive their prayer notes and magazine every three months.

Waiting...

I hate waiting.  I am impatient.  I think I always have been.  Just in the last week, I've got frustrated waiting on hold to change an address on my credit card, tried to avoid a traffic jam by going a different way (which invariably takes longer!), and felt myself losing all sanity waiting for my kids to finish their tea…..  I hate waiting.

Which is interesting - when we're in the season of advent - which is all about waiting, and expecting, remembering the waiting and expectation of those who were waiting for Jesus' birth.  And not only that, but remembering that we too, as followers of Jesus, are waiting and looking forward with great hope and expectation to the day when Jesus comes again.

Waiting for Jesus' birth

At Barney's this Sunday, we thought about two people who Luke writes about (Luke 2:25-40), who had been waiting for Jesus birth for a long, long time - Simeon and Anna.  Simeon was a righteous and devout man, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel.  And Anna, an 84 year old widow, who had been worshiping in the temple day and night for almost all of her life.  When Mary and Jesus bought Jesus to the temple when he was eight days old, both these old, faithful, patient worshippers rejoiced and gave thanks to God.  Their waiting had an end, the hope they had been longing for had come to pass, their expectations were fulfilled.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,  which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (v30-32)

Waiting for the Wedding Party

When he was a bit older than eight days old, Jesus told a story about waiting (Matt 25:1-13) to help people understand what the Kingdom of God was like.  He talked about ten virgins who were bridesmaids at a wedding.  Their job was to light burning lamps or torches and light the way for the bridegroom when he arrived for the wedding party.  They were waiting a long time - and five of the bridesmaids didn't have oil for the lamps.  They weren't well enough prepared to wait.  While they were off buying oil (in the middle of the night!) the bridegroom arrived.  Five of the bridesmaids went on in to the party.  The others missed out...

Waiting for the Kingdom of God

Jesus' story of waiting for the bridegroom and the wedding party is massively important for us today.  We're all waiting - not just for Christmas - but for the Kingdom of God to break in to our lives and to our world more and more and more.  We're waiting for the day when Jesus returns, and finally restores everything in heaven and on earth to the way he originally intended it to be.  It feels well overdue.  And we don't like waiting.

I'm reminded in this season of advent, to keep waiting.  To keep looking forward with expectation and hope.  To remember that Jesus hasn't given up on this world - far from it.  His Kingdom is present and at hand, it's breaking in all around us, and the day will come, when we see him face to face, and the broken world around us is restored and made the way God originally intended it to be.

I'm challenged to wait like Simeon - who was sure of his future hope.  I'm challenged to wait like Anna - with continual devotion to God, with worship, with prayer, with fasting, with hope.  And I'm challenged to wait, not like the unprepared bridesmaids - not being unprepared, uncommitted, half-hearted, apathetic, - but rather like those who were well prepared, who were ready, who were engaged, who's eye was on the ball, who were, in a very real way, shining as lighten the darkness.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)