Mother’s Day talk 2017

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Some people were asking about last week’s sermon on Hannah from 1 Samuel 1 and 2.

You can find the audio here

[Thanks to the hard working audio and production and web guys from SPCH to get it posted!]

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Michael Leunig on Identity


The famous Australian cartoonist gave this speech last year at The Disrupted Festival of  Ideas at the State Library of WA. I think some of his observations about the state of public discourse in Australia are on the money. Here’s a sample:

In a land that worships winners, doles out awards, trophies and medals for even the most dubious achievements, and has discomfort with the acknowledgement of loss and grief, negativity is often repressed from conversation – perhaps for fear that the barbeque will run out of gas, or the beer will go flat. If we express sadness, we are often told to cheer up. If we express joyfulness about beauty, we are told to calm down, particularly if we are male.

Does Australia have a problem with introspection, joy, sadness, or beauty? Is there the sufficient cultural humility, openness or courage required to enter into these personal matters? Publicly?

It’s as if we are becoming constricted by our rampant materialism and secularity, and more adverse to soulfulness or the negative capability required to access the profound mysteries of existence. We have become timid and embarrassed about this eternal frontier.

We seem addicted to factual certainty and a vehement secular hope in the promise of science. Being right, even about trivial things. has become very important We rush too quickly for answers or a diagnosis of our social ills; we are wary of the unknowable, we turn away from lyricism, metaphor and poetic truth in our existential insecurity, we embrace the clinical language of law and statistics to explain our human condition – and in so doing, define our identity too narrowly, too technically, too starkly in a new form of modernist fundamentalism. We limit ourselves. We are a nation that appears to be afraid of the darkness – the fertile darkness, and in that sense we have an infantile or immature streak.

Alas I have found it is the more soulful or spiritual expression and the sincerity of the idiosyncratic or visionary intelligence that gets too much persecuted and mocked. That’s what is declared irrelevant by those who presume to ordain the nature of reality. The fact that intelligent personal truth can be so intolerable and forbidden in the public domain, would suggest that the nation is either becoming a huge committee of cautious, if not insipid and frightened individuals – or else a lynch mob of egotistical, brain ridden fanatics projecting certitudes and opinions most forcefully and fiercely through mainstream and social media in a delusional quest for power. How bitter, fast and unloving is the cult of cleverness. How arrogant and vain.

It seems to me a great pity, that people should withhold their convictions and wisdom through intimidation and fear of the mob – be it an educated intellectual mob or a mob of brutes. We are impoverished as a nation by this cultural inhibition and shaming of our true nature, with all its benefits and genius that should be feeding into the life-blood of society as a regenerative stimulant and nourishment. It happens as much in art as it does in politics or public discourse.



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A momentous night in the life of St Paul’s Castle Hill


Last night was a significant night in the history of St Paul’s!

Over the last 3 years, the Parish Council (elected leaders) have been considering the future of St Paul’s, especially in the light of growth that God has brought to the congregations and the pressure that has put on space on our site. This led them to consider all the alternatives, summarised nicely by this little video.

Over the last few months, a vision has been shared with the congregations for a redevelopment of our site, culminating in a new purpose built auditorium along with attendant car parking and spaces for ministries to function (see the 6 stages proposed here).

Last Sunday, Pastor Oscar Muriu from Nairobi Chapel (in Kenya, a partner church of ours) challenged all of our congregations to think about the legacy we would leave and to “be brave, not safe” as we though about heading into the future.


Last night, more than 300 people gathered into the church building to consider the a motion to commence with Stages 1 and 2 ‘as soon as possible’.


This would mean expanding the current building to 750 seats, building new mothers and toddlers rooms, constructing new meeting spaces and offices, along with other bits and pieces to prepare for future stages; it would also mean committing ourselves prayerfully and financially to the project, to the tune of $5.8 million dollars.


The motion was put, and a secret ballet taken, with the options of ‘yes’ (I support and will commit) or ‘no’.

The votes were counted in public view, and the tally was:

330 votes collected

4 informal

17 no

309 yes!

That means 94% of those gathered said yes to going forward with the plan, and committing themselves to seeing it happen under God’s good hand. Amazing!


This means we have committed ourselves to continue pushing to reach the least, the last, and the lost, with even more fervour as we think of the train line opening in 2019 and the predicted 100 000 extra people moving into the Hills after that time.

Exciting and challenging days are ahead! Praise be to God!

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Finding yourself

“You will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it… Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.”

C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Fransisco: Harper, 2001), 226.

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10 Leadership Theories in 5 minutes (with cartoons!)

h/t @TDBowden

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An Easter Poem

Easter SLIDE

A wonderful expression of Easter, by Carl Leggo, a University of British Columbia Professor

Empty Tomb

Jesus lived the earth’s experience
of womb to tomb, but the womb
was not the beginning, and
the tomb was not the ending

the Gospel of John begins:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.

the Christian story is a murder mystery:
the Word is murdered,
the world murders the Word,
the Creator is crucified
by the created, an act of heartless
ingratitude beyond imagination

the same wise Word that spoke
the world into creation is murdered
by the world’s noisy sin-bent
heart-breaking imbecilic betrayal

while the Word knew the world
the world did not know the Word

and with the death of the Word
poetry died, too, and darkness
and despair filled songs with
such steady sad silence, joy and
hope were choked, suffocated

but no tomb could hold the Word for long,
the empty tomb is really a tome without end,
a story that defies definitions, all the words
in all the languages in all the dictionaries
ever invented to tell it true, like it is

and so on this Easter morning,
we call out in our many languages,
our many voices, our many words,
the tomb is empty, Jesus is risen,
the Word is both lively and lovely

the Christian story is a rollicking romance:
the Word who loves us with sacred abandon
is the author of faith, salvation, life, our rock,
redemption, righteousness, our resurrection,
words with rock and roll rhythms that
call us to dance our loose-limbed joy

even the torturous cross blooms
with a wild earth heart bouquet,
chants a meadow of wildflowers

on this new Easter morning
let us dance in the meadow
as we remember the empty tomb
and know the meaning nobody knew
on the first Easter morning, long ago,
how the hole, the empty tomb,
is like the zero in mathematics and
spells the fullness of other relationships,
connections, and possibilities

everything makes sense finally
because of the hole, the tomb’s
emptiness, the zero’s nothingness,
which opens up all hopes and beginnings

so we can know the fullness of life,
now and forever, know the Word lives,
know the Word loves you and me, all of us

the Gospel of John ends:
Jesus did many other things as well.
If every one of them were written down,
I suppose that even the whole world
would not have room for the books
that would be written.

on this Easter morning,
let us belly laugh with the angels, sing
to the creation from the soles of our feet
as we dance with the Creator who loves us
beyond all our words with the perfect love
only the Word can write in poems for filling
us with the lyrical light of his morning star

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The Trinity in Revelation – so what?

Revelation has the most developed trinitarian theology in the New Testament, with the possible exception of the Gospel of John…

At the same time as it withholds the glory of God from a world in which the powers of evil still hold sway, it recognises the presence of God in this present world in the form of the slaughtered Lamb and the seven Spirits who inspire the church’s witness. By placing the Lamb on the throne and the seven Spirits before the throne it gives sacrificial love and witness to truth (emphasis mine) the priority in the coming of God’s kingdom in the world, while at the same time the openness of the creation to the divine transcendence guarantees the coming of the kingdom. God’s rule does not contradict human freedom, as the coercive tyranny of the beast does, but finds it fulfilment in the participation of people in God’s rule: that is, in the coincidence of theonomy and autonomy.

Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge University Press, 1993), 164.

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A strategy for growing small groups


Today ( Sunday 20th July) is Small Groups Day at St Pauls.

Why is that?

Two years ago at St Paul’s, we decided to re-engineer our Small Groups year. Instead of running on the default calendar year (Jan – Dec), we moved to the financial year model (July – June). We did this for a number of reasons:

1. We found that trying to get groups up and running during January – February was very difficult. Everybody is trying to settle into the rhythm of a new year with all of its commitments.

2. We found that there was lots of competition for ‘air time’ during the beginning of the year to give small groups any profile at all. There are youth camps and the start of all the programmes, let alone the big push in our first term preaching programme. There was no space.

3. We found that asking people to think about intentionally dividing their groups to create new groups at the end of the year got lost in all of the busyness around end of school year and Christmas and summer holidays.

So, we changed the calendar.

Our Small Groups Year now begins at the start of Term 3, which is mid July. This gives us several advantages:

1. We have a clear space to have a dedicated recruitment drive into Small Groups in our church, that will happen every year.

2. We can ask people to join Small Groups at a time of year when the rest of life is fairly stable. This means people know when they have time to come out to a group. It also means our groups are stable over the upheaval that is Christmas and summer holidays.

3. We have a fixed point in the calendar (a ‘rock in the road’) that forces every small group to evaluate where they are up to, and be intentional in continuing or rebirthing or ending. This means there is a focus point for the training and sending out of co leaders who can start more groups.

4. We have 6 months lead up at the front end of the year where we can train new leaders to be ready for those we recruit at Small Groups Day.

To mark the beginning of the Small Groups year, we have Small Groups Day. We commission leaders for the year, we pray for those who are in groups, and we invite those who are not yet in groups to join.

Of course, people can (and do) join Small Groups at any point of the year. We have other processes for this. But Small Groups Day means that once a year, we have focused attention and profile on Small Groups, and an intentional recruitment drive for all those not yet in a group.

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My favourite song from the new CityAlight album

New CityAlight album “Yours Alone”, from St Pauls Castle Hill in Sydney, Australia.

Last Sunday saw the launch of the new album from the music ministry (“CityAlight”) of St Paul’s Castle Hill, “Yours Alone” (available here).

This album features 10 brand new songs written by the team at St Pauls, and 1 energetic rearrangement of a classic hymn, ‘Nothing But the Blood’. The songs have been sung and loved by the folk at St Pauls over the last 18 months, and it is a delight to record them and make them available to the wider world. A huge thank you to all of the music and production team that worked so hard to turn a dream into a reality that will serve the wider church!

I really like all of the songs that were recorded live at St Paul’s, but I do have a favourite.

My favourite is ‘Praise the Saviour’, and if you look at the lyrics below, you might see why.

Jonny Robinson

All my sin was so contagious
All my failing so outrageous
Says the Saviour, “I will pay this!”
Praise the Saviour, Jesus

I was lost once, full of hate then
If He left us who could blame him?
Says the Saviour, “I will claim them!”
Praise the Saviour, Jesus

Such a freedom! Who could earn this?
Who could pay for this forgiveness?
Says the Saviour, “It is finished!”
Praise the Saviour, Jesus

Praise the Saviour, praise the King
This our song, our song shall be! (x3)

Praise the Saviour, praise the King

Now, the Treasure of my whole life
I will stand soon by Your own side,
Says the Saviour, “Welcome home child!”
Praise the Saviour, Jesus

© 2014 CityAlight Music
CCLI # 6429010

This song combines 3 things that make the classic old timeless hymns so great, and hopefully makes this a classic being sung in 50 years time across the world as well:

1. Great theology.

2. Wonderful poetic expression of that great theology.

3. A powerful, easily singable melody.

The last verse in particular is incredibly moving, and a timely reminder of the hope that Christians have in the face of a world that forgets the eternal in favour of the here and now.

Do yourself a favour and check out this song, and all the songs (here), and may they bless you and your church.

[All the lyrics and charts are available for free on the website as well]

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Does God change his mind?

I am speaking on Amos 7 this Sunday at church. At the beginning of Amos 7, God is described as ‘relenting’ (or ‘repenting’ in some translations) when Amos prays (Amos 7:3,6).

Does this mean God changes his mind when we pray?

Alec Motyer’s commentary on Amos is very helpful at this point:

“Under this expression (‘The LORD repented’) Amos is saying that the will of God is no harsh, unfeeling fate but is rather to be thought of as His loving concern for His frail and needy people.

The revelation of the locusts and fire is a statement of deserving – now and always. Equally, it represents a perpetual element in the divine nature: God’s ceaseless wrath against sin. We must not think that suddenly God’s anger got the better of Him and flared out against his people bu that, happily, Amos was on hand to pray Him into a better mind.

The wrath of God is perpetual: the automatic reaction of a holy nature faced with rebellion and unholiness. But equally eternal is His determination to take, save and keep a people for Himself. This is what the Scripture means when it speaks of Jesus as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8, 1 Pet 1:19,20) and of Christians as chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4).

It is because we cannot unify these two revealed strands of the divine nature that the Lord graciously accommodated the truth to our powers of expression and speaks of Himself as ‘repenting’. He represents Himself as hearing prayer and turning from wrath to mercy in order that we may thus understand something of what is involved in His love for us and how great is that love when He beholds us in all our need.

On the one hand, there must be that is His love which satisfies and soothes His wrath: for the exercise of the one attribute cannot bludgeon the other out of existence, else there were war and not harmony in the divine nature. It has been revealed to us that it is the blood of Jesus, the great divine gift of love, which satisfies the divine wrath (Rom 3:25). On the other hand, when the Lord look upon his people mercy triumphs over wrath.

All this is very humanly expressed. We wrestle with the unity and unanimity of the divine nature and the subject outstrips our poor logic. Yet He who knows all allows us to see that for us, His wretched, wrath-deserving helpless people, His love wins the day, and in that love we are safe.”

Alec Motyer, The Message of Amos (Leicester: IVP, 1974), 156-7.


[The only piece I would quibble with is his description of the believer, whom in God’s eyes, clothed in Christ’s grace, is not ‘wretched’ but a beloved child of God (1 John 3:1) – however, his point still stands.]


Here are some other resources which get at the question of God ‘changing his mind’:

Essay on ‘Does God Repent’ (looking at Exodus 32)

John Piper on the Sovereignty of God and Prayer

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