Thankfulness is a funny thing…

Thankfulness is a funny thing.

By its very nature the giving of thanks cuts straight across the self-focus of the human heart. When we are thankful for something, we acknowledge that we are in someone else’s debt…

…that there are good things in our lives for which it just doesn’t seem appropriate to pat ourselves on the back. We pause for a day at Thanksgiving to think about the blessings we enjoy – the way our lives, with all their challenges, trials, and disappointments, are actually much better than we could have accomplished for ourselves in our own strength, and much better than we know we deserve.

And that seems to be the case even for unbelievers. Even the most prideful person will admit, if he’s honest with himself, that, strangely enough, it feels good to be thankful. We enjoy giving thanks. Something just feels…right… about it.

Storm-Bay-Kiama-with-the-KIama-Showground-opposite-surrounded-with-Norfolk-Island-Pine-trees-Image-Credit-Gerringong-Australia-PhotographyAnd that’s because we’re tapping into the reality that life isn’t most ultimately about us and making much of ourselves. We’re catching a glimpse of the reality that absolutely everything that we have – from our job to the air we breathe – is owing to the goodness of Another. You see, we are designed to humble ourselves in the presence of Someone infinitely more worthy than us. And we are designed to give praise and thanksgiving to Him for the comforts of this life. The pleasure we feel in thanksgiving is a parable from the God of the universe that teaches us that our glory is not the goal of our lives, but that His glory is.

And so if you’re reading this and you’re not a believer in Jesus Christ, can I ask you to stop and think about why, at this time of year, it feels right to deflect the glory? Would you pause a moment and think about why in the world that is? You truly feel, and therefore say, the words, “I’m thankful for ______.”

But have you ever asked yourself whom you’re thankful to for those gifts? Indeed, that they are gifts and therefore have come from a Giver?

Thanksgiving on Norfolk Island

Since the 1890’s the community of Norfolk Island have been decorating All Saints Kingston and celebrating Thanksgiving together.

The Pilgrims, following their first harvest in the New World in 1621, hosted the very first Thanksgiving; a celebration feast offering thanks to God for his bountiful provision, protection and care over them in the New World.

George Washington Thanksgiving ProclomationThe first U.S. National Thanksgiving day of celebration started with a proclamation signed October 3, 1789 by the country’s first president, George Washington. Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” 

In 1863 amid the civil war, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.  It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. 

Thanksgiving_Proclamation_AbeLincolnAnd I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans. mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

How did the most American of holidays end up on a remote Australian territory in the middle of the South Pacific?

Mark Johanson (with our own Tom Loyd) of the IB Times explains (http://www.ibtimes.com/how-thanksgiving-became-holiday-remote-norfolk-island-893484):

“On Norfolk Island there is one day when all congregations join together, and that is to celebrate Thanksgiving Day,” he explained. “The Pitcairners always celebrated the English Harvest Home festival, but it was not until the mid-1890s that All Saints Church was specially decorated for the service.”

This was Isaac Robinson’s idea, Lloyd said. Robinson was an American trader who settled on Norfolk as agent for Burns Philp & Co Ltd., later becoming Norfolk’s Registrar of Lands and the island’s first (and so far only) United States consul.

“The idea of Norfolk having an American consul does sound slightly absurd today,” Lloyd admits, “but in those days American whalers made frequent calls, and Robinson proposed dressing the church up American-style for Thanksgiving.”

Three of Robinson’s friends helped him decorate All Saints Church in the capital, Kingston, using only palm leaves and lemons, and though he died and was buried at sea the next year, his notion caught on. For Norfolk’s second Thanksgiving service, the parishioners brought down all sorts of produce to decorate the church.

“The tradition became to tie corn stalks to the pew ends and pile flowers on the altar and the font,” Lloyd said. “At first, each family took home its own fruit and vegetables after the service, but today they are sold to raise money for church preservation.”

See you at All Saints!

God’s H.E.A.R.T

Gods-own-heart

Thom Rainer (a US pastor and writer) prays evangelistically using the simple acronym, “GOD’S HEART”. I think it’s excellent. Maybe this pattern will help you as you pray evangelistically too:

G = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will appreciate God’s grace. When we really appreciate what God has done for us, we naturally want to tell others about Him.

O = Pray for believers (beginning with yourself) to live in obedience to God. If we’re not walking in obedience to God, our disobedience hinders our prayers (Isa. 59:1-2). Remaining in Christ really does matter when we pray (John 15:7).

D = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will decide to tell others. Evangelism doesn’t just happen. Telling the story of Jesus is a choice… an action…a decision. We often know we should do evangelism, but decide not to do it. Pray that won’t happen.

S = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will speak the gospel fearlessly and clearly. In fact, that’s the way Paul taught us to pray in Ephesians 6:19-20 and Colossians 4:2-4.

H = Pray for your non-believing friend or loved one to have a receptive heart to the gospel. Apart from Christ, people are dead in their sin (Eph. 2:1), held under the devil’s sway (Acts 26:18). Only God can make our hearts open to the good news.

E = Pray that their spiritual eyes will be opened. Our non-believing friends or loved ones are blinded to the truth of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and the “god of this age” does all he can to keep them in darkness.

A = Pray that they will have God’s attitude toward sin. Understanding God’s remedy for sin begins with understanding our sickness. We’re all sinners (Rom. 3:23), and we must see our sin as God sees it – as wrong against a holy God.

R = Pray that your non-believing friend or lovedwill repent and believe. The message of Christ is clear: we must turn from our sin and trust Christ for salvation (Mark 1:15). God gets the glory as He frees nonbelievers from the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13).

T =  Pray their lives will be transformed. When God does that, the non-believing world takes note.

Who is praying for you to speak the gospel boldly and clearly? Are you praying for other believers to be evangelistic? Are you praying for non-believers? Are you asking God to save and transform a specific person? Even if you’ve been praying for someone for many years, don’t give up. God still responds to the prayers of His people. That’s His heart!  

Firing Squads, Jailhouse Religion and Amazing Grace

We must never forget that much of the Bible was written by murderers who were given a second chance – Moses, David, and Paul. We must never forget that our churches would be empty if we killed everyone who was deserving of death. 

Reformed Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and their six fellow prisoners were shot by a 12-member firing squad in the early hours of Wednesday morning. According to the pastors who were with them in their final hours, the men refused to wear blind-folds and spent their last minutes of life praising God by singing Amazing Grace. Andrew Chan famously became a Christian in jail, and right up until his death he led the worship service in Kerobokan prison. He attributed this change entirely to his religious conversion. But what are we to make of this hope that Chan carried with him right up until his death? Not everyone buys it. “Jailhouse religion” is the derisive term for crooks finding God in the hope of a pardon or better treatment and it’s fair to say that if there is no God then the whole episode looks like a meaningless waste.

Even as a Christian minister, a familiar accusation is that my religion is “a crutch”. I admit that many people are religious, not for rational reasons, but simply because they have an emotional need to believe that there is a heavenly Father that cares for them. On the other hand, we should also admit that many people reject religion, not for rational reasons, but simply because they have an emotional need to not believe that there is a heavenly King we have to obey. Aldous Huxley (author of A Brave New World) freely admitted this: “I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently I was able without much difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption….for myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.”

We need to admit that we have a built-in bias. In order to offset that, have you ever taken a long, hard look at the evidence for faith? If an honest judge had to sit in judgment on a claim against in which she knew she had a built-in bias, she would have to work to be diligent and objective in her examination. On the one hand, it means people who have a strong interest in God should undertake a careful examination of the arguments and evidence, so they don’t believe simply out of emotional need. But on the other hand, people who have an indifference to religion should undertake a careful examination of the arguments and evidence so they don’t disbelieve simply out of emotional need.

If Chan was onto something all those years ago when, in solitary confinement, he first sensed God alongside him as he read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, then he joins many others who have gone to their deaths in similar circumstances, not glad of the fate that awaited them, but hopeful, even confident that through their death they were in fact being ushered into life. Chan’s God is the God of second chances. Think about how Jesus approached those who had sinned in the Gospels. He highlights such teachings as “judge not lest you be judged”; “I did not come for the healthy but for the sick, not for the righteous but for the sinners” and “you’ve heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’ but I tell you there is another way”. Christ stood relentlessly for mercy, favouring forgiveness over punishment. There is actually an incident in the Gospels where Jesus is asked about the death penalty. A women has been humiliated and dragged before the town, ready to be killed. Her execution was legal; her crime was a capital one. But just because it was legal, didn’t make it right – and Jesus interrupts the scene with grace. In the passage in question, found in John 8, Jesus challenges the mob ready to stone an adulterous woman; famously declaring, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone” (v 7). The only one who is left with any right to throw a stone is Jesus – and he has absolutely no inclination to do so. It is this duel conviction that no one is above reproach and that no one is beyond redemption that lies at the heart of our faith. The beauty of it, is that closer we are to God the less we want to throw stones at other people. Of all people, we who follow the executed and risen Christ should be people who are consistently for mercy, for grace and for life.

We dare not forget the story – of a God who so loved the world that Jesus was sent, not to condemn the world but to save it. We must never forget that much of the Bible was written by murderers who were given a second chance – Moses, David, and Paul.

…We must never forget that our churches would be empty if we killed everyone who was deserving of death. And so this week, I both grieve and sing. Because, despite these terrible events I can join them in this prayer – amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.

Lest I forget Gethsemane

we nawa gwen forget dem 

ANZAC Day 2015 marked 100 years since the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. Norfolk Island’s own contribution to both world wars was, per capita, the largest in the Commonwealth, which is proudly remembered by all islanders. This year the dawn service was held, not at the Cenotaph, but at the location of the first service in 1917, Emily Bay.

The fact that we remember the Gallipoli campaign as a great national day must be odd to people of other countries. The Americans have Independence Day, the French have Bastille, the British have Waterloo and Trafalgar, but ANZAC Day centres on an ignominious defeat in a side show theatre of the Great War. It sounds like foolishness, but of course we understand that this defeat symbolised something far greater.

The Bible speaks of a far greater defeat that stands at the epicentre of human history. A defeat which seems like foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved is the very power of God (1 Cor 1:18). The foolishness is of course the death of Jesus the Christ, which is still a stumbling block to so many in all their ‘wisdom’.

Last Saturday we will rightly say ‘lest we forget’, as we remembered the great sacrifice of others for out mortal bodies, but last Sunday we remembered the immeasurably greater sacrifice of Jesus for our immortal souls.

Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.

Friends

In the 1990’s pub trivia was changed forever when ‘buddy sitcoms’ hit TV. Millions of people would tune in each week to see if Ross and Rachael would ‘finally’ get together, or for their weekly fix of Kramer-isms. In the 2000’s the trend continued with shows like How I Met Your Mother, New Girl, Scrubs and Community.

All these shows enjoy massive ratings. Each one starts with an eclectic bunch of young people with something in common – either their apartment block, New York City or their workplace. What they share draws them into a tight community, when otherwise they would have remained complete strangers.

What interests me is why these shows are so popular.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that the one thing that links them is community. We are drawn to community. We resonate strongly with the bonds of friendship. We laugh at the hilarity of the dysfunction, and cry when their love for each other overcomes any obstacles that threaten the group. We inwardly long to feel that sense of belonging that comes with community.

Of course as Christians this comes as no surprise. God himself is Trinity, a community – 3 persons in 1 God. So love, friendship and community are intrinsic to God’s character. People are drawn to community because humanity was designed by God to reflect his own nature. God created us in his image and so naturally we will also share his desire for intimate fellowship.

In Acts 2:42–47, we are given a glimpse into the life of the very first Christians. They were living life together, caring for and loving each other, meeting each other’s needs, eating together and hanging out every chance they could get. To emphasise this, the writer of Hebrews has this to say: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The community of God is a place that we can truly call home. Let’s take responsibility for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, continuing to live lives together for our good and God’s glory.

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.

UNIT Youth is almost here!

Next Friday night at the Parish Centre, the combined churches of Norfolk Island launch a new High School youth ministry called UNIT Youth.

UNIT Youth is a new initiative designed to provide excellent and intentional ministry to our young people – it’s an exciting program specifically designed for teenagers, where they can gather with other kids for fun, friendship, and Christian teaching. The first night of UNIT gets off to a fiery start with what we are calling Pyromaniac Craze Night. Why not join us for a relaxed BBQ dinner at 6.30pm before the night kicks off at 7.00pm.

10003925_624367047633863_414920252068855207_nMitchell Mahaffey has been employed to lead UNIT. Mitch is an experienced Youth Worker from the Sunshine Coast in QLD and holds a Certificate IV in Youth Work as well as a Certificate III in Outdoor Education. A team of adult volunteers including Mark and Jess Scott, Ashley and Grant Newman and even Rev. David Fell will assist Mitch. We are highly confident that your children will be carefully led and supervised by Mitch and his team. We are doubly confidant that they will receive teaching and mentoring that will greatly enhance their growth and development as young adults, es­pecially in the Faith. In fact, we believe that UNIT will become a genuine centre for counter-cultural influence, both protecting kids from negative peer pressure, and helping them to critically evaluate and navigate society.

But here is the thing – we need your support. We value partnering with parents in all of these things and we urge you to support this new venture by encouraging your kids to come!

We can’t wait to see you there! 

Friendship

The most central image for church goes right to the heart of our identity, it’s that we are family; brothers and sisters in Christ; sharing the one heavenly Father.

In his book The Four Loves, CS Lewis shares a beautiful meditation on his friends [Charles Williams] death in an essay entitled ‘Friendship.’

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out.  By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.  Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke.  Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald . . . In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God.  For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.  That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah 6:3).  The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.

Lewis is saying that it takes a community to know an individual!

How much more is this true of Jesus Christ? Christians commonly say they want a “relationship with Jesus”, that they want to “get to know Jesus better” but… We will never be able to do that by ourselves! “Only if you are part of a community of believers seeking to resemble, serve, and love Jesus will you ever get to know him and grow into his likeness” (Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, pp. 126-127).

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.

God’s Vision For Church

Last week marked my first morning in the Church of England pulpit, and I suppose the obvious questions were; WHAT is he going to be like? Or perhaps more importantly; WHAT is church going to be like, now that he’s here!?

And so I thought it would be good to spend some time examining Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and thinking about God’s vision for Church. How does GOD define church? I hope that doesn’t sound too pious, or like I’m avoiding those obvious (and good) questions, but that’s what REALLY matters isn’t i? What does the church mean to HIM!

In any case, I suspect that if we are united in the WHY of church, then the questions about WHAT it should be like, and the HOW we’re going to do it will only become more and more obvious…and we simply work those out together in time!

The book of Ephesians lifts our gaze. It enlarges our vision. God wants us to see the enormity of the change Jesus brings to the UNIVERSE and how THE CHURCH is at the very CENTRE of his plans for ALL TIME.

Admittedly, that can all seem a long way from everyday appearances. So we need to see beyond the EARTHLY. We need to see with SPIRITUAL eyes. To see our true identity, to see our true potential. So that’s what Paul PRAYS. Ch 1 v18

18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

We worry about decaying buildings, and who’ll fix the organ or whether someone will volunteer to run the Sunday School. We worry about dwindling numbers and tiring bodies.

But the King over every authority and power, past, present and future, visible and invisible, on earth and in heaven, head over governments, and media, and demons, and cancer, and natural disasters, and political uprisings, and army generals, IS FOR US, THE CHURCH.

That’s WHO we are. And WHOSE we are.

Father, I pray that the eyes of our HEARTS may be enlightened in order that we may know the HOPE to which you have CALLED us, to know the riches of your GLORIOUS INHERITANCE, and to know your incomparably great POWER for us who believe. AMEN

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.

That Incredible Christian

I was talking with someone recently who described Christians as being “like everybody else, except that they are forgiven and on their way to heaven”.

“I’m just a sinner saved by grace” is a common refrain among many Christians today; however, Christians haven’t always talked this way about the life of faith. It’s not that my friend was being trite in her description (no, she was very sincere); however, it does tend toward a shallow view of Christianity, especially to non-Christians.

We are not just sinners saved by grace. We are saints indwelled by the very Spirit of God!

AW Tozer in his famous article, “That Incredible Christian,” captures this idea well (note the contradictions):

  • The Christian believes that in Christ he has died, yet he is more alive than before and he fully expects to live forever.
  • He walks on earth while seated in heaven and though born on earth he finds that after his conversion he is not at home here.
  • Like the nighthawk, which in the air is the essence of grace and beauty but on the ground is awkward and ugly, so the Christian appears at his best in the heavenly places but does not fit well into the ways of the very society into which he was born.
  • The Christian soon learns that if he would be victorious as a son of heaven among men on earth he must not follow the common pattern of mankind, but rather the contrary.
  • That he may be safe he puts himself in jeopardy; he loses his life to save it and is in danger of losing it if he attempts to preserve it.
  • He goes down to get up. If he refuses to go down he is already down, but when he starts down he is on his way up.
  • He is strongest when he is weakest and weakest when he is strong.
  • Though poor he has the power to make others rich, but when he becomes rich his ability to enrich others vanishes.
  • He has most after he has given most away and has least when he possesses most.
  • He may be and often is highest when he feels lowest and most sinless when he is most conscious of sin.
  • He is wisest when he knows that he knows not and knows least when he has acquired the greatest amount of knowledge.
  • He sometimes does most by doing nothing and goes furthest when standing still.
  • In heaviness he manages to rejoice and keeps his heart glad even in sorrow.

The paradoxical character of the Christian is revealed constantly.

  • For instance, he believes that he is saved now, nevertheless he expects to be saved later and looks forward joyfully to future salvation.
  • He fears God but is not afraid of Him.
  • In God’s presence he feels overwhelmed and undone, yet there is nowhere he would rather be than in that presence.
  • He knows that he has been cleansed from his sin, yet he is painfully conscious that in his flesh dwells no good thing.
  • He loves supremely One whom he has never seen, and though himself poor and lowly he talks familiarly with One who is King of all kings and Lord of all lords, and is aware of no incongruity in so doing.
  • He feels that he is in his own right altogether less than nothing, yet he believes without question that he is the apple of God’s eye and that for him the Eternal Son became flesh and died on the cross of shame.
  • The Christian is a citizen of heaven and to that sacred citizenship he acknowledges first allegiance; yet he may love his earthly country with that intensity of devotion that caused John Knox to pray “O God, give me Scotland or I die.”
  • He cheerfully expects before long to enter that bright world above, but he is in no hurry to leave this world and is quite willing to await the summons of his Heavenly Father. And he is unable to understand why the critical unbeliever should condemn him for this; it all seems so natural and right in the circumstances that he sees nothing inconsistent about it.
  • The cross-carrying Christian, furthermore, is both a confirmed pessimist and an optimist the like of which is to be found nowhere else on earth. When he looks at the cross he is a pessimist, for he knows that the same judgment that fell on the Lord of glory condemns in that one act all nature and all the world of men.
  • He rejects every human hope out of Christ because he knows that man’s noblest effort is only dust building on dust. Yet he is calmly, restfully optimistic. If the cross condemns the world the resurrection of Christ guarantees the ultimate triumph of good throughout the universe. Through Christ all will be well at last and the Christian waits the consummation.

Incredible Christian!

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.