Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Happy New Year from Australia. By the time this is posted we will be well into 2020, but many of you will still be in 2019. It’s such a strange feeling. At home I loved to make a big thing about New Year – but it seems to me that apart from the big Sydney fireworks (and those of other cities) there is not the same custom as in Scotland – although sadly the traditional New Year is also dying out in Scotland. I am currently at the Belgrave conference near Melbourne and as I am sitting in my room to see if I can be bothered to wait for the non-existent ‘bells’, I thought I would wish you all a Happy and Prosperous Christ Centered New Year – and reflect a little on the year that has gone past.
To be brief I will be glad to see the back of 2019….it’s been the toughest year since 2011 and I end it exhausted and to some extent wondering what is going on. We began the year knowing that, visa permitting, we would be coming to Australia in July. It was a really tough decision and a long and somewhat painful goodbye. We did not really know what we were coming to but believed (and still do) that the Lord was calling us to it. But just because you believe something doesn’t make it true…and just because it is true doesn’t make it easy!
The six months farewell for the first half of the year was hard. Apart from having a month off due to an operation, and the long goodbye there were a number of personal circumstances which made things somewhat challenging! Nevertheless the work of the Lord continued. I enjoyed speaking at the Harris Conference, the Eccentrics ministers in Wales, the FC Youth Conference, LICC in London and the Shetland Bible Week.
Leaving St Peters was a bitter/sweet experience. The care and love of the congregation was deeply moving. For me it was also sad and a wee bit frustrating – not only to leave my beloved St Peters but also Dundee and Scotland. To be honest it hurt….and it still does.
Coming to Sydney was never going to be easy. It is a beautiful city, with some wonderful Christians and the opportunity I was being offered – to do a new kind of evangelism – was something I could not refuse. And yet I feel like we jumped off a cliff, left something we knew and were comfortable with – and as yet do not know where we have landed! Philip Jenson gave me some wise advice – he said that 90% of things are more or less the same, but the 10% colours everything else.
I have spent this past six months trying to work out how Third Space is going to work, what we are aiming at specifically and making connections with various Christian leaders throughout the country. It has been a joy to be in Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, and the Gold Coast. I have also enjoyed working with my new colleagues – especially Steve McAlpine who is a kindred spirit! And most of all I have enjoyed being able to share the Good News of Jesus in a variety of situations from schools to corporations, media to churches. For me the vision is clear, the need is urgent and the opportunities immense. But….
Sometimes I feel like a square peg in a round hole…. is it new wine in old wineskins? I occasionally wonder what I am doing and if I can do it! I know that teaches me to rely more on the Lord – but I am definitely in a situation which is way out of my comfort zone. That’s not a bad thing – but it means ending a difficult year with a degree of uncertainty and insecurity. Although I have to say that there is also a sense of anticipation – what will the Lord do? Why has he brought us here? I believe it is for good and blessing – I just don’t know what that good and blessing is!
Having said that I remain thankful for many things – not least that we have a good apartment, an excellent church and some good friends. I am especially thankful for Annabel who is a remarkable woman and a great helpmeet. Given all the circumstances we faced she has proved resilient and a real strength.
There is a heaviness over my spirit because of the bushfires. (You can hear a short news interview I gave on TWR here – https://soundcloud.com/twr-uk/australia-wildfires
It is hard to say just how much they are affecting us. Our own home is not in any danger – and although the smoke is choking at times and depressing at others – we are not at risk. However Becky and Pete and the girls are much more in the line of fire. And you cannot but be moved by the suffering of so many, and the bravery and hard work of the ‘firies’. I pray every day for rain (both for the fires and the drought). But not just a physical rain. The fires and drought are a reminder of a greater judgement and a greater drought – the spiritual ones. They also provide an opportunity. People are describing it as apocalyptic – Have a look at this video –
What this does is shake people out of their complacency and false security. That can and does have a negative effect – with people looking for someone to blame and demanding an instant solution. There is a fear and hysteria that fills the void. But we know there is something much more satisfying and real.
I am writing this from the Belgrave convention – think of it like Keswick in Victoria. It is a joy and privilege to share God’s word here. The most encouraging thing is the number of individuals who have been encouraged by that word – ordinary Christians who need fed the bread of life so that they too may feed others. And that for me is what I look forward to most in the New Year – the ending of the spiritual drought (as well as the physical one).
As I finish this I’m off to give my last sermon at the convention. We will be looking at Job 42 – ‘Happy Ever After?’. We have much to learn from Job – not least the danger of offering simplistic solutions and making pronouncements about what is going to happen. I have come across in both society and church an unhealthy pessimism (‘we’re all doomed!) and an unhealthy optimism. The latter expresses itself in society with a ‘you’ve never had it so good attitude’. In the church I also hear people saying ‘yes the situation is bad, but I sense in my spirit that revival is just coming’. This encourages people – until it doesn’t happen – and then they are even more discouraged. False prophecy is harmful – whether in society (‘the world is going to end in 12 years’) or in the church (‘revival is just around the corner’). We need to be really careful not to offer false hope and false comfort. We are better to offer the sure and certain hope of the word of God.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:21-26)
Let the earth be filled with “the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14),
“And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory Amen, and Amen. (Ps 72:19)
May the Lord be glorified in His world. Not just in Australia and in Scotland, but throughout the earth. Happy and Glorious New Year.
Yours in Christ