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EFAC Australia

General

'It is not a slight thought of the mercies of God that will affect your hearts,
but it must be a dwelling on them by meditation.' Edmund Calamy

Have you ever eaten cold fish and chips? The nutrients are there but until digestion takes place, the meal sits heavily in your stomach. Our Scripture knowledge can also need digesting. We hear many sermons and read many Christian books, but we need to process what we have heard and read, so it can become part of our lives.

The Puritans called this digestion process 'meditation'. The Puritans were English and American believers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who desired to bring the whole of life under Christ's Lordship. Well known Puritans include John Bunyan, John Owen, and Richard Baxter. Richard Baxter was Vicar of Kidderminster (south of Birmingham) in the sixteenth century. Along with Sunday church attendance, daily personal prayer, family devotions, spiritual reading, examination of conscience, and journalling, Baxter so valued meditation that he wrote a 600 page book, The Saints' Everlasting Rest (1652), to extol its virtues and explain his method. His guidelines for meditation are practical and helpful. For easier reading, I have modernized Baxter's language and abridged his advice. Baxter defines what he means by meditation:
'The general title that I give this duty is meditation; not as it is precisely distinguished from thought, consideration, and contemplation; but as it is taken in the larger and usual sense for thinking on things spiritual, and so including both consideration and contemplation.

Such meditation was not a Puritan invention. Baxter draws on a tradition from King David and Augustine. In an influential treatise on consideration from the twelfth century, Bernard of Clairvaux asks, 'Do you ask what piety is? It is making time for consideration' (On Consideration, I vii).

I am an enthusiast for Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). He is not as well known as his English contemporaries John and Charles Wesley. He didn't cross the Atlantic as they did, but lived most of his life within a couple of days horse-ride from Boston. He did not speak with the oratorical style of George Whitefield, and was said to stare at the bell rope at the back of the church while preaching. Indeed, he is chiefly known for using spiders as sermon illustrations, and his sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” is often anthologised, making him the model preacher of damnation. A man in need of a public relations makeover. A man of provincial tastes. A man with little to communicate to a modern audience? A man worth studying?

Jonathan Edwards is regarded as one of the greatest minds in North American history, and has had an enduring legacy in theology, philosophy, politics and social engagement. He has recently been listed in the Atlantic Monthly as one of the most influential thinkers ever in American history. Even in his own lifetime, he was used by God to bring hundreds and hundreds of men, women and children to faith in Christ through the revivals of the 1730s and 1740s, known cumulatively in North America as the Great Awakening. Do I still need to ask, why study Edwards?

"Our challenge has usually been to help many churches to move back to better health. In reality though, the bigger issue is how to become more missionally effective. In my opinion this is the biggest challenge for all churches today, whether big, small, mainline or independent, seemingly strong or weak. All of this will require a significant shift in the leadership culture that is pre-dominant in many churches and church organization."

Access entire transcript: Changing Leadership for a Changing Church, Matthew Hale Public Library Lecture

The editor caught up with the new chair of EFAC Vic/Tas Phil Meulman earlier in the year to chat about his experience of accident recovery. Here's an edited interview transcript:

Phil, tell our readers what happened to you…
Last August (2008) was an ordinary month for me as an Anglican Minister. A day with preparation and meetings in various places in the city of Knox and then a meeting at St. Paul's Cathedral. I was running late - how odd for an Anglican minister to be running late! Rushing to cross the road I stepped out and suddenly saw a motorcycle accelerating rapidly towards me.

In that split-second moment I'm not sure what I decided to do - retreat or run? Whichever it was, I slipped and fell. I tried to get up but it was too late. The bike hit me with full force in my pelvis and back. Face down on Flinders street, I thought I was winded but could get up. The reality was that I could not move an inch.

With EFAC Victoria calling together a conference on Gospel, Mission and Church in March 2010, I thought it might be helpful if I put pen to paper on my experiences of a life-time of Christian mission and ministry in an Australia that is very different from what it was like when I began.

From the beginning I have always been part of the evangelical side of the church. The great strength of evangelical ministry is its emphasis on evangelism. Evangelicals have a Gospel to proclaim. They are people who know that God has a message which is solidly based on what God has already done for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They know that God uses this message in the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives. They know that there are millions who live their lives 'having no hope and without God in the world' (Ephesians 2:12). God desires that these people repent of their sin, and turn to him in faith, and enjoy his salvation. Evangelicals are not afraid to share this Gospel message and see people changed by God. And because this gospel is proclaimed in all sorts of ways, people are being converted and changed, and churches are growing, sometimes slowly and sometimes dramatically. So the Gospel is at the heart of evangelical ministry and is its great strength.

But what is to happen next? Let me reflect on this through my personal experiences. I grew up in the northern beachside Sydney suburb of Manly. My parents were not church goers at all. Both had lost their mothers when they were young. My mother came out of that strange religious amalgam of theosophy; my father out of a strict Presbyterianism, which he had rejected as harsh but without rejecting a belief in God. He had been a commercial traveller for my grandfather's stationery business in New Zealand but for most of his life he was, incredible as it may sound, an SP bookmaker running a betting business on horse racing out of our home. He got into this when coming to Australia in the depression and not being able to find work. My mother followed him here. They married in Christ Church, St Kilda and then moved to Sydney where my mother found work as a hairdresser. My father then began his SP bookmaking business. This provided a modest but comfortable income for our family although only in 1960 were we able to move out of a rented flat into my parents' own home.

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