Category Archives: News

COVID-19 & Tasmania — Update

Being a small island state has its advantages, especially during a pandemic.  The Tasmania state government made some good calls early in the crisis and those have paid off.  One of the key strategies was to close the state borders.  People from out-of-state could still travel to Tasmania, but they’d have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in accommodations provided by the state.  As a result of these strict measures, yesterday saw the 22nd straight day with no new COVID-19 cases.  Currently there are only two active cases in the entire state.

As of last Friday, more restrictions were lifted.  Travel is now permitted around the state, as is camping.  Many restaurants are now re-opened, though with limited seating.  But, most importantly of all, places of worship are now allowed to have 40 people in attendance for services.

Back in March, our church (Free Reformed Church of Launceston) decided to suspend worship services because of the pandemic.  We made this decision before the government imposed it.  In the place of worship services, we decided to provide two Sunday messages and one Wednesday evening message.  These messages, preceded and followed by prayer, just provided the bare minimum.

Last week, the consistory decided to resume worship services.  So yesterday we met together and worshipped for the first time since March 15.  For the time being, we are worshipping by wards, with numbers capped at 40 (plus “staff”).  Those not able to attend in person can still make use of the live-stream.

So what was it like to finally worship together again yesterday?  It was joyful.  Being able to see some brothers and sisters again in person, to be together in God’s presence, to sing and pray together — it was all so beautiful.  It’s easy to take these things for granted, but when it’s been taken away from you, you appreciate it all the more.

It was also surprising.  I’ve thought that when we get back together again, we may have some surprises.  Yesterday, we had two visitors from the community — people we’ve never met before, who’ve never attended before.  We warmly welcomed them and pray to see them again.

Finally, it was also so much better for me as a preacher.  After weeks of preaching to the heartless, dark eye of a camera, I was so happy to be able to preach to real live people in front of me.  It’s just so different when you can actually see the people listening.  Preaching to a camera just isn’t the same — I don’t even know if it’s really preaching.  Of course, it was better than nothing, but preaching from the pulpit is incomparable.  The physicality of being together cannot be replaced and it can only be poorly imitated.

More restrictions are due to be lifted in the next few weeks.  It’s possible that the schedule may even be bumped up again and we can soon have more people in attendance at public worship.  Things are looking good here in Tassie and we praise God for that.  I do think of brothers and sisters elsewhere still languishing in “exile,” especially those who have to deal with the frustration of not being able to worship together while governments look the other way when it comes to riots and protests which violate public health guidelines.  It makes no sense.  May God give us all wisdom and patience!


Worship, Unity, and Your Bible

Late last week our church leadership took the unprecedented step of suspending worship services.  Our initial plan was to do this for two Sundays and then reassess.  However, in the meantime, the Australian government has ordered the closure of places of worship (along with other public gatherings).  So it seems that we may be “in exile” for a while, possibly even up to six months.

While we’re sad about not being able to gather together, our congregation still has the opportunity to hear God’s Word.  We have the technology to live-stream (our church’s YouTube channel) and we’re thankful for that.  Last Sunday, I gave two messages at the times we would normally gather for worship in the morning and afternoon.  Many of our members were able to use that, and even some from outside our congregation.

We’ve been careful not to say that these live-streams are “worship services.”  They’re not.  They’re a poor substitute for what we normally do on Sundays.  Nothing compares to gathering together in person in the presence of God.  Because it’s not a worship service, I don’t stand on the pulpit.  We don’t have the call to worship, salutation, reading of the law, assurance of pardon, or benediction.  We do encourage our members to sing wherever they’re gathered and with whomever they’re gathered – even to sing by themselves if need be.  I supply them with suggested songs.  We also encourage them to pray together, and prayer points are supplied to that end.  We all pray for the day when these measures are history and we can return to our normal public worship.

Related to the foregoing, different churches have adopted different measures.  Some of those decisions may need to be revised in the coming days.  Whatever the case may be, we ought to remember that “Satan loves to fish in troubled waters” (adapting from Thomas Watson).  We’re in troubled waters and Satan wants to divide and conquer.  He wants Christians to be at each other’s throats.  Satan wants us to be biting and devouring one another – it serves his cause.  I respect the fact that there are other consistories who have taken a different approach to my church’s.  I might not agree that their approach is the best, but there’s no need for me to publicly or privately criticize them.  Let’s just respect one another and do what we can to strengthen the unity of God’s people in this trying time.

Finally, more than ever, believers need to be serious about their personal Bible reading.  You may not be able to go to public worship.  You might not be able to attend Bible study.  But you can still read and study your Bible at home by yourself.  There’s no obstacle to doing that.  If there’s ever a time when we all need regular spiritual encouragement from God’s Word, it’s now.  If you’re not already using a Bible reading plan, let me encourage you to do so (lots of options here).  Don’t worry that you’re starting late in the year — just start where you are and carry on.  Satan would love to use this crisis to drive you away from God.  Resist him.  Instead, let this crisis be a means through which God draws you closer to himself.  That means making use of whatever’s available – and the main thing that’s still available is the Bible.  Read it.  It’ll be a source of strength to get you through this.


COVID-19 & Tasmania

A lot has been said by other Christian commentators about the corona virus.  I don’t think there’s really anything I can add that hasn’t already been said.  As Christians, we confess God’s providence over all things big and small, including viruses.  We trust God’s power and can therefore consider the situation with a measure of calm.

Rather than offer any further theological reflections, let me just share where things are at here in Tasmania.  As you may know, Tasmania is Australia’s smallest state, an island just off the south-east coast.  The virus is here.  As of today, there are seven cases.  That might sound like a drop in the bucket, but you need to remember that Tasmania only has about 500,000 residents.  So, as far as cases per 100,000 go, Tasmania is thus far the third-hardest hit state in Australia.  Only New South Wales and Queensland have more on a per-100,000 basis.  The state government has announced today that they’re declaring a public health emergency.  It seems things will get worse before they get better.

In the stores, panic-buying and hoarding are evident.  As in other places, toilet paper is hard to find.  But so is long-life milk, bread, canned soup, soap, hand sanitizer, and even toothpaste.

At the moment, our church is still planning to worship twice this coming Sunday.  However, we will be implementing the following changes:

  • No liturgy sheets — we have a projector and screen where the order of worship is normally shown anyway.
  • We’ll have door collections instead of passing around the collection bag during the service.
  • The creche/church nursery will be closed.
  • We normally have a coffee social after every morning service — this is suspended.
  • The congregation is advised against handshakes and hugs.  No unnecessary touching.

Our church leadership is monitoring the advice of health authorities and more changes may be implemented in the next few days or weeks.  We’ve also advised our congregation members with regard to health and social distancing.

It’s a rapidly evolving situation.  We watch and pray.  And we remember: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way…”  (Psalm 46:1,2)


RCN Synod Goes 2020 — Course Reversal?

Though it’s not yet 2020, Synod 2020 of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands has begun in Goes.  The first press release has been issued and can be found here (in Dutch).  The big question many are wondering is whether Synod Meppel’s decision to admit women to all the offices of the church will be reversed.  Certainly efforts are being made by some local churches — you can read here about Urk and its request for revision, and also its bold refusal to send delegates to classis in the meantime (a classis which recently gave preaching consent to a woman).

What are the prospects for a course reversal?  The Synod has already been discussing the topic.  The Synod spent some time first discussing the topic “Dealing with Diversity.”  A couple of professors from the Theological University in Kampen came to make a presentation on that.  Saturday November 23 was spent discussing explicitly the topic of “men and women in the church.”  The deputies who wrote the report for the last Synod advocating for women in office came and gave introductions and workshops.

Reading the press release, one certainly doesn’t get the sense that the Synod is starting off on the right foot towards a course reversal.  Moreover, one detail is easy to miss in the press release:  the synod delegates consist of thirty brothers and two sisters.  So this synod apparently has two female office bearers as delegates.  Does anyone realistically think that this synod will come around later and say, “Sorry, sisters, the RCN made a mistake at Meppel and you really shouldn’t have been around this table”?  Really?

I can’t help but think of a vivid Dutch expression that Klaas Schilder used at a certain point in his discussions with Herman Hoeksema:  de kous is af.  Literally, “the stocking is finished.”  In English we would say, “It’s game over.”  After this, I pray Urk and other concerned believers still in the RCN will see it and move out and move on.


That morning I listened to Kanye West

I’ve never been a Kanye West fan. About a year ago, I was flipping through the radio channels while driving. I came across a station playing one of his songs. It was one of the most vile, misogynistic songs I’ve ever heard. As we were eating our dinner, I told our kids about what I’d heard earlier in the day. Knowing Kanye better than I did, they weren’t surprised. But they sure were surprised to hear their dad listening to Kanye West last Saturday morning.

I was rather surprised too. His new album had just dropped and the title led me to listen. Jesus is King blew me off my feet. How could it happen that the same man responsible for that horrible song could produce an entire album in praise of the Saviour?

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