Well good evening everyone, and THANK YOU for appointing me as Moderator for this year’s Assembly.
It is a great HONOUR and PRIVILEGE to be elected to this position and I pray that I will be able to Glorify God and serve all of you well in this role.
I must confess that when the clerk of the Assembly first rang me to say that I had been chosen, I was pretty SHOCKED!
In fact, I felt like Steven Bradbury must’ve felt at the Winter Olympics a few years ago…
I mean there were all of these other people in the race, much more qualified and well suited than myself, but then the next time I looked around they’d all fallen over!
As it started to sink in though I was left with the question of not only, “How did this happen?”
But also, “What am I going to say?”
Now I realise that the Moderator in the Presbyterian Church is more like a “school captain” than the “principal.”
So I really don’t have any authority to set a definite direction let alone vision what we should all be doing.
So I would still like to encourage and exhort us to stop and ask the question, “Why are WE here?”
One of my chaplains, Ian Smith encouraged me with the words of his late father-in-law who said, “Always look for grace in the assembly; it is there that the Spirit is working.”
“Always look for grace in the assembly; it is there that the Spirit is working.”
How is it then that we see the grace of God being manifested in our midst?
At the end of last year I was preaching through the book of 2 Timothy.
And I was really struck by how in every single chapter the apostle Paul refers to specific individuals by name who exemplified the particular truths or warnings that he was writing about.
It’s easy to miss how radical this must have been when the letter was read because it would have been in the presence of the whole congregation.
And there must have been some very embarrassed looks or sheepish grins huh?
Now we’re not very good at that as Australians – rather than honouring our heroes we tend to specialise in “knocking down the tall poppies.”
So what I want to do tonight is something extremely COUNTER CULTURAL.
And that is, I would like to briefly relay to you 10 people who model or exemplify for me a quality of Biblical godliness.
Some of these people are members of the current Assembly and some of them are not.
But can I just be up front and say that I have chosen them not to promote a particular “tribe” or sub-group within the church.
No, I mention them because their example has personally encouraged and challenge me.
And as such I hope and trust that by mentioning their traits it will also encourage and challenge you.
The first couple of people I would like to mention are Anglican clergymen who, ironically, had an enormously positive effect on me becoming a Presbyterian!
Not that they are not fully committed to their own particular denomination.
However, their distinct theological and ecclesiological convictions greatly shaped and influenced my own.
The first is none other than the current Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies.
Many of us who went through Moore had the blessing of knowing and learning from Glenn.
Indeed, there was a quip, in keeping with a classic children’s show about he and Bill Dumbrell that they were, “Bill and Glenn the COVENANT MEN!”
I still vividly remember how most of my doctrine of infant baptism was shaped by his demolition of a couple of Baptist students over lunch one day.
For me, Glenn is the model of theological insight, winsome personality and most of all, vibrant godliness that sets the standard of what any servant of God should strive to be like.
The second person though is a relatively unknown minister by comparison.
And his name is Neil Prott.
Although that said, he is probably known to some of you because of his service in the country areas of NSW.
I served under Neil as a catechist or student minister at Kurrajong Anglican for the first two years of my time at Moore college.
Neil not only demonstrated to me a strong commitment to the authority of Scripture as well as the role of hospitality but he also strongly believed in the role of eldership.
He himself gave me copies of Strauch’s classic book on the subject and he also appointed men to that position in his own congregation.
Unfortunately due to ill health Neil and his wife couldn’t be here tonight but I would like to relay to you something he said.
In the later years of his ministry he served in some of our own denominational congregations in an interim capacity…
And he said to me, “Mark, Presbyterianism is probably the closest to the Biblical model, but in my travels around the place I was so surprised to see elders coming to session meetings without their Bible’s; how can they seek to do the Lord’s work, he said, without the Lord’s word?”
That is a good rebuke for us brethren, from someone who is definitely a FRIEND rather than a FOE!
From Anglicanism to Presbyterianism the other person who has greatly influenced me is Phil Campbell.
Phil is now in Queensland but he was for quite awhile at McLean on the north coast.
Like quite a few of us here I benefited enormously, particularly in the area of preaching, which came about through the required country placement system we have.
Humanly speaking I don’t think any other individual has had as great an impact on how I preach.
His rigorous commitment to being CLEAR and CONCISE was incredibly helpful as I was first starting out.
And if ever I am not one of those two things the fault and responsibility definitely rests with me.
The fourth person is another Presbyterian minister and that is our own Jeff Read.
I went through college with Jeff and he was one of the ones who actually encouraged me to take the step of “becoming a Pressy” as we used to say.
Although the procedure is nowhere near as painful as everyone makes out…!
Jeff is not only an excellent pastor/teacher in his own right but as I am sure most of you have witnessed he is also very committed to the work of the wider church.
He said to me when we were first ordained that we had given our word that we would dutifully attend the courts of the church.
And as such, we should honour that word and do all that we can to be involved.
Over the years since then I have seen him not only sit through nearly every sederunt but actively follow along as he did.
Along similar lines the fifth person is Paul Logan.
Rarely have I found a person as fair or as impartial as Paul, which is probably why he is so well respected and appreciated by this Assembly.
No matter what side of a debate you are taking, Paul will give you accurate and helpful advice.
And if you’ve ever had to be moderator or something similar then you’ll know how difficult a line that is to keep.
The sixth person is one of my chaplains, Ian Smith.
Not only do I admire Ian’s excellent leadership of Christ College – and I think you will all be really encouraged by the terrific things that are happening there later on in their report.
But one of the things that I really appreciate about Ian is that he always has TIME for people.
That might sound a little trite, but I think that one of the greatest tragedies is when people, and especially ministers, don’t return phone calls or give of themselves personally.
What does that kind of thing say about the God whom we serve?
We would never want God to treat us like that when we pray would we?
Ian is a great example of gracious generosity.
In a similar way, two men that I know not only I but we all thank God for are Jeof Falls and Wayne Richards.
At my first couple of assemblies the focus and debate was almost exclusively preoccupied with money.
And I remember thinking and earnestly praying, “O LORD, how are we ever going to get out of this mess?”
While they themselves would be the first to admit that they are far from perfect, God’s answer was to a large extent tied up with these two men.
In fact, they were so professional and good at what they did that I remember some people warning the assembly that they would not always be right!
But their skill, combined with their own personal godliness has been a terrific example to follow and something that I continue to thank and praise God for.
The eighth example is a group – because there is no way I could single out one without mentioning another.
And that is the sessions that I have worked with at both Wee Waa and Cornerstone.
I have been really blessed to work with a bunch of men, and their wives, who both love the LORD and serve Him faithfully.
Now I know that due to the presence of sin it is not always easy, to oversee Christ’s church.
But I am so grateful to God for brothers who help me carry the load of leadership and partner with me in the work of the Gospel.
The ninth person on my list is my own dad who has gone to be with the LORD.
My father had an enormous influence on me growing up.
He was a man of integrity, hard work, love, perseverance, and especially in the final years of his life SAVING FAITH in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I wanted to relay to you one thing in particular that he taught me.
When he came to understand the Gospel and accept its implications for his life he started attending a Presbyterian Church plant in Western Sydney.
It met in a local primary school and I was starting to get worried that maybe it was too “low church” for him.
He gently rebuked me though saying, “Mark, the way I figure it there are really only two main things you need when you go to church; and that is the Word of God and the People of God.
Everything else is just a DISTRACTION.”
It was something I personally really needed to hear.
And I hope that, that is CENTRAL for all of us as well.
Well that brings me to the last but by no means least of the people I see the grace of God at work in.
And that is quite simply my WIFE.
She is absolutely hating the fact that I am saying this about her at the moment, but that is one of the things that makes her so special.
She has a humility and servant hearted nature that is exceptional but has also made her so loved and appreciated in the churches we have served.
As many of you will know we have six children, one about a year and a half old and another with special needs.
But when I told her that the Church had appointed me to this role she graciously submitted to it.
Not a week in my life goes by where I do not benefit from her wisdom and service.
And so I’d like to thank her and for her service and support.
Now why I relay all of these different examples to you though is for a very important reason.
And that is because it is through the body of believers that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is glorified.
That’s what we saw in the Bible reading from Ephesians 3?
And it is also our goal and purpose in working together in the Gospel is it not?
As the apostle Paul said, “His intent was that now, THROUGH THE CHURCH, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”
Now I know in context that passage is saying more than just in the lives of individual believers.
It is talking about the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles.
Indeed, that is the MYSTERY of the Gospel.
That we Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and shares together in the promise of Christ Jesus.
But that reconciliation is not just HORIZONTAL, it’s VERTICAL as well.
As the apostle Paul will go on to say, God’s glorious gospel means that, “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
We no longer need to fear His judgment and wrath for we have been forgiven and accepted.
In just a moment we’re going to sing one of my favourite hymns; I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.
I used to sing it every night to my son who has Asperger’s.
It became part of his routine and really helped to calm him down – so I now know it off by heart.
Let me just repeat to you the words of the first verse.
For it is just such a wonderful description of what it means to come to Christ and trust in Him for salvation.
“I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down,
Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.”
That is the great and precious hope that we all share.
And that is where we see the grace of God perfectly and fully manifested isn’t it?
It’s in the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This week then, look for grace in the assembly.
Be watchful as to WHOM the Spirit of God is at work.
Not because we want to glorify man, but so you can praise our Father in heaven, FROM WHOM every good and perfect gift comes.
For it is, “…through the church that the manifold wisdom of God is being made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Thank you once again for choosing me to serve you.
And may the LORD bless us that we would manifest His mercy, love and grace!