Category Archives: Events

Reflections on Reformation 500

On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther, an obscure monk from the small town of Wittenberg, presented 95 theses that unleashed a Reformation in Christianity, culture, politics, printing and more. Luther’s rediscovery that we are justified — made right with God — by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, came from a conviction that Scripture alone should be our highest authority.

500 years on, at a breakfast table in Sydney, Australia, I attempted to read a Psalm in Latin to our children. Then I read today’s passage from Psalm 119:1-8. The idea was to show how special it was to hear God’s Word in a language we understood (though I suspect our girls were a bit distracted!)

Classes today were tinged with a Reformation hue: our principal greeted us in German, some students dressed up as monks, and questions about Luther and his views on anything and everything punctuated the day. There was a bit of SMBC’s own door-posting mischief. For lunch the college kitchen cooked up some bratwurst (someone said it was the “wurst” meal they’d had). We even had an anniversary cake.

 

Looking back over the years, I can personally trace the ripples of Herr Luther’s mallet blow throughout so much in my life. I’m grateful to God for:

  • The teacher that showed Christ-like love to a scrawny kid who babbled through his first year of primary school
  • The violin teacher who invited me to my first Christian wedding
  • The volunteer at an evangelistic rally who shared the message of God’s grace in Christ to a lost 17 year-old high schooler
  • Two sisters who gave me my first Bible (a “radical faith” CEV emblazoned with a dude on rollerblades)
  • Pastors who taught me the Word of God and trusted it completely: John Humphrey, Peter Somervell, Calvyn Jonker, Joe Fleener, Richard and Sam Cutforth, Tim Bradford, Dave Pym, Stuart Coulton, Geoff Harper and many others
  • Authors who explained how the Word of Christ applies to every area of my life: Rosaria Butterfield, Tim Chester, Lee Strobel, Vaughan Roberts, Jerry Bridges, Faith Cook, Don Carson, Mark Dever, Tim & Kathy Keller and countless others
  • Hymnwriters who followed in Luther’s footsteps and penned profound songs of praise I love to sing: Anne Steele, Isaac Watts, John Newton, Charitie Bancroft, Stuart Townend, Keith & Kristyn Getty, Bob Kauflin and plenty of others
  • In Cheryl, a wife who is more of a creature of the Word than I am, and who opens it faithfully with our children
  • In Luke, Jono, Enoch, Dave, Steve and Christian, a band of book-reading brothers sown into good soil and cast out into the Lord’s service around the world
  • Our HBC young adults homegroup, who have a rare zeal for the Word: savouring it, diligently studying it and sharing it with others.

Each of these people were shaped by the Word unleashed 500 years ago. And each of us have the call to hold out this life-giving Word for as long as we live.

The Word is precious. We are always being reformed by it. We behold the beauty of Jesus through it. And we will never tire of looking into it.


The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

– Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is our God”

Edify Conference – building the church in word and song – set list

It was a joy over the weekend to serve at the first Edify Conference, hosted at our home church (Howick Baptist). We had a great time opening the Word and considering the importance of what we do when we sing together as the gathered church.

Cheryl and I were in Sydney for Emu Music’s Word in Song Conference last year, and in 2011 got to attend the WorshipGod conference hosted by Bob Kauflin. And after talking about the idea of a music / gathered worship conference on and off for years, it was great to finally have a go at hosting one in NZ ourselves in partnership with Rowan Hilsden and the team at Auckland EV.

It was also neat to meet and get to know Greg Cooper, a songwriter and musician from Sydney who served on the Edify band on Friday night and led several workshops on Saturday. I personally learned a lot from observing and considering how skillfully he played the guitar – in a way that served the band and supported the church singing. I also loved his servant-hearted attitude and easy-going nature.

I enjoyed playing guitar and sing in the Edify bands – once on Friday with a full band, and again on Saturday morning with a stripped-back, acoustic team. It was good to have a go at modelling congregational church music for different contexts.

A few people asked for the songs we sang over the weekend, so here is the set list below:

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST:

 

FRIDAY: CONCERT / EVENING OF WORD AND SONG

SATURDAY: MAIN SESSION 2

 


Bible College – following the call of the gospel on our lives

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Two Sundays ago, I shared this letter with our church family:

To our church family:

On behalf of our family, I’d like to share some news with you all.

After much prayer and discussion, Cheryl and I have found ourselves united and sure that by God’s grace, I should pursue training at bible college, with a view to full-time gospel ministry. With the advice of those around us, our plan is to move to Sydney, Australia to study full-time in 2017, which is in 18 months’ time.

This has been a difficult decision to make. We love our family here at Howick Baptist Church. For 8 years you have been family to us. And we also know that, for some, there may still be confusion and unanswered questions about this interim period. Perhaps as you’re hearing this, some of you are thinking “Oh, not again.”

Yet you might recall that last month, the Lord confronted us all in a sermon from Acts 6:1-7 about the need to prioritise between what’s good, and what’s best. It would certainly be a good thing for us to remain here the rest of our life and to continue serving as we currently do. But with the need for gospel workers in New Zealand, I believe that the best thing for us is to step out in faith and be properly equipped for a lifetime of Word and prayer ministry.

This call is both internally desired and externally affirmed, through the encouragement of our elders, Jay Behan, Calvyn Jonker, Peter Somervell, Joe Fleener, Richard Cutforth and others.

The Apostle Paul’s instruction to Timothy was this: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15).

So here is our rough plan for the next 18 months:

– I will continue working in my current job as a medical writer, but I will also be serving 2 days a week at HBC in order to gain ministry experience.
– I will apply to study at Sydney Missionary Bible College in Australia, commencing in 2017.
– We will keep serving here at HBC until then in all the different areas we’re involved in.
– We will begin approaching individuals, churches and Christian trusts on whether they would prayerfully consider financially supporting our family.

Friends, we plan all this, knowing that ultimately it is the Lord that directs our steps.

Please come and chat with us if you have questions or concerns. We’re happy to share more in person.

For now, it’s life as usual for the Chongs here with HBC. We count it a joy to partner with you all as we strive together for the gospel. “It is He whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)

Friends, we plan all this, knowing that ultimately it is the Lord that directs our steps. Perhaps Christ will return before we make it to seminary. Perhaps one of us will be called to be with Him. Regardless, we count it a joy to trust in the LORD who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who clothes the flowers and feeds the birds of the air, who loved us while we were still enemies by giving His only Son Jesus as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, and who we are privileged to call ‘Abba, Father’.

Here are some prayer items:

  • For each of us to grow in our love for Christ, His Gospel and His church during this time.
  • For Cheryl and I to serve each other with gratitude and to communicate with each other well as we prepare and plan for significant changes to our family.
  • For our girls to grow to become women who love Christ.
  • For the ministries we are currently involved in and for the Lord to raise up others to continue in our place.
  • For individuals, churches and trusts that might desire to support us financially.
  • For the members of HBC as we continue to seek the Lord’s direction for the future.

Some questions answered up-front

Do you think you’re called to ministry?

In one sense, the answer is simply ‘yes’.

I, like every Christian, have been called to take up my cross and follow Jesus, and to take part in the work of whatever ministry God places in front of us – marriage, family, church, community, world.

A more specific question however, is this: “Does God want my specific ministry to be as a leader in the church, and to serve by equipping others in gospel ministry?”

And over the past few years, through the encouragement and example of those around us, including our elders, it’s become clear that yes, God is calling me to be set apart to lead and train others for gospel ministry. God’s gradually changed our desire for more gospel workers, and our willingness to be used by God for this purpose.

(Tim Grant has a helpful write-up on being “called” to ministry)

Why seminary/Bible college?

Seminary is no replacement for practical ministry experience in a local church – what I’ve been involved in at Howick since 2008 (and would continue to do while in Australia). But a good seminary provides a dedicated environment to learn skills that most local churches aren’t in a place to provide, such as Greek and Hebrew original languages, church history, biblical and systematic theology and so on. We see seminary as a place to equip us with the skills and foundations for a lifetime of Word ministry in a local church context.

Why now?

The advice we’ve been given is that the sooner we go, the better. We’re told that with a family, the longer you leave it the harder it is to get to bible college (particularly once they enter school age), and the adjustments to the family are more difficult to handle as children get older. So there’s no time like the present.

At the same time we know that our church family is in a transitional time. That’s a big reason why we’re not leaving straight away – we want to help out through next year, when (Lord willing) we’ll have a new Senior Pastor.

That’s why the plan is to start in 2017 (a year and a half away). We also hope that this gives a good timeframe for us gradually hand over our ministry responsibilities to other capable individuals, and to train others up to continue serving the Lord.

Why Sydney?

Based on the advice and counsel of those around us, we believe that SMBC would be an excellent seminary to be thoroughly equipped for whatever God has in store for us. In the Lord’s kindness I was able to visit the campus earlier this year for a block course, and met the Principal and others from New Zealand who were studying there. All this helped me to see the benefits of studying in a close-knit campus environment with proper training in the original languages, church history, theology, as well as a robust practical programme including preaching, counselling and pastoral care.

Also, Cheryl was actually born in Australia so there may be a little bit assistance for her while we’re there (as a Kiwi though, William gets no help – hence our need for support).

Where do you want to serve in full-time ministry?

Ideally Auckland – we see the need for more healthy, gospel-centred churches in New Zealand’s largest city. There’s a decent pipeline of theologically-trained workers heading to other areas of New Zealand, but not so much to Auckland. And having lived here most of our lives, we want to see our communities here changed by the gospel.

Yet ultimately we’re happy to trust God in where He directs us – as John Newton puts it, “tis grace hath brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.”

Are you moving because of the ongoing changes at Howick?

No. Cheryl and I visited Howick Baptist for the first time in April 2008. We began attending regularly from July that year, and quickly found ourselves surrounded by a community that cared for us and was eager to proclaim the good news of Jesus in word and deed.

8 years on we’re still committed members of HBC (even as others have come and gone). In fact, it’s through serving with our HBC family through thick and thin that we’ve seen how much we love gospel ministry, as well as how inadequately equipped we are for the many questions that come up when we open the Bible and share it with others.

It would certainly be a good thing to remain at Howick the rest of our life and to keep serving as we currently do. But with the urgent need for gospel workers in New Zealand, I believe that the best thing for us is to step out in faith and be properly equipped for a lifetime of Word ministry.


We’ll keep sharing and journaling our thoughts as we continue serving the Lord in our momentary marriage and ministry – whatever it looks like in the years to come.

In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We look forward to sharing more in person.

 

Please pray for our church

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In God’s providence, this year has turned out to be a real rollercoaster for our home church (Howick Baptist). In March, our Associate Pastor Joe Fleener announced that after seeking much counsel and prayer, he had accepted a call to plant a church in Rolleston. I had the privilege of serving alongside him to help organise this year’s Stand Conference, before his family made the move down at the end of July.

Just last week, our Senior Pastor Peter Somervell informed the church family that he had accepted a call to lead a church in Richmond, Nelson (you can read his announcement here).

This means in the space of less than a year, our church will have lost two of our full-time teaching elders.

This will be the first church transition our family will be a part of, and it’s possible that our church will be without a Senior Pastor for much of next year.

If you could keep Howick Baptist Church in your prayers, it would be really appreciated. Specifically, please pray that:

  • That we would trust in God alone, find refuge in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and walk by the Spirit each day
  • Each of us would grow in our love for Christ, His Gospel and His church during this time
  • Peter, Francelle and their family would be able to “finish well” and be encouraged and ready to serve at their next church
  • That amid the confusion and questions, we would speak with and about one another in ways that would glorify God
  • Our elders and staff would shepherd wisely and care for the flock through the uncertain months ahead
  • The members of HBC would continue to love and care for one another during the time of transition, and that we would remain a community that loves Jesus and proclaims His good news
  • Even now, God would prepare the right person to become the next Senior Pastor, so that the message of grace and peace through Jesus Christ may continue to be proclaimed at HBC.

 

What dangerous idea has the greatest potential to change the world for the better?

These were my notes when opening this morning’s Easter Sunday service at HBC.


Christ is risen; He is risen indeed!

I’d like to ask you a question this morning:

“What dangerous idea has the greatest potential to change the world for the better?”

Four panellists were asked this question late last year in a Q&A session held in front of a live audience at the Sydney Opera House. There was an atheist gay rights activist, a feminist historian, a women’s rights advocate, and a Christian journalist.

The first three suggested the following dangerous ideas: population control, absolute freedom, and to do less with our children.

This is what Peter Hitchens said:

“The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the dead…

When asked why, he explained:

“Because it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all …”

In John 11, Jesus declares this:

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Friends, wherever you’re at this morning: whether you embrace this most dangerous idea as truth, you reject it as a fairy tale, or you’re not sure what to make of it, today, Easter Sunday, is a great opportunity to think deeply about this subject.

Please join in as we read, sing, listen and pray about the most dangerous idea in the world: that Christ is risen!

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You can watch the segment from ABC’s Q&A here.

(Warning: If you choose to watch the full video do so carefully, there’s a lot of vulgar descriptions from one of the panellists).

HT: Philip Jensen