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Opposites Attract

By admin | April 8, 2009

Antipodes (n.), A word to describe two opposite points on earth.

Do you remember when you were a child and you thought that if you dug a deep enough hole in your back yard you would come out in China? It was always fun to think about that (even if it’s not geographically true). We understand that there is another side of the round world, and are curious about it. Just as the North Pole and South Pole are exact opposites, so every spot on earth has its own opposite. The technical term to describe the precise point on the other side of the globe from you is antipodes.

Last year, I visited two places which are almost exactly antipodal to each other, New Zealand and Ireland. In July, I went ‘down under’ for about 2 weeks to serve the churches of New Zealand; in late October I flew north and east to Ireland for another fortnight of ministry. These were marvelous and very encouraging journeys.

Outwardly, there are many similarities to these countries. They are both islands, very green and beautiful, and reflect British influences. You drive on the left side of the road (and on the right side of the car); ‘Takeaways” are common places to purchase good food; rugby is popular while the citizens know nothing of baseball. Even the churches seem similar: they often use the same hymnals, Bible translations and (frequently) order of service. I really enjoy visiting both countries.

But most pleasing is the time spent with Christian believers. Wherever you go, the joy of mutual faith and encouragement makes the days pass pleasantly.

The visit to New Zealand was at the invitation of the elders of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, of Palmerston North. Each year, they host a “School of Theology” for pastors, students and interested men. This year, students and teacher gathered at the beautiful facilities of Massey University for a week of intense instruction. We met all day long for five days to consider Baptist History. One of the participating men, Mark Smith, wrote this:

July in New Zealand can be very cold and the day before the School commenced was the coldest day of 2008. Even though the weather was cold, we were in for a warm spiritual experience of education and fellowship. Eleven men, from NZ and Australia met at Massey University from 7 to 11 July to study Baptist Church History. The first day was a reminder that we were engaged in a University level course of more than 30 lectures crammed into a week. The course covered Baptist history from the Apostles to the present day. We were alerted to the modern liberal tendencies to rewrite history; but were exhorted to be “cautious providentialists” in our view of Church history; duly recognizing the importance of secondary causes. Dr Renihan really became animated when we came to the 17th Century, which is his particular area of expertise. Such was his saturation in the era and his ability to communicate it that many of us felt we were walking down the narrow streets of London, or traveling out to the countryside with Kiffin, Knollys, Keach, Collins and Coxe and those they led. Coming back to the reality of the 21st Century was difficult. . . .  History not only shows us the wonderful work of providence, but also warns us of things that lead to decline such as division, insular thinking, wanting to be accepted/respected by the world and false doctrine such as hyper-Calvinism. One of the real “take home messages” was that when men and women openly and genuinely study their bible with a desire to go where it takes them they will most likely come to an understanding and practice of believer’s baptism and that by immersion. . . . The facilities at Massey University were excellent. Through modern technologies of computer, video projector and Google Earth we were able to see the many places in the UK and US that were being referred to. In between lectures and at meal times there were great times of fellowship. New friendships were formed and old friendships renewed. There was a good helping of friendly cross-Tasman banter between the Kiwis and the Aussies. . . . None of what we had the privilege to learn could have been possible without the gracious, sacrificial and generous hospitality by the brethren of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Palmerston North, who not only hosted the School of Theology but provided for our physical sustenance, transport and accommodation during the School, which allowed us to focus fully on the purpose for being there. We bless God for their love and commitment to the extension of Christ’s Kingdom.

I also had the privilege of preaching in two churches and attending a meeting of the Fellowship of Reformed Baptist Churches of New Zealand. I was greatly encouraged at this meeting, as the pastors spoke of the good things that were happening in their midst. It was a very pleasant and enjoyable trip, and I have come to love my friends ‘down under’ very much.

Late October brought the journey in the opposite direction—Ireland. It was also full of genuine blessings from the Lord. We began by spending a few days with Pastor Stephen Murphy of Dundalk Baptist Church. The Lord has used Pastor Murphy to do a wonderful work in Dundalk, his home town. The church there is strong and making progress in the spread of the Gospel. I was greatly encouraged by their warmth and gracious reception of my ministry. From there, we drove to Ulster to begin a long series of meetings in different locales. My first responsibility was to address the East Down Office Bearers Association, which consists of the pastors elders and deacons from the churches in East Down, a portion of County Down east of Belfast. Almost 50 men attended the meeting at which I preached on the presence of Christ in preaching. They were very kind and appreciative of the word. The next day, we drove across the province in order to preach in a town called Sion Mills. Folks from six churches gathered for this joint mid-week service in the west of the province of Northern Ireland–almost as far from the East Down meeting as one could travel. The sponsoring pastors didn’t know what to expect–they thought that perhaps 40 people would attend. To their surprise and delight, about 90 came to hear the word preached. I brought a sermon based on Paul’s letter to the Colossians, highlighting the connections between the churches in Colosae, Laodicea and Hierapolis, urging these six churches to support one another’s work in the spread of the Gospel. The next day, I was taken by Pastor Joe Flanagan to a mid-week service at Ballymoney Baptist Church. This was a delightful evening. The church is currently without a pastor, but the good work of Pastor Stephen Curry (who just left after about 20 years of service) is evident in this mature assembly of Christians. Thursday brought a visit to the Irish Baptist Historical Society. It was a great joy to address this Society, and meet men interested in church history.

The central purpose for the trip was an invitation to speak at the Irish Biblical Reformation Conference held just outside of Belfast. This was the highlight of the trip. Five pastors have been sponsoring this conference since its beginning in 2000. They have had about 30-40 in attendance for the last few years, and were hoping for an increase to about 50 this year. When we met, 74 people, mostly pastors and students, packed out the room they had secured for the day. In the first session, I tried to show how church leadership must take its cues from the authority of Christ and the Apostles; in the second I adapted and delivered the material I presented to the ARBCA General Assembly in 2007. Many men expressed their appreciation; I know that the sponsoring committee were very happy with the day. Perhaps it is evidence of the Lord’s work and its future in Ireland.

For the last few days of the trip, I preached at the Stonepark Baptist Church Conference in rural County Fermanagh. This is a picturesque and scenic place—imagine any picture you have seen of the Irish countryside and it fits here! It was my second visit to Pastor Harry Dowds and his wonderful church. It was a delight to visit their new building and to sing the praises of God in a church filled with people. I preached four times from Psalms 15, 21, 25 and 73. It was a delight to be with these folks. Pastor Dowds had also arranged for me to speak to a Pastors Fraternal and at the Irish Baptist College during these days. Every opportunity was a blessed encouragement to my soul. All in all, it was a really wonderful trip.

Isaiah 11:10-12 says,

And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,
Who shall stand as a banner to the people;
For the Gentiles shall seek Him,
And His resting place shall be glorious.
It shall come to pass in that day
That the Lord shall set His hand again the second time
To recover the remnant of His people who are left,
From Assyria and Egypt,
From Pathros and Cush,
From Elam and Shinar,
From Hamath and the islands of the sea.
He will set up a banner for the nations,
And will assemble the outcasts of Israel,
And gather together the dispersed of Judah
From the four corners of the earth.

Dear friends, this is happening in antipodes. Glory be to God.

Topics: Baptist History, Church, Ireland, Pastoral Ministry, Preaching, Providence | Comments Off on Opposites Attract

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