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Today I wanted to share with you my own personal story, my testimony. Next week is of course Easter and those topics are pretty well set and have been for the last couple of thousand years. Straight after Easter I plan to preach a series on the book of Esther. Esther is fascinating and intriguing. It contains 5 distinct characters that are well worth our time in exploring their uniqueness. I will begin with Queen Vashti and then move through the major characters in the narrative. In the book of Esther we will find people we know and people we would like to be. If you haven’t read it for a while, or at all then I encourage you to do it. So that will be five weeks following Easter. More about that later of course!
But today, let me tell you about me. I do so as a way for you to know me better and as a way to give glory to Jesus for his work in our lives.
I come from a long line of missionaries. My grandparents on my father’s side were missionaries in the Congo and so my dad, being born in the Belgium Congo as it was known then, has Belgian, British and Australian passports. His story is fascinating having been sent to school in Scotland with a total separation from his parents of 11 years. After many years of service my Grandparents emigrated to NZ with the family, and from there my dad responding to the call of God on his life went to Missionary Training College in Launceston, Tasmania. Around the same time my mum, who grew up in Tanunda also responded to the call of God on her life and she too went to Missionary Training College in Launceston. My Mum, although coming from good Lutheran stock, had been converted at a camp about the age of 16 and as she has remained for the rest of her life, became red hot for Jesus. Of course I don’t need to tell you what happened next and nearly 50 years ago my mum and dad were married.
I came along on the 23 December 1969. Only just scraping into the 60s by a few days. And to save those of you who are not good at maths that makes me 45 years old. Don’t let the grey hair fool you! I was named Jonathan Ivor Davies, the Jonathan meaning gift of Yahweh and Ivor as this was my grandfather’s name (this will be significant later) I had a happy childhood. I have one younger sister, Andrea who was here on Tuesday night to support me. My parents were invited to stay on at the Missionary Training College where they trained as faculty. So I grew up in a community of about 100 people, sometimes more. I attended the local primary and high school, although school was always an interruption to my fishing, bike riding and general roaming around the Tassie countryside. I did however like football and my mother must have despaired at the grass and mud stained clothes I would come home in every day.
Growing up at a Missionary Training College certainly had its benefits. Especially in the 70s! The college itself was on a large property and I was allowed to wander freely with the many other friends I had there. It also gave me an opportunity to relate too many and varied Christians. Quite a few from other parts of the world. This mix of people whom I related to, I now know was Gods provision for me as he trained me to be a pastor even all those years back.
It was with great joy that I finished year 10 and at that point I had no intention to ever, ever go back to school again! I finished school on the Friday and began my apprentiship on the Monday as Carpenter Joiner. Thus ended my nice secure Christian world as I walked into the world of men (sounds like a Lord of Rings saga). I realise now that this began the process for me to decide for myself if I was going to choose Jesus or not. There were a lot of temptations in a work place that had about 40 other tradesman in it and I was soon encouraged to participate in many of them! My parents had been strictly teetotallers and I had to work out for myself the hows and whys of alcohol. I remember hearing a children’s talk way back when I was a kid, it was given by a man who was pretty rough round the edges, he was a truck driver but with a heart of gold. He said to us kids, God has no grandchildren. Those four years of my apprentiship were a time of working out if I was going to follow this Jesus that my parents did or if I was going to just hang on their coat tails.
Some years prior my parents had taken our family on a trip to some countries where missionaries were working. As part of that my sister and I did some months in a boarding school in Senegal, West Africa. Several days after mum and dad had left us at this strange place with all these strange people I remember walking out of the school compound into the bush surrounding and being really upset. I remember talking to God about it, about how I didn’t want to be there; when in the midst of my distress a great wave of peace descended on me. Like a blanket of comfort from the Holy Spirit just dropped over me. I know what it means when the bible says the ‘peace that passes all understanding’. From that moment on I was secure in the love of God and the rest of my time at boarding school was really wonderful. So I never had any doubts of the existence of God and my time as an apprentice was only if I would choose God or walk my own way.
Close to the end of my apprentiship I met an attractive blond girl who captivated my heart and I knew I had found my life’s partner. During our courtship something else profound happened to me. My grandfather passed away. I had always had a special relationship with my grandparents and even though they lived in NZ my Grandfather used to write to me and I knew he and my grandma prayed for me every day. I distinctly remember being at their 50 wedding anniversary a few year prior where my grandad made a great long speech but my grandma stood up – and this is the bit I remember – recited off by heart Psalm 103 which is why you heard it read today. With my dad, I flew over to NZ and attended his funeral. This had a deep effect on me. I remember being confronted for the first time with the reality of death and the meaning of life. Here in front of me was a life well lived. And also there were hundreds of people attending his funeral, and unlike me who was grieving, they were all celebrating. I knew at that moment that faith was real, even in the face of death. I made a choice to follow Jesus, an adult conscious decision to follow Jesus as my saviour.
At the end of my apprentiship I moved to a little country town in the NE of Tassie called Scottsdale where I worked for a friend of mine who was a contractor for harvesting potatoes. I did that for a year then worked in the bush for a while and eventually was asked to do more and more carpentry and joinery work so I started my own business. Suzanne and I were married in 1992 in a little country church. About this time in my early twenties I was asked to help with the youth group and to be a lay preacher. The parish had 5 preaching places on a Sunday and so it took quite a team. It was after one of those services that I learned that preparing myself was as much, if not more, important as preparing a sermon in preaching. Other preachers will understand when I say that. I remember my first sermon vividly as when I started preaching a man took his baby out to change the nappy as he came back in just as I finished. It was all of about 7 minutes.
Preaching and leading made me incredibly hungry for spiritual things. And so in my workshop I had a tape deck on sound system and I would listen to as many teaching tapes as I could. I just could not get enough. I started reading Romans on a Sunday afternoon to try and come to grips with the plan of God. By this time my parents had finished at the College, my dad had become the principal and had moved to the UK to take up the leadership of the mission they were in; called WEC International. WEC is an old school faith mission that makes no public appeals for funds. My parents lived their lives with God providing. Maybe I can tell you some more about that another day.
Suzanne and I decided to make the usual pilgrimage to Europe while we had free accommodation. It is amazing how when you are away from your usual space of life that you can clearly hear the voice of God. For me it was through my father who said to me “Jonathan if you are going to do something for God then you had better get on and do it”. That caused for me a collision of that hunger to know Gods word and a growing sense of destiny in me. It became for me the voice of God. From that moment on my life’s course changed forever.
Long story short but Suzanne who was pregnant with Morgan at that stage, applied to come to BCSA in Unley. And so in the very hot summer of 1995 we moved over with all our worldly possession on the back of my Nissan patrol Ute. On about the third Sunday in Adelaide we attended Malvern Uniting and until a few weeks ago that’s been our home ever since. Within three weeks Benji Callen, now the minister of Pt Lincoln Uniting and I had started a youth group.
When I finished Bible College I was offered a paid job at Malvern Unley running youth and families. At this point I did not want, nor did I believe I was minister material. I had no intention of being a minister, indeed someone had told me that I would never make a public speaker. I thought as I had all along that I would return to my carpentry joinery business and be a better lay preacher. But God had different ideas and through a set of circumstances let me to believe that this was for me. I distinctly remember going home one day and saying to Suzanne that I believed God was calling us into ordained ministry. She up to this point had said no way! But on this day she said yes, and at that moment it was like a great weight going off my shoulders.
So I candidated and the church responded to the call on my life with a strong affirmation. All through this time I remained on staff at Malvern Unley, which I must say was very helpful in taking the study that I was doing and giving it a practical outworking. During this time Suzanne and I welcomed 3 other children into our family, bought a home in St Marys and began to come to terms with our calling.
At the end of 2003 I was called to Unley Malvern as minister which was quite a surprise to me having been on staff. Presbytery was keen for me to assume the senior leadership when the current minister retired. So after three years that’s what happened. When we left Malvern Unley on the 1st Feb this year, it was almost 20 years to the day that we arrived.
Now that’s a very quick snapshot of some key events in my life. Over those years the Lord has taught me many lessons about him and the way he works.
One of the biggest things that I have begun to understand is God's Faithfulness. While I knew it in my head I just didn’t realise that God was so deliberate in the way he looks after you. I had seen the faithfulness of God in my parents and grandparents but it’s another thing to have it in your life. This for me was the continuing understanding of maturing in faith. To realise that God blocks certain things in your life, opens certain things – even when you don’t understand is really quite reassuring. I began to understand that you had to look backwards in your past to see Gods hand in order to have faith for the future. You can see the past but not the future, yet God is the same yesterday today and forever. So it’s a fair bet that the way he acted in your life a year ago will be similar to the way he will act next year. That’s simplifying the process but it gave me a strong hint and an assurance of his faithfulness.
But I also worked out that while I understood grace, while I knew I had Gods underserved favour and there was nothing I could do to earn Gods love; there is an element where Gods faithfulness depends upon my own attitude of humbleness towards God and my own desire to be faithful to God. God does steer a moving ship, God does honour the humble but opposes the proud, and God is close to those who come close to him. Isn’t it funny that some of these things take so long to learn and even though we know them up here… we don’t know them here, in our actions.
A couple more quick lesions that I have learned and no doubt they will come out in my preaching over the years ahead. When I had my own children it was like a light had been switched on in my head. Or course my bank account has remained empty and there is always too much washing. But I suddenly realised the heart of the Father. The love that God had for me. When I held those precious bundles I was filled with love to the point of overflowing. And I did everything I could to protect them and give them everything they would need for their future. If that’s what I was like with my kids then how much more was God like that for us. And you know it really helped me to love people more. It really helped me to see people through Gods eyes. No I’m sure that at Seeds there are no difficult people, non-whatsoever. So I’m sure I don’t need it here at all. If I can love my kids like that, how much more does God care for me and love me. It continues to rattle my brain.
Last lesson for this morning. And this will help you understand me a bit more. I always wanted to be a soldier. But my dad in his great wisdom talked me out of it and I am grateful for his words in my life. But there was a period there where I was thinking hard about it. Wishing for it. And then I realised that the cause of the gospel and the involvement with the Kingdom of God is so much more than any countries army. The gospel is something I can really give my life for. So I began to take the leadership lessons from military examples into my own life. About 15 years back I began to understand the valuable place of discipline in my life. And putting them into place I could see the benefits of hard work and determination. And this is a sermon for another day but I think that too many times we excuse ourselves because we are busy, but really we are just soft on ourselves. I know as a carpenter a sharp chisel will get the job done every time where as a blunt chisel is next to useless. Discipline makes us sharp and makes us a worthy tool in the hands of the master carpenter.
I think that’s probably enough for today. There is plenty more time for me to tell stories in the years to come.
It is fitting that I tell you this story on Palm Sunday, for I too honour Jesus as he rides into our midst. May the result of my life be in giving him glory. May the results of all our lives be his glory. Amen.