Opening Service - Pastor Noel's Message

Author: Pastor Noel Burton

Readings: Colossians 2:7 & Psalm 1:3

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Pastor Noel Burton delivering his message at Opening Service

Pastor Noel Burton delivering his message at Opening Service

I went to Tasmania for a couple weeks in January. While there, we visited a facility breeding Tasmanian Devils and Quolls near Cradle Mountain National Park, an area with temperate rainforests. In a discussion about climate changes, the ranger pointed to a beautiful big gum tree, a beautiful big dead gum tree, and said it had died because the rains have not been up to what that tree needs. It died of insufficient water.

Psalm 1 begins, “1 God blesses those people who refuse evil advice and won't follow sinners or join in sneering at God. 2 Instead, the Law of the Lord makes them happy, and they think about it day and night. 3 They are like trees growing beside a stream, trees that produce fruit in season and always have leaves. Those people succeed in everything they do.” [CEV]

Water is essential for all life to grow and prosper. And if you are a tree, you need the right soil and right water level for your optimum growth and survival. A big, beautiful, old gum tree that has survived for hundreds of years will still die if it doesn’t have sufficient water. We are no different. We need water to survive. You can last for weeks without food, but only a few days without water. Less in extremely hot weather. Water is essential.

In my yard at Plainland, we have planted heaps of trees and bushes.  Early on we planted avocados and banksias.  We soon realised that even if we gave the right amount of water for these plants, the soil wasn’t right. Banksias like sandy soil, and avocados like well-drained soil too. Our first avocado tree was flourishing — until heavy rain came and got its roots too wet.

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All of which helps us understand our text for today: “They are like trees growing beside a stream, trees that produce fruit in season and always have leaves. Those people succeed in everything they do.” Trees need their roots to be in soil that is right for them, that nourishes them, with consistent water that is sufficient for them to grow and flourish. They flourish and are successful.

Taking that image, the Psalmist says we are similar, spiritually. Each of you gathered here today needs the right environment, the right soil we might say, to nurture you, and the right water delivered continually to sustain you. The Psalm tells us the major component of what we need to flourish and succeed is to be fed on the Word of God and be grounded in Christ, to be nourished and sustained by Christ.

As I look out on this forest of trees before me today, students of Faith College, I also see trees that have been planted beside a stream. As we apply this Psalm to your student life at Faith, we see why for Faith College, the Word of God forms the foundation of all that Faith College does.

Faith College will be celebrating its 20th year, and that celebration recognises that it has flourished, and you, its students have flourished, because there is a foundation in the Word of God and in Christ Jesus. The vision for Faith College to exist grew out of people with their roots grounded in the soil and stream of the Word of God. And that vision continues today. Through this foundation, this soil and this stream of living water coming to us through the Word of God, Faith College continues to flourish and be successful.  You, students of Faith, continue to flourish and be successful.

This is both a statement of what happens, an observation by the Psalmist that life works better this way in God’s world, but also a promise from God that he will flourish and nurture you through his Word. Therefore, it is an encouragement both to each of you as individuals and to you all together as a community of Faith College to remain with that foundation of God and his Word, and of Jesus. It is an encouragement to continue personally anchoring your life in God’s Word, receiving encouragement, knowledge and hope by it, which overflows into all other areas of your life. It is a promise of God that as you do, you will flourish and succeed. And what does that flourishing and succeeding look like? Many in our world judge that by one measure — money. Others judge by fame or beauty. But these are a very poor measures of success. What is being talked about here is deeper, more fulfilling, and more rewarding. 

Success and flourishing is about relationships, about community, about joy, about peace, about fulfilling the purpose God has for you. In fact, one measure of flourishing as a person would mean they increasingly have the following attributes in their life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In a college environment, we might include knowledge and understanding, compassion and commitment. And for the community, success might be helping students to grow and mature as well-rounded people, grounded in God’s Word and in Jesus, prepared for the world and prepared to fulfil their God-given purpose in life.

drought.jpeg

We are experiencing a severe drought in many areas of our land. Drought strains people and communities, plants and animals. Sometimes you can come across a tree that flourishes in the dry times because its roots have gone deep, deep, down into the soil finding water underground, hidden from above. As we individually and together as a community of Faith College anchor ourselves deep in God’s Word, we become like those trees. We gain a resilience that carries us through the dry times in life, the tough times, the droughts. We continue to flourish even when times are tough. We continue to succeed even as we face trials and struggles. And this happens because God not only works this way through his Word, but he promises to nourish and sustain us as we stay grounded and anchored in Jesus. As I said before, it is both an observation of how life works, and a promise of God to you.

So, as you begin this new school year, “Plant your roots in Christ and let him be the foundation for your life. Be strong in your faith, just as you were taught. And be grateful.” (Colossians 2:7 [CEV])

And as you face the good times and the tough times, may you anchor yourselves in God’s Word. May he fulfil his promise and nourish you so that you flourish and succeed to be the young people he made you to be. Amen.

The peace of God, which is beyond all human understanding, stand guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.