My second best friend is a puppet

puppetSo goes the name of the beach mission facebook group I joined this summer. Actually, I joined more than a facebook group—Fiona and I joined the team at Old Bar with our son, Marcus. It had been 30 years since we’d last been on a beach mission as team members. This time at Old Bar and previously at Lake Tabourie. I figured I was joining the team so as to hang out with family, but it turned out to be a great way to start 2019. It was more helpful to me than I imagined.

Beach missions are rarified opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with anyone who will listen. More than 100 kids joined in programs for all ages, learning about Jesus from the Bible, playing games, having fun, and building some awesome friendships. But it’s not just for the kids. There were teenagers, adults, and all age activities. A coffee tent turned over a heap of coffee and stimulated many good conversations. We had rock nights, family feuds, bush dances, festivals, movies, fair trade markets, and more. Some of the campers had been coming along to the different programs every year for years. Some even chose to camp at Old Bar because of the annual activities. I met people who’d had their lives changed forever through hearing about Jesus and seeing the impact he makes on members of the team.

The thing I enjoyed about this mission was how down to earth and normal it was to share Jesus with others. I get plenty of opportunities to chat about what I believe, but usually as a speaker up the front at some event, or afterwards over a coffee. At Old Bar I was one of the crew, visiting campers, chatting about what we believe, and striking up strange conversations with strangers.

One afternoon we held a Hope Beyond Cure event in the large tent. Lots of people came, and most of them had a story of struggle with cancer—either them or someone they loved. I chatted with one woman who had brain cancer followed by a stroke. She had been holidaying at Old Bar for years, but never before in a motorised wheelchair. Life is fragile and she reminded us all of this reality.

What did I take away from beach mission? The joy of being with a team of people, all intent in sharing the good news of Jesus with others, everyone with a role to play on the team, people chipping in, taking the initiative to help, everyone supporting one another, sometimes encouraging, sometimes critiquing, and suggesting things we could do better. And it struck me that this is what I’d like church to be like—everyone in a team working together using their different talents to love one another, encourage one another, and above all to reach out into our community with the best news of all.

As I reconnect with the crew at Salt Church, my prayer is that we can grow together as a team—a team, at the beach, on mission together, for Jesus.

More changes ahead

img_3063

I find it hard to sit still. I’m sure if ADD had been a diagnosis in 1967, then I would have been labelled. All my school reports said something along the lines of “He would do better if he stopped talking and concentrated more on his work…” Not to mention all those sitting close to me would have done better too.

But just when we were thinking that life would stabilise here in Bonny Hills, another change comes along. This year I’m taking on the role of Pastor at Salt Community Church. Salt meets between Bonny’s and Lake Cathie in the local primary school. This Saturday at 5pm (yes our church gets in early!) I will commence this role, as I begin preaching through 1 Peter on the theme Make Your Life Count. Tonight, Fiona and I are meeting with some of the leaders to talk ‘church’ and do some preparation together.

My role at Salt will be part-time, as I am continuing with the role of National Director of FIEC. It will mean a bit less travel than the past two years, but that is needed anyway. Together with Dean, Jim, Fiona, and our executive, I will seek to provide good leadership, support, and direction to our Fellowship. I will need to work smarter, not harder, as they say!

I am excited about regular preaching and pastoral ministry in the local context, as I have a growing passion for God’s work in the Bonny Hills area. It will be nice to have the rhythm of regular preaching to keep me growing in God’s word. I also hope that it will keep me fresh and add a new dimension in relating to pastors in my work as National Director.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been involved in some mentoring, ministry coaching, and professional supervision of pastors and Christian leaders. Most of this synchronises nicely with the FIEC role. This year I’m up-skilling by taking on some supervised training in Christian mentoring. Last week Fiona, Dean Ingham, and I, all took the first intensive in a course at SMBC aimed at improving the manner in which we support, equip, and encourage growth in other leaders.

While we miss our friends from 28 years in Canberra, we are enjoying living on the Mid North Coast. It’s a joy to wake up to the sun and the surf. We love being nearer some of our kids and grandkids, and we are eagerly anticipating the birth of another grandchild in a few weeks. The year is filling up already and we will need God’s help. If you are in the business of talking to God and praying for others, we’d value your prayers for 2019. Please pray that God will equip us to serve him competently and faithfully. And ask God to help us walk the line of going out on a limb for him, while looking after ourselves at the same time.

God save the kids

I’ve been on holidays. It’s been wonderful. I’ve been with my grandkids—swimming, fishing, camping, eating, even singing. Kids are awesome. Having kids is awesome. Having grandkids is grand awesome. Now, I know some can’t. Many suffer under the unrelenting weight of infertility, longing for children of their own. Others weep daily for their lost children due to accident or disease. The crushing pain of miscarriage and still birth haunts many, leading to deep depression and despair. And many bear the scars of being stolen children or having had their children taken away.

I’ve come back from holidays and my world has gone crazy. America, New York, to be precise. On the 46th anniversary of Roe vs Wade, abortion law has taken a giant leap. New York city is celebrating full term abortions. Not just passing law, but celebrating! Lighting up the World Trade Centre. Painting it pink to party at the passing of the Reproductive Health Act.

Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, declared, “Today the New York legislature is poised to take a historic vote to protect women’s rights and autonomy … While there is still more to do to ensure New York can be a safe haven for women all over the country, today is a day for long-overdue celebration.” Is that really true? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to limit the safe -haven to the women who are lucky enough to be born already. What about all the unborn women? How safe is New York for them?

This is the first time I’ve ever written a post about abortion. It’s too easy to cause hurt and harm in every direction. Perhaps, the complexity of the matter has kept me quiet. Maybe, I’ve been gutless in the past. So why now? To put it simply, what has just taken place in New York Sate fills me with fear and moves me to tears. I feel compelled to cry out.

There used to be a cut off date for abortion—24 weeks. They’ve taken that away. Not that I approved of any date, but this is a step too far. The thing is, I’ve met a number of children born before 24 weeks. They are alive and healthy today. I’ve walked with couples who’ve spent weeks and months in the NICU, caring and praying for their little ones born at 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28+ weeks. They are precious jewels.

aujaI have a first hand, hands on, deep connection to this matter. Our little girl wasn’t due until 7th January, but she arrived early on 1st October. Do the maths. That’s early. Very very early. More than 14 weeks early. We visited our beautiful girl every single day, sometimes 3 or 4 times, for 97 days in the NICU. We stood by her as she took one step forward and two steps back. We agonised over every setback and rejoiced at every advance. We put life on hold for her. We prayed for her. So many others prayed for her. A treasured daughter, sister, granddaughter, child of God. We watched her grow, develop and mature, day by day, until the day she was due. We had the privilege of seeing what is normally kept hidden—a perfect, precious, baby growing outside instead of inside the womb.

It horrifies me that anyone would celebrate the right to terminate the life of my little girl. Sometimes, there must be an agonising choice to save a mother at the cost of the child. But celebrate? Hold a party? Light up the World Trade Centre? Really? How twisted have we become?

It saddens me that we champion the right to choose over the right to live, and right up until the due date. I don’t trust people. And it deeply worries me that this is not going to be the end.

December 2 seven years on

IMG_2831It’s December 2nd—my seventh anniversary since diagnosis. Wow! A few tears fill my eyes. This is real. And it was never going to be. Life was over. It was all downhill. There was no hope. Expectations were gone. And then…

To be alive. Intoxicating. Blessings. Fiona. Luke, Sharon, Matt, Liz, Grace, Sid, Marcus, Liam, Connor, Jesse, and the little one we are yet to meet. Family. Friends. Brothers and sisters in the Lord. Friends with cancer. Deep bonds.

Ministry. Work. Travel. Beaches. Lessons. Blessings. Opportunities. Words. Writing. Speaking. Listening. Learning.

Father in heaven, thank you for life and living. Thank you for health and possibilities and a future.

And forgive me. Yes, forgive me, for unlearning. For once more taking breath for granted, for my growing sense of entitlement, for pride, for becoming casual and flippant and attracted by trivia. 

Father, you have taught me so much on this journey with cancer. You have been with me in the valley of death, you’ve carried me through so many trials and temptations, you’ve been merciful beyond description. You have taught me lessons, encouraged my faith, and disciplined me in my wandering. You have comforted me, that I might comfort others. 

Father God, you have adopted me into your family, you have redeemed my life through Jesus, you have filled me with your Spirit. I can never thank you enough. You have reminded me that I’m not self-sufficient and shown me the your sufficiency of your grace. Thank you that my life is in your hands and teach me to number my days once more.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!

(Psalm 139:13-17)

Bring back the testimony

…in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:16-17)
God’s word encourages us to be willing and able to let people know what we believe and why we believe it. One way to do this is to share how God’s story—the good news of Jesus Christ—intersects with our story. Traditionally this has been called ‘sharing your testimony.’

Testimonies: evidence and honour

Testimony isn’t a word we use very often. We hear it in a courtroom, because it has to do with providing evidence. Sometimes special functions or dinners are held as a testimonial to a person, honouring their life or particular achievements.

A personal Christian testimony will provide evidence of how the gospel has transformed the life of an individual. The transformed person provides evidence that God’s continues to be active in people’s lives today.

When I was growing up, it was very common for Christians to share their testimonies. We would do this at youth group, in church services, or during special evangelistic events. Let me share a few things I’ve picked up along the way.

A testimony to forget

I can still remember giving my first testimony. At the age of 16, at a church camp, I was asked to describe what it was like to be a Christian. It was something I will likely never forget. The fear of speaking in front of others didn’t seem to bother me. It was more the pressure to say something impressive. I hadn’t been a knife-wielding, drug-crazed gang member. Nor had my conversion been any great, emotional, charismatic experience. I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God, brought up in a Christian home, what could I say? I remember it well. I lied! That’s right, I made up a story to impress. And it was a great testimony. I know, because people came up and told me afterwards! Have you heard people give testimonies? Have you given one yourself? What was it like?

I made up a testimony to impress. And it was a great testimony. I know, because people came up and told me afterwards!

Why a testimony?

Testimonies are a great way of letting others know that people do change to become Christians. Real people—people who are like them. Because the gospel we preach is rooted in an event of early history, it is helpful for people to hear that God still works powerfully through His Word today. And living evidence for this stands before them.

Where and when to give a testimony?

Almost any situation can be a good time to give your testimony. You don’t need to be invited up front at church to tell someone about what Jesus has done.  This can be done as you talk with your friends, as you travel on a plane, as you chat with other mums in your antenatal class, as you share the good news on your campus, or as you talk with mates after work. If your church or group is planning a public outreach meeting, it may be helpful to arrange for someone to give their testimony. This gives a real-life example of the good news of Jesus at work.

Who should speak?

Remember the purpose of a testimony is to show that the gospel changes real people, people that the listener can relate to. For this reason, there is probably little mileage in having an ex-bikie speak at the Women’s Fellowship dinner. It is usually better to have an ordinary member of the group speak, rather than some high-powered outsider. You want those who accept your invitations to hear about someone just like them. It might even be good to have a couple of people speak to show how God deals differently with each of us.

What should you say?

Firstly, work out clearly why you are saying anything at all. You are speaking because you want to see people come into a relationship with God. And that means they need to hear about Jesus, not all the sordid details of your pre-Christian days. Some testimonies I hear are 95% sin and 5% salvation. And sometimes Jesus doesn’t even get a look in. Standing up and talking about your experience can be a great means of ego-tripping, so it is of first importance that we point people beyond ourselves to Jesus.

Your purpose is not to preach a sermon—it’s not about explaining a Bible passage. It’s about explaining what God has done in your life. So, speak about what Jesus has done, and how he has changed your life. Most people have no trouble speaking about themselves, so you must work out clearly beforehand what you are going to put in and what you will leave out.  We don’t need to hear every little detail, just the important bits: what was going on in your life, how you came to hear and understand about Jesus, how you responded to him, and what difference this has made to your life. A short clear talk will be remembered, but long-winded drivel will only bore people, and leave them wondering about your point.

I remember listening to a student give her testimony one night. It started off great. She quickly moved from her need of forgiveness to the night that she understood that Jesus had died for her. But then she didn’t know how to stop. Another 10 minutes passed before she sat down. Work out beforehand what you should say, how you will start, and how you should finish. You may not know when to stop but everyone else will.

How should you give it?

Not like an expert, but then you don’t want to be sloppy either. Think about meetings you’ve been to where everything seems laid back and relaxed. My guess is that they were very well prepared. It is a great idea to practise your testimony with a friend. They will be able to tell you how it sounds, whether there is jargon to chop out, if it is too long and so on. Clarity, sincerity and honesty are called for in a testimony. Not slickness! Give it without notes. If you think you need notes, then you’re probably saying too much, or perhaps you are speaking about things that haven’t really made a big impact on your life.

Interviewing

An alternative to the monologue testimony is the interview. Tom asks Jane a series of questions designed to show how Jesus has changed Jane’s life. The aim of the interview remains the same as the testimony. But this way gives Jane the advantage of not having to remember the format of the testimony. And people like to hear conversations and dialogue. Tom is able to control what is being said and the length of the interview. This is a great help to people who are unsure about public speaking. If Jane says something that’s unclear, or full of jargon, Tom is able to ask another question to clarify it. Again, preparation is important. Both people should meet beforehand to go over the questions and responses. Then you both know what is going to happen.

John Chapman developed a pattern of questions thatyou may find helpful:

  • Did you grow up in a Christian home?
  • What makes you say that?
  • How did you come to understand that Jesus died for you?
  • What did you do to respond to this?
  • What is the hardest part of the Christian life for you?
  • What is the best part of the Christian life for you?

Finally

Remember, it is Jesus you are promoting, not yourself. So pray that what you say might lead others to Jesus. That’s what you really want to happen, isn’t it?

P.S. 

There are a number of ways to improve your ability to testify to Jesus.  Here are some further tips:

  • Pray for opportunities to share Christ with others.
  • Practice talking with others about Jesus.
  • Know a gospel outline clearly.
  • Read Honest Evangelism by Rico Tice.
  • Listen to some evangelistic talks on line.
  • Practice talking with others about Jesus.
  • Pray for more opportunities to share Christ with others.

Edited version of article Remember Testimonies that first appeared on The Gospel Coalition Australia site.

Do you have a message to share?

mic2Do you have a message to share? Is it the kind of word that puts fire in your belly? Do you wake up early wanting to spread this news to others? Is it unthinkable that you would keep it to yourself? I’m interested in the things that drive us, the messages that inspire us, and the passions that lead us to speak.

Having spent 16 seasons with the Brumbies in Canberra, I know what it is to live and breath rugby. While some shake their heads in bewilderment, others will argue and proclaim all season. Monday morning experts, as they say, who can dissect with precision, diagnose every detail, and deliver the answers with ease. For some it’s almost a cult that draws in every detail of their lives. For others, it’s on the nose, they’ve had enough, and they don’t want to hear another word.

I’ve experienced many passions shaping the conversations of my friends. During my final years in Canberra, I was engulfed in a world of cycling. My last ride was back in 2010, with the Brumbies, riding on back trails from Canberra to Kosi. Not so much post-cancer and never with the passion I see today. So many around me living and breathing bikes. Road bikes, mountain bikes, trails, single tracks, races, teams, 24 hour events, new bikes, never enough bikes, roof racks, brakes, gears, frames, wheels, bikes on weekends, rides to the coast, rides back again, early morning rides, late night rides, lighting systems, carb loading, hydration strategies, friends, coffee shops, overseas trips, getting the wife and kids involved… on and on it went. Passion, drive, energy, and Strava. Barely a conversation went by without hearing the gospel of cycling.

And now it’s surfing. My town runs on it. Short boards, long boards, SUPs (not really), comps, clubs, drinks, friends, early mornings, every Sunday, tradies, oldies, wet suits, shark alerts, rips, tides, banks, and reefs. Being accepted means joining the club, rising early, donning the suit, paddling out, watching, waiting, commentating, tracking the weather, following the swell. Do you surf? You should? Get yourself a board. You can borrow mine. Just get on board. The gospel of surfing is very compelling.

But I long to hear another gospel. A transcendent gospel. A gospel for all. A gospel beyond the tribalism of rugby, beyond the addictions of cycling and surfing, coffee or wine. I long to hear a gospel of depth and purpose and significance and meaning and life. Deep life, enduring life, life beyond trivia, life beyond material prosperity, life beyond health and fashion and money and security. I long to hear of a gospel of forgiveness, a fresh start, transformation, altruism, generosity, love for people, grace, friendship, encouragement and hope. I long to hear more about the loving almighty creator. I long to hear more about his intersecting with life, intervening in life, interupting life. I long to hear more of his coming, his living, his struggles, his actions, his extraordinary works, his deep compassion, his healing touch, his wise teaching, his passion for justice, his provocative preaching, his prophetic pronouncements, his predictions of the future. I long to hear people speak of his death and resurrection, his humility and sacrifice, his glory and power. I long to hear the gospel of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the King, the Lord, the Saviour, the Son of God, the giver of life.

So speak. Share your gospel. Speak from your heart. Communicate what gets you up in the morning. Commend the very message that puts steel in your spine. Offer that word that fuels your tanks. Persuade people about what matters really matter most. Give people quality news, true news, gripping news, compelling news. Share your hope of life. And do it with clarity, and passion, and conviction, with integrity.

But don’t pontificate. Don’t pretend you have it all together. Don’t push a set of rules called religion. Share the gospel of grace. Speak of the relationship, not the rituals. And don’t talk over others. Don’t shout down your opposition. Listen, ask, respond, speak, clarify, encourage, answer, explore, commend, persuade.

Our world needs a true gospel. If you’ve got a message to share, then let’s hear it.

5Ms, 4Es, CGS2, and clarity of purpose

When you join with a group of people, a club or an organisation, it’s helpful to know what they’re on about. Join the surf club so as to save lives in the surf. Belong to the P&C to raise money for the school. Sign up with the library so as to borrow books or get free internet. Join the church so as to…

churchWaste your Sundays? Dabble in religion? Make God happy? No. No. No. If you don’t go to church, then there are far better reasons than these to consider. Church is intended to be a gathering of Christian people and people who want to check out what being a Christian is really all about. Ideally, you will meet real people who’ve become convinced that knowing God and having a genuine relationship with Jesus is the most significant thing there is. They will engage on real issues in a real way. It might even surprise you. You could find your life changed in a positive way for ever. Many have.

But again, sadly, you will find some who are simply going through the motions. The same ritual week after week, and no-one has paused to really consider why.

For those of you who are Christians, what’s the answer? What is the church on about? When people visit your church website, what does it look like? If you visit a church, what do you expect they will they be doing and what will they expect of you? If you ask the minister, what will he say is going on, and will it be the same as what the regular members say? Do people know why they belong? Do they know where the church is going, what it values, what’s most important? And if you choose to do more than turn up, do you know how to get more involved? Does the church want your involvement? Do they have a spot for you? And is it obvious?

There’s lots of talk among the churches I know about mission and vision and values. Sometimes it can sound a little corporate and crass. Other times it can seem a bit like applehood and mother pie. And sometimes it reminds me of a little girl wanting to dress up in her mother’s clothes—they look good on mum, but they’re ridiculous on the little girl. But sometimes they help. They really do.

Careful, clear, thought out, simple expressions of who we are, why we are, how we are, where we are, and where we’re going. Clarity, visibility, simplicity, logic—these are powerful things when it comes to getting people on board. I wonder how many church transfers, church shops, and church disillusionments happen because they can’t work out what the church is on about or how to get involved.

One model that has been growing larger on the church landscape in recent years is the 5Ms. Adapted from the Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Church, the Ms stand for Magnification, Membership, Maturity, Ministry, and Mission. This approach sees the Christian life expressed in magnifying God for his glory, welcoming people into the membership of Christ’s body and this church, growing one another into maturity in Christ, equipping one another to serve our brothers and sisters, and to reach out to our world in mission. It’s a continuous and repetitive journey. Every part belongs to the Christian life. There’s a logic in the flow. It’s anchored in the Scriptures. It provides shape and direction for the ministry of the church. It creates pathways for people’s participation. There is nothing sacrosanct about the 5Ms, but they help to keep focused on what matters matter most.

My early ministry years were spent shaping a ministry around 4Es. We were committed to Evangelism (introducing Jesus and calling people to turn to him), Edification (building each other into Christian maturity through the word of God made active in love), Equipping (training one another in Christian service), and Exporting (encouraging people to go into the world, literally, with the message of Jesus).

CGS2A few years back, having read Simple Church by Gieger and Rainer, we decided to align our church mission around CGS2 (though we never reduced it to CGS2). Connect, Grow, Serve, To the glory of God—that was our plan. Our church existed to build connections—connections into our community, connection with God through people responding to the gospel of Jesus, and connections with one another through regular fellowship. We existed to grow in spiritual maturity—through people responding to God’s word, coming before God in prayer, building one another in small groups, and applying the word in their lives. We existed to serve one another—to take the corporate and ‘one another’ language of the New Testament seriously, by actively investing in each other, serving the church in specific ministry teams, and reaching out to love our neighbours. And we wanted to do all this 2 the glory of God—not to us O Lord, not to us, but to you, be the glory forever and ever.

What’s your church on about? Is it clear to people? Are people consumers or providers? Are they passengers or participants? Do you know what you’re doing and why? Does it flow from the Scriptures? How is your church shaped? Does it make it easier to get involved? Are people working together in alignment? If you don’t know, then start a conversation.