A letter from lockdown (Philippians 3)

U tubeIn Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul exposes the vulgarity of self-righteous religion. He explains how Christianity is not about what we do for God, but what he has already done for us. He reveals how following Jesus is a relationship, not a set of rules and rituals. He shows how we can know God deeply.

You can receive notifications when new talks are uploaded, by subscribing to my You Tube channel.  http://youtube.com/c/davemcdonaldbibletalks

Spiritual health and safety  (Philippians 3:1-3)

It’s not what we do for God  (Philippians 3:4-7)

Relationship not religion  (Philippians 3:8-9)

Really knowing Christ  (Philippians 3:10-11)

Pressing on  (Philippians 3:12-16)

Stand firm  (Philippians 3:17 – 4:1)

 

 

A letter from lockdown (Philippians 2)

U tubePaul’s letter from prison lockdown to the Christians in Philippi is a warm, heartfelt encouragement to following Jesus. In chapter 2 Jesus’ extreme humility is presented as the model for Christian relationships. Impossible? Certainly, unless God is at work within us to will and to act. We are called to lives of humble gladness rather than selfish grumbling and arguing. Paul’s colleague, Timothy, and his Philippians friend, Epaphroditus, give us a picture of what humble service looks like in practice.

You can link to any of the Philippians chapter 2 short talks via the links below.

I have recorded more than 50 talks during the coronavirus lockdown and you can find talks on Ecclesiastes, Romans 12, and Philippians on my You Tube channel at http://www.youtube.com/c/davemcdonaldbibletalks. Please subscribe.

Sharing in abundance  (Philippians 2:1-4)

Ultimate humility  (Philippians 2:5-8)

Ultimate glory  (Philippians 2:9-11)

Work out your salvation  (Philippians 2:12-13)

Grumbling and gladness  (Philippians 2:14-18)

Models of humility  (Philippians 2:19-30)

 

 

 

A letter from lockdown (Philippians 1)

You are invited to join me working through another book of the Bible. I will be exploring Paul’s letter to the Philippians in bite size chunks each day. Please subscribe to my You Tube channel and click the little ‘bell’ to receive notifications of new posts. Being a novice to You Tube, I had accidentally prevented people from getting notifications, so if you aren’t receiving them, please go back to the channel and hopefully the bell will appear for you to click! Rather than post a link to the talks on my blog each day, I will only post updates from time to time.

Below is a link to the trailer for these talks to introduce people to what I am doing.

My hope is that you are encouraged to get to know Jesus better as you read Paul’s letter to the Philippians and watch these short talks. Click on any of the links below to the talks on You Tube:

A letter from lockdown  (Philippians 1:1-2)

Partners in grace  (Philippians 1:3-8)

Big little prayers  (Philippians 1:9-11)

Lockdown gospel opportunities  (Philippians 1:12-18)

What’s your life about?  (Philippians 1:18-26)

Where do you belong?  (Philippians 1:27-30)

 

Quick to listen and slow to speak (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)

My schooling years were characterised by reports that always said much the same thing: “David talks too much and distracts those around him. He would get better outcomes from his work if he listened more and spoke less.”

When it comes to listening to God, we should put away the distractions, think about who it is who’s speaking, and focus attentively on his word. In these days of multi-sensory inputs and high tech gadgets, do you need to turn them off and set aside some time exclusively to listen to God? What might this look like?

The garden, the curtain, and the cross

(This post is by another member of my family, Sharon, who used this material with our three grandsons)

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This Easter Sunday morning our family, with our three boys aged 6, 4 and 2, finished The Garden, The Curtain and the Cross Easter Calendar. This is a 15 day family activity program. Each morning for the last 15 days our family has dug into God’s word together. Each family ‘devotion’ takes about 10 minutes. They creatively take us from creation, through the early Old Testament, to the crucifixion of Jesus, and finally to the book of Revelation. The activities are based on a children’s picture book of the same name.

The devotional material is probably aimed at a family with children a little older than ours—primary school-aged children and older. However, even our 4 year old was able to grasp the main concepts and came away challenged in his faith. The pack comes with a booklet of devotions to follow each day from the Sunday 2 weeks before Easter and an “advent” style calendar with 15 flaps to open revealing a picture related to each days study.

Each devotion starts with prayer and a question to get you thinking about the topic. A passage from the Bible is followed by questions about the passage and its application. The material has a guide for how to pray in response to each passage of the Bible, which I found really useful with my young family, as they are still learning to pray. Each day includes a ‘Let’s think a little more’ section, in which the main theme is explored further. We found the main content enough for our family so didn’t use this section.

I particularly loved the way the material walked you through the Bible, clearly showing God’s rescue plan and the reason it was needed. It places a big emphasis on the ‘Keep Out’ sign (angels with swords) that God placed at the Garden of Eden. It then draws a strong link to the curtain ‘Keep Out’ sign at God’s dwelling place in Israel, the temple. Finally, this is torn in two at Jesus’ death on the Cross. The way it explains these symbols, combining them with the pictures in the ‘Advent-style’ calendar worked really well for my boys. My 4 year old was able to remember and explain what the curtain meant for God’s people and how it being torn showed that we were allowed access to God through Jesus once again.

My favourite was day 6, when the solution to the problem of sin was covered. The Israelites needed a sacrificial swap to give them access to the Most Holy Place in the temple, a once a year sacrifice of two goats—one that is killed and one that is sent away— for their sins. The discussion questions and conversation that followed with my boys saw them really grasp their need for a swap and how great it is that Jesus has done this once and for all.

I am already looking forward to revisiting these devotions next year.

Postscript

Whether you’re reading this over Easter, Christmas, the school holidays, a COVID-19 lockdown, or any time really… this is a great resource for families. The Good Book Company are currently making available some related free resources. Download these while you can, and watch a video by the authors explaining why they have made this.

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Easter morning

(This post is by Fiona)

Easter Morning

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Tired, drawn, tear stained faces
tread sadly the predawn path
heavy stone
heavy hearts
grief

Confusion
flickering fear
hope
he’s not here
has he risen?

Faces turn toward the risen son
tears dried
fresh breath inspired
new life
hope
joy
he’s not here
HE IS RISEN
Christ, Saviour, King

Go quickly
feet running swiftly
tell the others
hope
he’s not dead
HE IS RISEN

Go
tell the good news
of salvation
to the disciples
to your neighbours, friends
to the sad, lonely, outcast, hopeless
to the world,
on swift, beautiful feet

Go
Tell the good news
HE IS RISEN
sins forgiven
death defeated
Jesus is King.
HOPE
JOY
LIFE

He will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
(Isaiah 25:8)

My soul yearns for you in the night;
in the morning my spirit longs for you.
When your judgments come upon the earth,
the people of the world learn righteousness.
(Isaiah 26:19)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die
(John 11:25)

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
(Romans 8:34)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. 
(1 Peter 1:3-4)

Easter exhaustion

(This post is by Fiona)

It’s Good Friday morning

Pastors are exhausted trying to make the technology work so that church can go ahead.

Wives are exhausted trying to support husbands, while also trying to make technology and life work for them, their friends, their kids, their neighbours…

Mums are exhausted from home-schooling in the midst of already busy lives, and now there’s all the holidays to fill.

Those with work are exhausted by all the craziness, dealing with anxious people, dealing with angry and frustrated customers, dealing with the extra stresses, demands and worries in the workplace.

Kids are exhausted from cranky mums, stressed dads, quarrelling siblings, who want what they have, who destroy what they’ve built, who…

Mums and dads are exhausted from trying to hold it all together when they’re not sure why it’s happening, when it will end, and the overwhelming fear of sickness, and even death.

People are exhausted as they try to stretch finances, adjust budgets, apply for payments.

Lonely people are even more lonely and isolated (though some are discovering the generosity of others).

The elderly are exhausted from their fears. This virus seems to be targeting them. They feel a burden on others.

The news from overseas is overwhelming. The numbers beyond comprehension, too awful to comprehend.

Governments are beginning to play the blame game.

There seems to be sharing of resources, but at a price.

The news from home is full of complaints and blame and accusations. What about me?

It’s full of pleas for people to be sensible — just not me, not on my holidays.

Police are exhausted, and frustrated, and angry at the carelessness of people.

Health care workers are exhausted from the anxiety of what might be coming, of resources already used up, of people who cough on them…

It’s Good Friday morning

The disciples are exhausted. They couldn’t stay awake to pray. Their sleep in the garden was fitful.

Jesus looks exhausted. Praying, sweating, agonising all night.

But now there’s calmness and purposefulness in his face as he rouses the disciples once more.

Judas has figured out how to stretch his budget. The coins jingle in his pocket as he leads the soldiers and kisses Jesus on the cheek.

The hastily-convened court is chaotic, noisy, disordered. Accusations fly. Blame is pointed. Frustration and anger boil over. Clever plotting by the manipulative ones seems to sway the crowd. Someone has to pay to save their way of life, their rule.

Peter is devastated and deeply ashamed by his betrayal. But what else could he do? He didn’t want to stand where Jesus did. He could smell the anger and bloodlust. He was sickened by the smell of his own fear.

Pilate is exhausted by this rabble of Jewish religious rulers. Why can’t they just sort things out themselves and leave him alone?

The rabble are frenzied, whipped into fury. Someone will pay.

The soldiers are exhausted. It’s another rotten day in this forsaken Roman outpost. They’d rather be at home with their families.

They may as well have some fun. Whipping, spitting, cursing, mocking. At least there’s his clothing to divide.

Jesus is exhausted.

Simon of Cyrene is co-opted to bear the burden. “What did I do to deserve this? In the wrong place at wrong time. Poor bugger, he looks done in. God, I hope they don’t crucify me as well!”

Spitting, jeering, laughing, mocking, scorning, pushing, shoving.

The women are exhausted from their mourning.

Jesus is exhausted.

God had abandoned him.

Isolated.

Alone.

Struggling to breathe.

Still thinking of others. “John, take care of my mother.” “Father forgive them.” “Today, you’ll be with me in paradise.”

Exhausted, alone, abandoned, dead.

It’s Good Friday morning

I’m exhausted, but thankful. Profoundly thankful for a Saviour who understands me, cares for me, loves me.

Thank you Lord Jesus for shedding your blood for me.

We do not have a saviour who is unable to sympathise with our weakness. We have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.

He himself, bore our sins in his body, on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.

Enter the throne room with confidence to receive mercy and to find grace to help us in our time of need.

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he knows and cares for you.

Preparing for church online

austin-distel-gUIJ0YszPig-unsplash copySome of us go regularly to church. Fewer of us think about what we’re going to do when we get there. We’ve been on autopilot for too long. Our current crisis gives us the perfect opportunity to pause and think about what we’re doing, how we do it and, most importantly, why we do it.

Hebrews 10:24-25 gives us the following motivation to turn up to church regularly.

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

These verses are an important challenge to all who think it’s sufficient to be a Christian who keeps to themselves. I hear people say, “I follow Jesus. I don’t need the church.” Problem is, that Jesus leads the church, so we are either following Jesus with his church or we’re really justing heading in our own direction.

Hebrews 10:24-25 is also a challenge to our consumer mindset. We’re used to shopping around to find something that meets my needs, appeals to my likes, or reinforces my interests. The emphasis in these verses is on what you give, not what you get. They promote initiative, looking to serve, and being there for others. “Ask not what your church can do for you. Ask what you can do for your church.”

The challenge of these words lies deeper still. Notice the first sentence. It doesn’t say, “And let us spur one another…”. Rather it says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another…” In simple terms, this means you should pause and think about what you go to church for. Consider how you will contribute. Consider what will be encouraging. Consider who you might encourage, who might be doing it tough, sick, alone, struggling, fearful, anxious, even terrified. Don’t make church about recharging your batteries for the week. Rather, make it about recharging one another’s batteries every week. And if we all do that, then your batteries should stay fully charged.

How will this work? You’ll need to pause and think before you drive off to church. In today’s terms, consider how to make the most of turning up to church online. If your online church tends to be a one-directional download experience, then you will need to consider how you can encourage others at other times and in other ways. And all the more as these days are difficult and dangerous, in spiritual as well as physical ways.

Here are some tips to consider as you prepare for church online:

  1. Tune in properly. Get prepared for church and turn up. Get out of your PJs (especially it you go to afternoon church). Arrange a place to focus on whatever is happening with church. Plan ahead. Will you put it on the TV or large computer screen and sit as a family or couple? Will you wear headphones with a microphone to increase the audio precision? Don’t plan to multitask. Give your time wholly to church for the 40 minutes, an hour, or however long you will be meeting. Don’t multitask. Get off FaceBook, unless that’s where you find your church live feed. Leave the dishes until afterwards. Don’t be surfing the net or checking emails. Most importantly, take a minute before hand to pray that you’ll be able to encourage others and be encouraged yourself.
  2. Participate properly. Have a Bible with you. Look up the Bible reading and references during the talk. Have a notebook and pen and take some notes during the sermon. Download the talk outline if there is one. If there are kids activities, videos, participation exercises, then supervise your children to get involved. Encourage the same habits you’d like to see when we get out of lockdown. If there’s a time for singing, then join in. It might seem a bit awkward, so mute your microphone. You will probably need to anyway, because everyone trying to synchronise singing over the internet just isn’t going to work well. I recently watched the recording of our zoom church from last week and very few people were actually singing. I was the number one culprit. So join in by singing along at home. At least lip sync.
  3. Join a small group. Connecting with others is difficult in larger churches, so it is a great idea to join in a small group for prayer, Bible, mutual encouragement, fun and maybe food. Hopefully, your groups can continue to meet online and connect through Zoom, Skype, or some other platform. If you’re not in a group, then let me urge you to join one. This might well be the best means to put into practice the call of Hebrews 10:24-25 to “not give up meeting together ” but “encouraging one another another”. If your church doesn’t have small groups, then ask your leaders if they will help you get one going, and offer some guidance for what to do when you meet together.
  4. Reach out to people during the week. Don’t wait for the Sunday meeting or online church to come around. Look out for each other. Have one another’s backs. Stay socially connected. Use FaceBook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, FaceTime or some other social media. In fact, did you know smart phones can also be used as phones. That’s smart. There’s never been a better time to call and encourage one another than now. You can even read a bit of Bible together, chat about the message from Sunday, and pray together. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we came out of our COVID isolations better connected than we’ve ever been, just waiting to give each other a holy kiss, a hearty handshake, or a big fat bear hug.
  5. Keep on giving. If you go to a church where you support the ministry by putting money in the plate, then it might seem you’re off the hook now. And times will get tough. For you, for others in church, and also for your ministry staff. So if you can keep giving to support the ministry of your church, please do. The easiest way to do this is by setting up automated transfers from your bank account. Ask your church what they would find most helpful. And be generous.
  6. Come up your own ideas and share them with others.

 

 

Just Starting Out: Seven Letters to a New Christian

117888There aren’t too many books you can read, cover to cover, on a flight between Port Macquarie and Sydney, but Just Starting Out: Seven Letters to a New Christian by Al Stewart and Ed Vaughan is one. It’s short, pithy, punchy, and well worth the read. The book has been written for someone who has just become a Christian, to introduce them to some of the basics of the Christian life. They’ve chosen seven topics:

  1. Saved by God
  2. Trusting in God
  3. Living God’s way
  4. Listening to God
  5. Talking to God
  6. Meeting with God’s family
  7. Meeting the world

Each chapter corresponds directly to one of the seven Just for Starters Bible studies that were originally written for people who responded to the call to become Christians at the 1979 Billy Graham Crusades in Australia. These studies are more familiar to an older generation as the 7 Basic Bible Studies. Thousands of university students began Bible studies in their first year by working through these studies, and thousands more new believers have learned the basics of Christian life and doctrine by the same means. I remember these studies as a first year uni student, wondering why no one had taught me this stuff before. It was my introduction to basic Christian discipleship. I’ve since led hundreds of students through these studies, I’ve written talks to go with them, and I even worked them up into an ‘unpublished’ book in 1990! All this to say, I reckon it is so helpful for a new believer to be guided in the basics and not left to flounder around trying to work out how a new Christian is called to live.

So well done Al and Ed, and congratulations Matthias Media. This is an excellent resource. I envisage buying many, getting our church to buy many. God-willing, as we see people becoming Christians, we will pass on these books. Young people coming to grips with how to follow Jesus will find this book simple and clear. Older people, who’ve been around church for ages, but can’t really tell you what matters matter most, will benefit from reading through it. People who are unclear as to whether they are a Christian or merely a church-goer will gain clarity through reading this book. Mature Christians wondering how to get alongside a newby will do well to read this with them.

The style of the book—seven letters from a mature Christian friend, Michael, to a young believer, Dave—is reminiscent of The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. The conversational style is very engaging and carries the reader along. This book covers way more than 7 topics. Gems of wisdom on a range of topics are squeezed onto every page. It’s probably the type of book to read more than once, as I suspect you will pick up new things each time.

The best way to read this book is in tandem with the Just for Starters Bible studies. It’s the Bible bit that’s the most important. So use this book as a stepping stone to discovering more and more from the Scriptures.

How many times do I have to say it?

boy

Just because I’ve said it, doesn’t mean that you’ve heard it!

If it’s worth saying, then it usually needs to be said more than once and in more than one way. This is my philosophy of communication. We simply can’t assume that if we’ve said something once or written it once, that people have therefore got it.

Take speaking at church for example: When an announcement is made before the whole church, does this mean that everyone has got it? Of course not. On any week there will likely be less than 75% of regulars in attendance. Of these, some will be out with children. One or two could be in the bathroom. Some might be dreaming with other things on their minds. Some might be on their phones—please no! Others could be distracted by children, off with the fairies, or not grasp the importance or significance of the communication.

The same is true of weekly emails or blog posts. I’ve seen some people’s in-boxes. One had 13,000 emails and 1000s unread. Seriously! Some people have no idea how to manage emails. Their in-boxes are so full that they’ve given up looking at anything. Others glaze over the email coming from the same person with roughly the same information week after week. Some spouses forget that they need to pass things on to their other half. Some simply don’t find the time to read them. And some don’t have email.

For these reasons, and others, we need to consider the best ways of communicating things at church. Sometimes this will involve a verbal announcement at church, followed up by a Facebook notice, text, email, blog post, leaflet or something else. Things might need to be repeated over more than one week to increase the likelihood of people hearing the news. At other times we might choose not to say things up front at church, so as to avoid clutter or people thinking they’ve heard it all before. Emails, texts, and Facebook posts are a simple means of getting information out, but they depend on people getting them and reading them, and sometimes they need to be followed up with verbal communication or discussion. Facebook groups can help alert people to things that are happening, as can an up-to-date website. How up to date is your website? Is it still advertising the Christmas service? From 2014??? Sort it out—please!

I want to suggest another means of communication at church which could be a little controversial—good gossip! Spread the word among each other. When I say good gossip, I don’t really mean ‘gossip’. There is absolutely no place for God’s people to be telling stories about one another, putting each other down, grumbling, whinging or complaining. This is why the generation of Moses perished in the wilderness. What I mean is helping to keep each other informed, know what’s happening, and be encouraged in our love and service. So when you see that someone is missing from church, why not give them a call, send them a text, pop them a visit, or message them on Facebook—tell them you’ve missed them and let them know what they might have missed.

For those of you at Salt Church, please be patient with me as I take time to get to know you, work out how things work around here, discover expectations, learn how to become a better listener, and explore good means of communication. And we will work at getting a website up soon.

May God help us to become better communicators.

What Bible will we read this year?

bibleIn 1968 my grandparents gave me my first Bible. It was a Revised Standard Version. In 1974, I began high school and we were all given a copy of the New English Translation. At university I discovered that everyone had copies of the New International Version so, of course, I bought one too. A decade or so back, most of my tribe jumped on board with the English Standard Version, and I began reading and preaching from this translation. And now there’s a new version of the New International Version to replace the one I loved for so long that’s now fallen apart. This is probably the version that I read the most. More recently, people have proclaimed the merits of the Christian Standard Bible, so I’ve been reading one of those too.

Firstly, let me say what a privilege it is to have so many quality choices in understandable modern English. Prior to 1881 there were only three choices for English readers—the KJV, the KJV, or the KJV. You could have it anyway you wanted, so long as it was the King James Version.

As I begin today as the pastor at Salt Community Church in Bonny Hills, my plan is to preach from the NIV. This will be a change for our church as we have been mainly focused on the ESV until now.

So why have I opted to read and preach from the ‘new’ NIV?

  1. You can’t buy the ‘old’ NIV anymore
  2. There are important translation improvements from the ‘old’ NIV
  3. The NIV is easy to read out loud
  4. The NIV pitches at a good reading level for the majority of readers
  5. The gender language is well-balanced
  6. The NIV is a ‘mainstream’ translation that can be purchased easily in a multitude of print options.

So why not the ESV?

Perhaps it’s just personal preference, but I don’t find the ESV a comfortable version for public reading. The sentence structure will often follow the original Greek or Hebrew—and that is a very good thing—but it can make it harder to read out loud. I believe it is pitched at a higher reading level than the NIV.

But, I’m not dissing the ESV. I’ve been using an ESV for personal Bible study and preparation now for many years, because it is a more ‘literal’ translation. It is more consistent than the NIV in translating Greek and Hebrew words and phrases with the same English words and phrases. The ESV pays greater attention to conveying original sentence structures and word order. This is excellent for study purposes and leaves the reader to do more of the work of observation and interpretation.

If you are engaged in serious Bible study or preparing studies, lessons, or talks for others, then it is very helpful to have more than one translation at your disposal.

And what about the CSB?

You haven’t heard of it? It’s the Christian Standard Bible—an update of the Holman Christian Standard Bible—and it’s only been around for a couple of years. To be honest, I love the CSB. I even bought 70 copies for Salt, before changing my mind! The CSB is a genuinely fresh translation that helps me to notice things in the text that I haven’t seen before. I appreciate the layout, where Old Testament quotations are printed in bold type. Many claim it to be the translation that gets the best balance between literally translating the text and communicating the ideas easily. So why haven’t I opted for the CSB as my ‘go to’ reading/preaching version? Probably because it’s not as mainstream or accessible as the NIV yet (compare the shelf space at your local Christian bookshop) and many already have a copy of the NIV they can read and bring to church. But, if you’re looking for a new version to freshen up your reading of Scripture, then I’d certainly advise getting an CSB.

Lots of choice. What a blessing from God. Let’s clear the dust off and start reading!

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.

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.

 

Fighting to pray

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Those who know me well will understand that I’ve been a night owl for most of my adult life. Doing all-nighters was common place once. But ask me to come to something at 5.45am now and I’ll tell you that I can’t stay up that late anymore! I’m getting older. But we’ve moved into a beach town and life begins pre-dawn most mornings for some people. As the sun hits the water, there are already surfers making the most of the day.

fightclubWhen I was asked if I’d like to join ‘fight club’ at 5.45am on Wednesdays I was curious for more than one reason. What do they do at fight club? And why is it so important? And what would make them think I could get there if I wanted to? Now I know the number one rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club—but I’m going to break it, slightly. For years now, a few blokes have met every week, rain, hail, dark or shine, to pray. That’s right, to pray! To ask God to make a difference. To tune into the creator and sustainer of this universe. To ask their Father in heaven to make a positive impact in the lives of others.

They meet outdoors, at the beach, and bring their requests to God. I can think of many reasons why you’d call it fight club, not least of which is fighting to get there at that time of day, and especially when the bed is soft and warm and it’s pouring with rain outside. More significantly it’s a battle to pray. Something to strive at. It doesn’t come easily. It takes focus, effort, discipline. It takes an activist like me, the willingness and humility, to slow down and ask God. To own up to the fact that for all that I can do, there is so much more that I can’t. To cry out to God and ask him for help.

Believe it or not, I’ve actually made it a few times now. And I want to make it along regularly. So I’m going to try to keep going. It hurts, but the promises of Jesus remind me that it’s worth it:

‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
(Matthew 7:7-11)

 

 

A word to Christian huddles

jeffrey-lin-706723-unsplashAre you at risk of having your whole life tied up with Christians so that you have no real engagement with anyone else? Does your week revolve around church meetings and activities? Does your sport, education, recreation, entertainment, socialising, music, and media all take place in a Christian bubble?

Well, Christian, God’s word calls you to be different from the world around you. Different, yes. But not detached. You are called to live in the world, among the world, in contact with the world. Your point of difference isn’t to be retreating from the world. Rather, you are to be marked out by your character, the priorities of your life, the way you treat people, the things you talk about. Your life should be a signpost, pointing to our gracious and good God. You need to care enough about people, and be close enough to people, and spend time enough with people, for them to notice your points of difference.

The Apostle Peter wrote, most likely to Jewish Christians in a Greco world, these challenging words:

Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.
(1 Peter 2:11-12 CSB)

While all the words in these verses are important—God has spoken them all—I want to focus our attention on two: good and among. Our lives need to be different. We’re called to do good—what God calls good! And we’re called to live among people—not to remove ourselves into ‘safe’ Christian ghettos.

There are many implications of this. Firstly, let’s not waste the time we spend together as brothers and sisters. If we’re going to do church stuff—and we should—then let’s make it really count. Don’t just be going through the motions. Let’s make sure we spur one another on to live for God, to love and good works.

Secondly, let’s assess the balance of our lives. How much time do we spend with others from the school, socialising with work friends, inviting the neighbours over for a BBQ, serving in the surf club, helping the elderly neighbour with her garden, welcoming those who move into our suburb… insert your own opportunities. Again, let’s not waste the time we get to spend with friends or family who don’t know God. Are we always building bridges, but never crossing them? What would it take for us to inject a bit of this is what I believe into our relationships with others?

And what’s the motivation for living this way? Two things: that people will come to experience the joy of a relationship with the living God; and that God will receive all the glory!

Do you know what love is?

loveTrue love doesn’t start with us—it starts with God. God doesn’t love us because we’re loveable, or deserving, or especially worthwhile. He loves us because he is love. He loves us despite who we are and what we’re like. He loves us at great personal cost. God’s love is passionate—it shows itself in the passion of the Christ, on Good Friday, with Jesus taking the punishment of death in my place.

We won’t always feel loved by God. Sometimes our circumstances will cause us to doubt or question the love of God.

  • It’s hard to believe that God loves us when we are experiencing pain and loss.
  • We are tempted to believe that if God really loved us then things would always go well for us.
  • It’s impossible to feel the touch of God’s love when he seems so far away and disinterested.
  • It feels silly to speak of God being loving when there is so much tragedy and suffering in the world.
  • Saying ‘God loves me’ sounds so empty and powerless.
  • Who am I to say whether God loves me or not?

It’s all too easy to judge God based on our experiences. And it’s all too dangerous! God doesn’t have to meet my expectations, as though I know more about love than him. I have no right to stipulate the criteria for assessing whether or not God is loving.

External circumstances can always be understood from different perspectives. If it rains heavily then one person will thank God for saving his crops, while another blames God for ruining her holiday. Does this mean that God is loving to one and not to the other?

Don’t be tossed around by your heart, or your head, or the things that happen around you. There is clear, objective, defining, unchanging, historical, and eternal evidence for the love of God.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Know that evidence and keep returning to it. Rely on God’s own word of truth when it comes to assessing his love. Remember…

This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
(1 John 4:9-10)

Do you know what it is to be loved by God? Have you experienced the love of God? I’m not asking whether you’ve had goosebumps or a mystical encounter. I’m asking have you put your trust in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, for the forgiveness of your sin against God? Have you received a divine pardon? Then you know what love is!

If you’d like to know more about the love of God, then please ask me, and I will be only too happy to share what I know.

Four dimensional love

A friend asked me on the weekend, what I thought were the marks of a good church. I answered—LOVE.

Now, that might sound a bit vague and wishy-washy, but it’s not. Love is primary. Love should be the noun, the verb, the adjective, and the adverb. Love is the mark of a healthy church. Sure, there are lots of ways a healthy church could be described, but I don’t think any church can be healthy without love. If you identify multiple marks of a healthy church, then please ensure that love is amongst them. Or perhaps even better, that love shapes all of them.

As the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

A few years back, when I was a pastor at Stromlo, we focused hard upon the importance of love in shaping our church. We explored particularly four dimensions of love.

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  1. Love from God. A love supremely displayed in the death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is an undeserved and powerful love. It pays for our sin and reunites us with our loving Father in Heaven.
  2. Love of God. We are called to respond to God’s love by trusting Jesus and loving God in return. Every part of our being is to be caught up in this love—a love with heart and mind and soul. This is our worship, every day, and in every possible way.
  3. Love one another. Jesus declared that they will know we are Christians by the love we have for one another. Sadly, the church has become something of a stench in the nostrils of our community with its stories of child abuse, corruption, greed, conflict and divisions, are all too common. God calls us to deliver a new story—a message of genuine sacrificial, affectionate love, lived out between brothers and sisters.
  4. Love our neighbour. True love of God will show itself in love for those around us. We are called to let God’s love move us to love others, to do good to all people. This love culminates in pointing people to the greatest love of all—not the love of self (sorry Whitney), but the love of Jesus in restoring people into relationship with God.

This four dimensional love was our focus for 2014. We regularly pointed one another to its importance. We dug into what it looks like. We encouraged one another to be putting it into practice. We evaluated our church, its ministries, programs and activities, in the light of how they help us to love. We explored the Scriptures in sermons and studies seeking to understand and apply this love.

I pray that God will shape our churches with this four dimensional love. I pray that we will live out this love without holding back. I pray for a new reputation for our churches—that people will recognise us by our love.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:14-19)

 

Transgender

bowieMy introduction to ‘transgender’ ideas took place in 1974, when I sat watching David Bowie on ‘GTK’ on our TV. My first album was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It’s still one of my go to and favourite albums to this day! But it was the appearance of Bowie that messed with my head. It was hard for me as a 12 year old to look at this man. Was he man or was he woman? What did it mean to be somewhere in between? I felt uncomfortable with the image, but I loved the music. It wasn’t really transgender, but it made me feel that something was askew.

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 10.01.04 amAnd there was Lou Reed with his mascara, high heels, stockings and the seedy haunting lyrics of Take a Walk on the Wide Side with Holly, Candy, Little Joe and the others. Like most people, I sang along: ‘Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo…’ Impossible not to, really! ‘Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side’. I find myself singing along today when I hear this song. Why would I be singing along to a song about transvestite prostitution? A disturbing fact of music is that it sticks in your head, even when the lyrics might be distasteful. (Just ask any parent or grandparent who has heard the Baby Shark song—don’t kill me for mentioning it.) Why would I be singing along to a song about transvestite prostitution?

Back then such images were brash, confronting, distasteful (to me), and yet sometimes curious and seductive. Fast forward to 2018. Transgender is a big thing. It’s become a growing cultural and political avalanche. People don’t fit in their own skin. Growing numbers of people transitioning. Isolation and oppression. Arguments over pronouns. Debates over the rights of children, parents, teachers, doctors, governments. Identity politics. Cries for freedom. Chaos in sport. Confusion over toilets. Parents out of their depth. Fears of speaking up. Religious oppression. Male/female/other/custom forms. What does the future hold?

transTransgender: A Talking Points Book by Vaughan Roberts is a users guide to transgender from the perspective of an intelligent, sympathetic, well-researched Christian writer. The Talking Points series of books is particularly designed to encourage Christians to understand today’s big issues with a view to encouraging meaningful, gracious, and intelligent discussion on a range of ethical matters. Tim Thornborough, the series editor, writes:

The world is changing. Fast.
And not just about politics, technology, and communication, but our whole culture, morality and attitudes. Christians living in a Western culture have enjoyed the benefits of being in a world which largely shared our assumptions about what is fundamentally right and wrong. We can no longer assume that this is the case. (p7)

Roberts suggests that there are two common responses to the issue of transgender: ‘an unquestioning “Yuk!” and an unquestioning “Yes!” (p18) He warns us to avoid both superficial responses and work to understand people and what’s going on for them. The first point of understanding for many of us, is to understand the language, terms, and ideas that are being used. He quotes from the Stonewall website to explain terms such as trans, cis, gender dysphoria, gender identity, transitioning, and more.

Our post-modern, post-Christian world has elevated subjectivism and the rights of people to define themselves, rather than be defined by others. This is certainly the spirit of our age and an undergirding conviction for those who define themselves not by the gender they were born with, or ‘assigned’ at birth, or the composition of their chromosomes, but how they feel inside. Facebook has gone with this view of individual personal autonomy, and now offers over 70 gender options for people to express their ‘authentic’ self. Huge debates rage over how to respond to gender dysphoria, especially in children and adolescents. Should puberty-suspending hormone treatment be provided to pre-adolescent children experiencing gender dysphoria? What if such dysphoria swings, changes, or disappears over the years that follow? Does a child have the right to seek such treatment against parental wishes? Does the education department, medical system, or another state body have the right to override parental permission? Such questions are highly charged, politicised, and deeply distressing to many. How are we to think through and decide on these things?

Transgender offers a Christian perspective on human identity, where it comes from, how it has been damaged, and some of the implications for human struggle and human flourishing. Roberts engages well with the teaching of the Bible and the implications of creation, fall, and regeneration. His book offers a framework for careful reflection on the matters of gender confusion: who I am, how I am, and what I can be?

I recommend this book for all Christians who desire to be better informed and equipped to understand people and society, who want to be able to engage on passionate matters without coming across as bigoted, unkind, or even hateful. It’s a helpful book for those who aren’t Christian, but want an insight into how Christians might be grappling with these matters. This book should be read by parents whose children are facing a world far more confusing than the one they grew up in. And this book is also designed to be read with others, and discussed together. If you are part of book club, then when your turn comes around, why not suggest a Talking Points Book, such as Transgender. You could read it one week and discuss it the next, and the next, and likely the next.

 

One tough marathon

B2B_North-Brother5-1-1030x413Over the weekend Bonny Hills, where we live, was filled with people and festivities. Saturday featured the Back to Bonny’s community events with market stalls, historical displays, music, dancing, surf carnivals, a gala dinner, and more. Sunday saw another lesser-known event passing through our village. A crazy event really—the Beach to Brother Marathon.

This is no ordinary marathon. It’s a combination of 5km, 10km, half marathon, team marathon, and personal marathon, all in one. But the distinctive of this event is the terrain. It begins at Town Beach in Port Macquarie and continues on coastal trails, on beach sand, around back streets, on single tracks, and ends by climbing a mountain.

That’s the crazy bit. If it’s not hard enough to complete a ‘normal’ marathon, this one finishes by climbing 500 metres in only 3.7km of track. That’s an incline of more than 13.5 percent. We’ve driven up North Brother a number of times because it affords spectacular panoramas from the summit. The drive is 5 kms and it seems like an endless incline. And that’s only 10 percent incline and in a car! The run is even steeper, and it’s the last thing people do.

Why do they do it? I don’t know! But I suspect that a win for all involved is simply to finish. To be able to say they’ve completed the Beach to Brother.

The Bible describes life as a marathon. The focus for Christians is to get to the end and receive the prize. I’ve been looking at the Letter of James lately, and we read this in chapter 1 verse 12:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

In the context of persevering under trials, James says it makes sense to keep going. It makes sense to endure when things get really tough. It makes sense to keep going in the face of opposition and difficulty. And it’s the prize at the end that makes sense of it all.

If this life is all there is, and it’s too hard to keep going, and the pain is overwhelming, and the suffering relentless, then it makes sense to give up. Surely avoiding pain and difficulties and trials is the smart thing to do. Why struggle if you don’t have to?

But, if this life is not all there is, if Jesus has risen from the dead, if there is a judgment to come, if faithfulness to God counts for anything, if trusting in Jesus is our only hope, then stay the course, keep on going, endure until the end. This makes abundant sense. God has promised a crown of life to those who love him. Do you love him?

In ancient times those who finished the marathon received a crown, more like a wreath. It would be an honour to wear such a prize, but it wouldn’t last long. By contrast God promises a crown of life. Keep going until the end because death is not the end. It may be the finish line in this marathon we are running, but there is life to follow. And this life is eternal in nature.

There’s something else about the Beach to Brother that gives me cause for concern. It doesn’t get easier as you go along. It gets harder, and the toughest part is at the end. I suspect this too could be a warning for those who follow Jesus. If we are going to stay the course, not give in to temptation, and continue to put Jesus first, then the toughest paths may well be yet to come. Perhaps your life has been pretty easy until now. If so, don’t let the past be a predictor of the future. Maybe you’ve been doing it tough for some time, then stay focused, it’s not over yet.

Most entrants to the Beach to Brother do the race as a team. There are transition points along the course where you can pass to another runner. A smart move, I reckon. The team runs for the prize together. That sounds more my scene—so long as I could get a flat stretch of beach! Another lesson for Christians: Don’t try and navigate life’s trials on your own. God gives us brothers and sisters. Following Jesus was never intended to be a individual event. We run together, support each other, and draw our strength from God who gives us the power of his Holy Spirit. Stay in touch with your support team and don’t stop until you reach that finish line.