Netflix or the Bible

mollie-sivaram-yubCnXAA3H8-unsplashThis morning I read some stats from a US research company on how Americans are managing the pandemic. The results aren’t at all surprising, but they are a cause for alarm. I haven’t seen equivalent research for the Aussie context, but I doubt our figures would show any improvement.

To help them cope with the pandemic, most Americans said they are staying home to watch Netflix and chill: 89% reported that they are watching TV or movies daily or weekly. This includes 90% of all Christians, 87% of Jews and 88% of the religiously unaffiliated, according to Pew.

Many Americans (84%) also are spending time outdoors or talking by phone or video with family and friends (70%), the survey said.

But fewer are turning to their faith for support.

More than half (55%) reported praying at least weekly, followed by reading Scripture (29%), meditating (26%) and practicing yoga (8%).

https://julieroys.com/to-cope-with-pandemic-americans-choose-tv-over-bible/

This confirms indications that there has been a rise in prayer during this period. Though, I wonder if longitudinal studies will demonstrate a spike in ‘crisis’ prayers tapering off with things becoming more ‘chronic’.

A worldwide crisis calls Christians to worldwide prayer. Now is the time above all to be drawing near to God for comfort and strength. Now is the time to listen to God, to be reminded of his intense glory, his sovereign power, his promise to judge the wicked, is loving mercy, his grace to the humble, the incarnation of his Son, and his promise of restoration to come.

As I speak with my Christian friends, I fear we have the balance wrong. Some of us are watching news almost ever waking minute of everyday. Our minds are saturated with numbers, testing, positive cases, epicentres, hotspots, clusters, close contacts, numbers in ICU, deaths. The numbers are staggering, catastrophic, overwhelming, even numbing. And then, as if for relief, we add US-China tensions, Beirut blasts, political posturing, and football.

I tend to watch an hour of news most days, local and international. I flick around the internet, checking reports, reading an online paper, following news feeds. We often watch a show in the evenings. Maybe a miniseries, or a movie, or a catch up of some old series we enjoyed. Some are glued to screens most of the time. The most honest advertising I’ve seen recently was the introduction of Foxtel’s new streaming service and calling it ‘Binge’. (If only the gaming, alcohol, and tobacco industries were so honest about their intentions.) The aim is addiction. You can escape into another world and leave the real worries of this world behind—until you have to work again tomorrow after 2 hours sleep.

OK, so what am I recommending? Listening to God daily. Taking the time to read from the Bible. Hearing God’s perspective on what matters matter most. Discovering an antidote to anxiety and fear. Being reminded of God’s deep secure love and his promise to never leave nor forsake us. Grappling with the questions of suffering and pain, death and disaster. Having our hearts warmed by the rich mercies of God in Christ Jesus. Being comforted by the Comforter, who dwells in all who trust in Jesus. Being moved beyond ourselves to show love and compassion to others.

Can you find time each day to turn off the TV, put away your device, open a Bible—yes, a real one, with a cover, paper pages, where you can highlight, jot notes, flick between passages, and come back to things you’ve read before?

Why not change the TV diet. A little less Netflix. Listen again to the sermon from Sunday. Start a reading program. Mix it up. Dwell deeply in the Psalms. Explore the existential questions in Ecclesiastes. Take an attitude check with James. Rediscover worship in Romans 12. Recharge for ministry from Philippians. Investigate Jesus from the Gospels.

During the pandemic I’ve been aiming to record a Bible talk each day, with the aim of encouraging people from our church, and others, to keep a regular balanced diet of God’s word. There are talks for enquirers, equipment for people in ministry, encouragement to godly living, and calls to persevere under trial. Why not replace a little TV, with a regular Bible Bite.

It started as a pandemic project, but I’m hoping to keep it going. It’s been encouraging to hear from husbands and wives who watch an episode each day over coffee to explore God’s word together, from people who are sick and appreciate a brief exposition, from a Christian radio station who are broadcasting them, from Bible study leaders who have used them to supplement their programs, and from people isolated here and abroad, who have been encouraged by God’s word.

Please have a think about your spiritual diet. Check out the talks at http://youtube.com/c/davemcdonaldbibletalks and subscribe for regular updates. I’d love to hear how you use them and if they’re a help in any way.

You can find the following Bible Bites (5-10 minutes):
Psalms (3 talks ongoing)
Ecclesiastes (38 talks)
Philippians (22 talks)
Titus (19 talks ongoing)
James (23 talks)

And the following sermons (roughly 20 minutes):
Romans 12 (10 talks)
2 Corinthians (2 talks ongoing)

Christian, keep on persevering

fabien-wl-7ieLK3L-j54-unsplashI listened last night as representatives of the World Health Organisation described our world as a tinder box. It will only take a spark here or there to keep fuelling the flames of our global pandemic. I watch with dismay as the state of Victoria records the highest total daily coronavirus cases on record. Sydney is declared a hotspot and people around me are starting to wear masks. I’m distressed as I hear that my nephew is infected with Covid-19 and quarantines from family and friends.

How long, O Lord? When will we meet again? When will you bring relief from our pain?

Being a Christian isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon. We face many trials and difficulties of many kinds. There are stresses and struggles to hinder our path. There are threats and dangers to persevering in Christ.

James offers us half-time encouragement. He cheers us us on from the sidelines, and his letter offers refreshment and sustenance for the race.

James also warns us of the threats within us. There are huge dangers of going through the motions. We can easily pay lip surface to our Christian faith, failing to watch our mouths, ignoring the needs of the poor and needy, and being double-minded in our attitudes.

Please join me in listening to James. You can find short talk ‘Bible Bites’ on You Tube at http://youtube/c/davemcdonaldbibletalks

  • You could listen to a talk a day
  • Grab a coffee, open your Bible and laptop
  • Join with your spouse and discuss a couple of points together
  • Use in your growth groups face-to-face or via zoom
  • Share with your mission partners
  • Stimulate a conversation with friends via facebook

James 1:1-4  Growing faith muscles

James 1:5-8  Don’t be double-minded

James 1:9-12  Seeing things God’s way

James 1:13-18  It’s not God’s fault

James 1:19-21  How do you listen?

James 1:22-25  Put what you learn into practice

James 1:26-27  Genuine Christianity

 

A letter from lockdown (Philippians 4)

U tube“G’day, Dave here, and we’re looking at…”

That’s been my (almost) daily refrain during lockdown. I’ve worked slowly through Ecclesiastes. This is the end of Philippians. And now I’m beginning the book of James.

Philippians has been a huge encouragement to me to realign myself with the gospel. To see afresh the humility of Jesus and to give myself for the sake of others.

This final chapter of Philippians calls us again to work out our differences and be united. We are encouraged not to be anxious, but to seek God’s help. We are reminded that we need spiritual food to survive. And we learn the secret of contentment.

I hope you are encouraged by these Bible Bites from Philippians.

Recipe for reconciliation  (Philippians 4:2-7)

A spiritually healthy diet  (Philippians 4:8-9)

The secret of contentment  (Philippians 4:10-13)

Financial partnerships  (Philippians 4:14-23)

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

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)

 

 

The cancerous truth

national-cancer-institute-0YBIMOqQzt0-unsplashCovid-19 isn’t the only big C going around. Do you remember cancer? Yep. It’s still with us. We haven’t found a cure and there is no vaccine.

I was shocked this morning to hear that Tim Keller has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Who is Tim? I’d say he’s one of the most thoughtful, winsome, well read, visionary, author, preacher, and church leaders of our day. If I get fifty people listening to a sermon, then he’ll get upwards of fifty thousand. If we’ve seen a new church started in a neighbouring suburb, then he’s overseen the planting of large churches in major cities all around the globe.

But “Who cares?” says cancer. It doesn’t discriminate. It will take down the rich and famous, the powerful and erudite, the Chinese and the Americans. Cancer is no respecter of persons. It hides in the background, waits until you least expect it, then… pounce! It finds a location, sets up a base, assembles its troops, and plans its attack. Sometimes it fires a few warning shots—a lesion on the skin, a lump in the breast, a cough that doesn’t pass, some blood in the faeces. But more often than not it works secretly, stealthily, silently, scheming its next moves.

Or so it seems. The truth is that cancer is not ‘out there’ to be avoided by social distancing, lockdowns and hand hygiene. It’s inside us, and from us, and part of us, fighting the rest of us. Cancer is like the internal riots we’ve seen recently in the US. Only it’s happening inside us all the time. Damaged cells. Genetic change. Mutations in the chromosomes.  Glitches in the DNZ code not picked up by the spellchecker. Cancer is me going rogue and attacking me.

Cancer brings grief, heartache, pain, suffering, and loss. Many, many will pray for Tim Keller. Many prayed for me. I thank you. Please keep praying. Pray also for wives, husbands, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, and communities.

On Sunday my heart sank to hear that my good friend Andrew has lymphoma. I will be praying for him, and his family. And I will keep praying for many other friends in the grip of this disease. To live with cancer is to walk in the valley of the shadow of death.

The coronavirus has reminded our world that we are mortal. But I fear that it has only half-reminded us. It’s warned us of the possibility that we will die. We’ve heard that we are all at risk. We must take every precaution. We have to protect the vulnerable. If we don’t, then people will die, and in catastrophic numbers.

All that is true. Well, almost. The deeper reality is that we all walk through the valley of the shadow of death. That is our life. The shadow is ever present. We just choose to ignore it. When coronavirus threatens, it gets harder to ignore. When cancer hits, it becomes almost inescapable.

My networks are filled with people finding it very hard to escape this awful truth. Our cancers won’t let us. Lisa, Paul, Lillian, Corey, Alison, Alastair, Anita, Marilyn, Gary, Paul, Graham, Kim, Rita, Zack, Liam, Stephanie, Vangie, Sam, Wendy, Linnea, John, Natalie, Norman, Colin, Jim, Drew, Janet, Steve, Jack, Peter, Max, Jill, Lachlan… and I could go on. We need these words from the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
for ever.

Jesus said in John 10:11

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Turn to the good shepherd while you can.

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)

 

Pastor, don’t panic!

jasmin-sessler-egqR_zUd4NI-unsplashWe’ve been told that things will never be the same again, and they won’t. The world has shifted. Massive movements of global social tectonic force.

Destruction, disease, death, disaster. People overwhelmed, unprepared, ill-equipped, devastated, helplessness, anxious. Panic, blame, fear, and conspiracy theories. The best of governance and the ugly, narcissistic, worst from leaders. Massive loss. Lives, futures, prosperity.

So much has shut down. Businesses, bars, clubs, sports, homes, schools, churches, parks, beaches, borders, transport and travel.

Everyone is buying phones, tablets, computers, and faster internet. Life has gone online. We compete for screen time. We cry out for more bandwidth. Zoom has become the new Uber.

Learn the tech. Use the tech. Master the tech.

We’re tired. And we don’t know when or where it will all end.

Our values are being challenged. People are three dimensional, not two. We crave touch and intimacy. We weren’t meant to live in isolation. We long to be together. And yet we fear what this will mean.

And now things are changing. Lockdowns are being lifted. We are peering out the window. We’re wandering down the street. People are starting to gather.

What will happen with church?

Pastors are anxious.

We’re being told this is the single most important moment in living history. The platform has burned down. Everyone knows it. We can’t go back. We get to rewrite the script. Lose the bad. Tweak the awkward. Hang on to the good. Create the new.

Unprecedented numbers of people visiting church online. Questions being asked about the meaning of life. New opportunities. Fresh vision. Now is the time.

You’ve got one shot. One opportunity. One episode in time. One opening. One responsibility.

Pastor, don’t blow it!

So much is riding on your shoulders. Your shoulders. This is your moment. God is counting on you. Get it right. God needs you. We need you. They need you. Your family needs you. Your neighbours need you. The community needs you. Everyone needs you.

Be strong. Be resilient. Be wise. Be clear. Be balanced. Be purposeful. Set a vision. Shape your future. Lead your people. Make every word, every decision, every move, every moment count. Don’t mess it up.

Read this blog. Listen to this podcast. Subscribe to this channel. Enrol in this workshop. Come to this conference. Buys these tools. Get this coach. Read this book. Join this movement.

Grab this opportunity. It will only come once. This is a Halley’s Comet moment of momentous magnitude. Don’t waste it. Don’t let it pass. Don’t blow it.

Lead. Manage. Counsel. Preach. Zoom. Visit. Train. Envision. Equip. Empower. Empathise. Change. Maintain. Motivate.

Go harder. Go smarter. Go faster. Go deeper. Go wider.

Are you ready? On your marks. Get set. Go.

Think.

Outside the box.

Design a new box.

Break free from the traditional constraints of boxes.

Create a new box.

Look inside the box.

Look outside the box.

Open the box.

Get into the box.

Close the lid on the box.

Curl up in the box.

Close your eyes.

Gently rock from side to side.

And weep.

Pastor, you are not God. You are not the Messiah. Everything does not depend on you. This is not your one chance in 100 years to make your mark for the gospel.

You may be a shepherd, but you never cease to be a sheep. You shine a light and send a message—not as a lighthouse, but as a flickering candle.

This is not the time to be relying on your strengths, your achievements, your experience, your talents, your gifts. It is not about you. Really. It’s not. This is not your moment.

This is God’s moment.

Do you feel ill-equipped? Do you feel everyone is watching you? Do you feel the pressure of your peers? Do you feel the burden of your congregation? Do you feel the urgency of the times? Do you long to make a difference, not blow it, not crumble, not give up?

Then don’t panic! Truly, DON’T PANIC!

Come to God. See his grace. Hear his kindness. Trust him in your weakness. Listen to his voice…

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
(2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
(2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
(2 Corinthians 13:14)

Amen.

The house of mourning

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
(Ecclesiastes 7:2 NIV)

The horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic have plastered our screens with death, day after day after day. We watch death tolls rising in the virus epicentres. We follow, in fear and relief, the flattening of the curve in our midst. Everything has changed. And yet nothing has changed. We all face death and the coronavirus is inescapably confronting us with this harsh reality.

 

 

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.

Separation saves lives

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

(Mark 15:33-34, NIV)

During this time of social distancing, lock downs, and quarantines, it’s worth reflecting on how critical separation is proving for the saving of lives. The first Good Friday was the ultimate separation to save lives for eternity.

So much to be thankful for

Having lived for a number of years with a terminal illness, there is much about the current crisis that is very familiar. Some with cancer have been asking the question whether people are now experiencing what they experience—living under the cloud of death, always fearing that the next scan or blood test will reveal the means of the end.

And yet, in the midst of these tensions, challenges, dangers, and threats, I find there is so much to thank God for. Good government, generous financial relief packages, careful strategies for isolation, the support of neighbours and friends, excellent medical resources, current good health, a loving family, a beautiful view, a comfortable bed, computers and phones, and FaceBook and Zoom, and coffee and family.

Is there any hope? Yes! Absolutely. In washing hands and social distancing, in good health care, in ICUs and ventilators, in flattening the curve, in the search for a vaccine, in government grants, in business bailouts, you name it. But our deepest hopes will only be realised as we look to the the one who made us, became one of us, died for us, and was raised again.

Good Friday reminds us of the sacrificial, costly love of God. When I see the body bags and catastrophic death tolls, I am tempted to doubt God. But when I look again at the crucifixion of Jesus I’m reminded just how much he cares. He could have left us alone forever to live with our mistakes, but instead he became one of us to offer us forgiveness.

What are you grateful for this Easter?

 

Meeting in the middle

It’s been more than a week of lockdown. How are you finding things? It’s challenging. It adds strain and stress. We can tend to go a little stir crazy? Confined spaces can add to the tension. Little annoyances can grow and we can get irritated more easily. But there’s also opportunity. Forced change. New ways of doing things. Creative synergies. Playing the hand we’ve been dealt.

As I look at the news, I’m conscious of how well off I am. And so many of my friends. And, to be honest, so many in our country. My friends in New York are facing trauma, the likes of which they haven’t seen since 9/11. My friends in Northern Italy have had their worlds turned inside out and upside down from disease, death, and fear. It will take months to see beyond it, and a lifetime to recover. Many never will. And this isn’t the shanty towns of South Africa, the slums of India, or the garbage dumps of Manila. Industrialised, wealthy, technologically advanced societies are being brought to their knees.

Here in Bonny Hills things are just a little quieter than usual. A few less on the beaches, but perhaps a few more in the surf—isolating in the green room! People are friendly. I heard from a mate, who yesterday lost his job, that he is loving the time with his family, enjoying the kids pulling together and working as a team. He shared about creative street parties from people’s own yards, tin can and string video conferencing, and lots of other fun stuff. He was thankful for the times.

It’s like that isn’t it. Devastation at one end and fresh delights at the other. Horror contrasted with renewed happiness. We are being pushed to rethink what matters matter most. What should we throw away? What should we hang on to? What do we take for granted? And where do we need to offer thanks and gratitude?

On the home front, we are working at our upstairs downstairs routine. Fiona continues to work at the practice. She is also working from home, tackling the challenges of new systems, new technologies, and tele-health. I’ve set up a study-studio, gone a bit zoom crazy, and spent long hours exploring how to pastor a church without leaving the house.

fionadinnerOur son Marcus, came out of quarantine over the weekend and was cleared of having the coronavirus. He returned from Indonesia as the borders were closing and flights were being cancelled. We thank God for the timing. He has now joined me in the house. davedinnerMarcus now helps with the cooking and we deliver the meals downstairs. Last night we met in the middle, sharing dinner together on the stairs. Thanking God for my family.

 

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.

 

 

Sneak a look at church online

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This is not a post for my friends who are pastors. They’re working overtime thinking about church online. This is for you, whether you go to church or you don’t. This is especially for those who don’t currently belong to a church and might be open to a sneak peak at church while we are all in lockdown. This is the first of a two part blog series. The next one will be focused on how to make the most of church on line for those who go regularly.

What should you look for? What do you have to do?

Confession time. I’ve never been a fan of TV, video, or streaming church. I still bear scars from my days of taxi driving when I’d get home fully-wired in the early hours of a Sunday morning, having driven for 15 hours straight, unable to to sleep, turning the tele on, and there they are. The likes of Jimmy Baker, Benny Hinn, Jimmy Swaggart. Urgh! Talk about cringe. I’m an Aussie—we don’t do that stuff. Not to mention the appalling teaching, false promises, fraud, and corruption.

I’ve never been a fan of people online shopping for church either, whether it’s early morning TV, or podcasting your favourite preacher. It’s tough enough in ministry without having my preaching compared with the likes of the ‘great ones’. I reckon church is about the people. It’s about gathering and connecting. It’s about humility and learning together. It’s about caring for others, meeting needs, spurring each other on, supporting one another in crises, praying for one another. It’s about shared joys, shared grief, shared ministry. It wasn’t meant to be a consumer experience, a form of entertainment, or even a place to get fed or topped up for the week.

Enough ranting. If you’re looking for church now, you can’t drive around, and don’t try the yellow pages. Look online. Google ‘church’. I suggest a few search words will be helpful. Try typing in your location and “church” to start with. God forbid this COVID crisis goes on for ever, and it might just be that you want to stay in touch with the church after it’s over. Hey, you might even recognise some neighbours or make friendships with others in the church community.

I also recommend adding the words “Christian” and “evangelical” to your search box. Don’t take anything for granted. You might be thinking Billy Graham or tele-evangelists when you read the word ‘evangelical’, but in Australia it means something else. It’s a good shorthand for the church being on about Jesus, the Bible, and seeking to shape what they do with God’s will. In other words, it’s about fair-dinkum church versus a whole bunch of other stuff. By contrast, if you were to type in ‘liberal church’ there’s a pretty good chance you wouldn’t get much about Jesus or the Bible at all, so don’t waste your time. It’s probably worth seeing what comes up when you type in “Jesus”, “Bible”, “Prayer”, “Beliefs”, and more.

However, far better than asking Google, is to ask a friend. Do you know someone in a local church? Call them. Ask them about it. See if you can check it out. If they’re not willing to help, or they say “You wouldn’t want to come to my church!”, then take that as a free warning!

Now there are two main ways churches are currently getting organised online. The first is fairly passive from the participants perspective. They livestream or play a recorded ‘service’ from their church website, or FaceBook, or YouTube. There may be some minimal interaction with comments in the sidebar, but you can stay pretty much anonymous.

zoom churchThe second approach is purposefully interactive. This might be a preferred option among smaller churches. but some larger ones have mastered the tech and give a pretty good experience. This is what we’re doing at my local church: Salt Community Church in Bonny Hills, NSW. We use a teleconference program called Zoom. People can log into our church meeting by typing in a meeting ID assigned to our church meeting. It works best from a computer, tablet, or smart phone with a built in camera. People can see you on their screens and you can see them. Our church have loved the experience of everyone seeing each other after a week of isolation.

Now you might be thinking you’d like a more anonymous way of checking out church and the streaming option seems safer. And I guess you can sit back and no one needs to know you’re there. But I suggest another approach. Say you wanted to check out the church and you log into zoom. Someone will need to give you the meeting ID. You can turn off your video, mute your microphone, and only engage with others when you’re ready.

Anyway, if someone has shared this with you, then I hope you will accept their invitation and take the time to check out their church. You won’t need to dress up, you won’t be asked to say or do anything, and you get the opportunity for a sneaky look. Who knows, maybe you’ll love what you see and hear and want to keep coming. And maybe one day you’ll turn up and get to meet the people in person.

Cheers.

Our praying PM

Our leaders are working flat out in their command centres. The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. We’re at war. War with a virus. Everyone is being called to high alert. Our way of life is being challenged and changed on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Devastation fills our screens. Predictions and projections are catastrophic beyond comprehension.

My personal conviction is that we need to fall into line, not simply with our government and health authorities, but to care for each other. We need genuine concern for one another. We’ve all had a taste of what happens when people act to protect their own interests—it results in the needy, the elderly, the sick, and the housebound, being unable to buy basic necessities such as toilet paper, sanitiser, disinfectant, and staples like rice and flour. We’ve witnessed the panic buying of gym equipment, freezers and fridges, meats, and now alcohol. I’m just grateful Australia doesn’t have the panic buying of guns, that we see in other places.

We’ve seen some remarkable things in politics recently. Cooperation across ideological and political divides. Working together for the good of our nation. Federal, states, and territories in this together. I believe that a little humility goes a long way. Now is not the time for the narcissists to strut their stuff. Now is the time to model calm, restraint, care, cooperation and love for our fellow humans. Now is the time to acknowledge that we we need help managing ourselves, our families, our communities, our countries, let alone this world with its disasters, diseases, and deaths. I believe that now is the time to call on our Father in heaven. Now is the time to pray. God knows, it can’t hurt can it? If there is a God, and he made this world, and we keep ignoring him and living as though he’s not there, then it doesn’t make sense to ignore him and live as though he’s not there and doesn’t care. Isn’t it more logical to turn back and seek his help? Wouldn’t it be wise to ask his forgiveness? If he’s concerned for the people he has made, and wants our best, and can offer us help, then what do we have to lose by coming back to him? In humility, of course,  and prayerfully dependent.

So, I’m thankful for our leaders. And especially for our Prime Minister, who encouraged us to pray, and who asked us to pray for him and other leaders, as he also prays for us. I’m so grateful to know that we have a prime minister who knows he’s not God, and who humbly prays to the One who is.

Upstairs downstairs

IMG_6393Hello from quarantine. I haven’t been overseas, and I don’t think I’ve been exposed to the virus, but my pre-existing lung condition and daily treatment for lung cancer have put me on high alert. In some ways, I’ve been slow to grasp what is going on here. The practice of distancing is a personal and a public health strategy. It’s not just about stopping me getting sick, it’s about reducing potential channels for the spread of this virus. I tend to be a bit of a social butterfly, often out and about, time in coffee shops, catching up with people, hanging with people from church and at church, and trying to catch up with a couple of mates. Now it’s lock down. I’m not simply at higher risk of illness, but if I kept up my normal social behaviours then I would also be at at risk of becoming a super spreader. So, lockdown it is.

IMG_6391The coronavirus has changed how we live at home. I live upstairs and Fiona lives downstairs. I’m spoilt for comfort in my quarantine. We’ve made a kitchenette and created a ‘flat within the house’ for Fiona. We are keeping strict physical distance. Separate beds, separate bathrooms, separate kitchens, separate entrances. We are using gloves and disinfectants. I cook dinner and leave it on a tray on the stairs for Fiona. It’s already challenging and stressful. But it’s Fiona’s initiative and it’s motivated by love for me.

Fiona is on the medical front line in this war on the virus. Three days a week she drives off to the front line. The rest of the week she is following up on patients, tests, and results. She gowns up with oversized men’s shirts from the op shop. She covers her hair with a shower cap. She puts on gloves and a mask. And she is courageously putting herself at risk for the welfare of patients. Now telemedicine is supplementing car consults and physical distancing. But there are still people walking in with ‘normal’ sicknesses. She is navigating a potential minefield. A handful of patients just haven’t grasped what is at stake and have put medical staff and other patients at risk through their careless or arrogant behaviour.

Please practice careful physical distancing.

It is now estimated that as many as 31% of new COVID-19 infections are being caused as a result of transmission through asymptomatic individuals those who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 but don’t shown signs and symptoms of the disease.

(Nishiura H, Kobayashi T, Suzuki A, et al. Estimation of the asymptomatic ratio of novel coronavirus infections (COVID-19). Int J Infect Dis. 2020.)

90290957_10159478194782067_1672564310645145600_oThis is an especially important aspect of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and reinforces why we need to practice stringent social distancing to flatten the curve.

Please take this seriously. Look at what is happening in Italy, Spain, France, USA. Health workers are now having to choose who will live and die as their medical system is overloaded and broken. It’s catastrophic beyond belief. I pray this won’t happen here. Please don’t take your health for granted and please don’t carelessly put others health at risk. And take a moment to say thank you to the doctors, nurses, and other health workers who are risking their lives for the sake of us all.

 

 

The importance of not practising social distancing

Okay, I know I’m going to get into trouble for that headline. This is too important to send confusing signals. And I agree. I’m getting the message. We’ve got to flatten the curve, stem the flow, stop transmission, practice good hygiene, wash hands, clean surfaces, use hand sanitiser, keep away from cash,  protect our elderly, care about the vulnerable. I get all that. I’m one of the people at risk. And I live with a GP, have kids who are teachers, doctors, social workers, and students. But let’s be clear.

It’s not social distancing we need. It’s physical distancing.

Physical distancing is a strategy to stem the spread of the pandemic. Social distancing creates a mental health risk, amidst a while lot of other problems. We weren’t created to be alone. We need each another. Now more than ever. Fear, anxiety, panic, stress are all around us. We need kindness, calm, consideration, and courtesy.

Yesterday our church was told we can no longer meet on school premises. Like so many churches, we are exploring online strategies, streaming videos of talks, delivering Bible studies via the internet, purchasing hardware, trying out software, and scrambling to know what we’re going to do and how we’ll make it work. We can all play around with technology. We might even be able to make ourselves or our churches look better than we ever have before. But that’s not really the issue.

How we are going to do community? How will we put the ‘one another’ exhortations from the New Testament into practice? How will we stay in touch with one another? How will we identify the needy? How will we encourage the spiritually weary? How will we offer the message of real hope to a world in crisis? How will we pray together and for each other? How will we support one another when we need to keep our distance, when we can’t congregate, or when we need to quarantine or self-isolate.

phoneLet’s do a thought experiment. Take yourself back 30 or 40 years to a world without the internet. There is no Google, no Facebook, no email, no Instagram, no Twitter. How would we manage our current challenges in such times? My first thought is that we’d go back to speaking on the telephone. Remember the telephone! We’d call and say, “How are you doing?” “Is there anything I can do for you?” “Have you got enough toilet paper?” “Can I drop a meal around?” “How are you off for money?” “Are you feeling any better today?” “What can I pray for you?”

We might call one another to pray for each other, or read the Scriptures together, or get some help on a matter, or share ideas on how we can encourage, help and support one another…