In sickness and in health

sandy-millar-YeJWDWeIZho-unsplashThis week Fiona and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary. We thank God for bringing us through so many ups and downs, and we keep asking him to help us love each other whatever the future may hold. We don’t have a perfect marriage and we’ve got lots still to learn. But the promises we made weren’t conditional. They weren’t dependent on feelings or good circumstances. We went with the traditional options… you know… better/worse, richer/poorer, sickness/health. I suspect we made these promises without pausing to contemplate very deeply. We just knew we wanted to get married and we wanted to stay married. Still do.

Back then it was…

Richer? Who cares?

Poorer? I doubt it—we were both students.

Better? We’re about to get married. It can only get better, surely?

Worse? I hope not.

Health? Of course, we’re both young and fit and full of life.

Sickness? Everyone gets sick sometimes, don’t they?

Fast forward to 2019 and one promise stands out. Never would we have contemplated what this could mean, what it would mean. “In sickness and in health”.

On any count, the typical annual dose of the flu, occasional colds, a few broken bones, irregular migraines, four caesareans, bouts of labyrinthitis, recovery from a major car accident, and eight years of living with cancer, add up to a lot of time “in sickness”.

And what about all the sicknesses and injuries to our children? More than three months in the NICU, regular injuries from skateboarding, cycling, or rugby, catching the bugs from school friends (sometimes literally). And then there are ageing parents. And mental health struggles. And pregnancy complications. And, and, and.

Let me go out on a limb and say I reckon marriage for us has been at least 1/3 sickness, 2/3 health.

Marriage is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not for casual or temporary affections. Marriage is a covenant to love. It’s about putting your life partner before yourself. It’s about “we will work it out—whatever”. It’s about let’s keep asking God to help us.

It’s about learning to love, actively, showing the initiative, being the first to forgive, killing our selfish pride, overcoming our discontent, and rejoicing in the wonder of growing together in all the ups and downs of life. It’s about a love that grows in patience, and kindness, without envy, boasting or pride. This is a love that isn’t self-seeking, doesn’t get easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, and always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.

How can you learn to love like this? Two thoughts come to mind:

  1. Even though he never got married, Jesus shows us the kind of love that will make a marriage work.
  2. You know love when it gets put to the test. Seems like “in sickness” is a challenging place to grow real love.

We have dear friends whose marriages have faced the challenges of better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, more than we will ever know—friends who have no relief from continual pain, perpetual fatigue, aching brokenness, chronic illnesses, and more. Please pray for friends’s marriages, pray for your marriage.

Now it’s time to seek God’s help to practice what I preach.

 

Preparing for marriage

IMG_4919
Waiting for the bride

I married a couple yesterday in the beautiful surrounds of the Old Butter Factory at Telegraph Point. God’s timing with the weather was awesome—we had clouds and drizzle then sunshine and storms—all at the right times. It was a thoroughly Christian wedding, pointing to God’s amazing love for us in the gospel of Jesus.

We enjoyed celebrating this day with the beautiful couple—but all the more because we’d spent a number of evenings over the past few months preparing them for marriage. Not simply preparing the wedding—but preparing for marriage. We’d have a meal together and then talk specifically about preparing for married life. More precisely, we’d get the couple talking together about their expectations, hope, fears, and dreams for life together. Fiona and I use the Prepare/Enrich material to gain insights into the couple and assist them to prepare for their life together.

It’s not enough to prepare a great day, we need to be preparing for a lifetime. Two previously single ‘selfish’ individuals need guidance and support with communication, conflict resolution, managing finances, preparing for intimacy and sex, encouraging each other spiritually, and much more.

IMG_0977If you’re looking to get married, then don’t sell yourself short. Don’t put all your focus on making the day just perfect, but take the time to prepare for what comes afterwards. For better and worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. This is the important stuff. This is the tough stuff. This is where the deep and lasting joy is to be found. This is really what it’s all about. Marriage is for a lifetime together. Isn’t that worth a little serious preparation?

If you’re a pastor or Christian marriage celebrant, what do you do to prepare your engaged couples for marriage? Can I strongly suggest that you take a number of meetings with the couple to focus on what a Christian marriage is all about, and to explore the particulars of building a new family. Have some good books that you can share or give away, such as Married for God by Christopher Ash or What did you expect? by Paul Tripp.

Get trained in using the Prepare material. This gets the couple answering questions separately, collates their answers, and highlights strengths and work areas for their relationship. It gives you real data to work with and it gives them a workbook for now and later on. It moves you someway from idealism and starry-eyed dreams, to realism and areas for growth in relationship. It helps facilitators to pinpoint matters of specific relevance to each couple. Preparing for marriage is hugely important, so don’t sell the couple short. Let me encourage you to get well prepared, so that you can help the engaged couple to be well prepared.

Prepare training is available throughout Australia. Check it out here.

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!

Caring for One Another

caringWho of us wouldn’t want our churches to be genuine communities of meaningful, caring relationships? Perhaps this is your experience already. People invest in each other, they look out for one another, they show genuine interest, they seek help, they ask what they can pray and then they pray. They do more than offer support to others, they show deep empathy, compassion, and practical care. Maybe this is a bit of overreach, but you see glimpses of it and you want it more and more. Right?

If you’re a pastor or church leader, there is a danger of burning out due to the endless expectations that people place on you. Are you tired and weary from being expected to be the ‘minister’ to everyone? Do you wish that some other people would step up a bit, or that other leaders would share the load? Do you long for a community where everyone is looking out for one another?

Or are you getting disappointed that ministry has become more and more like social work? Are you worried that people’s health and finances and relationships are what seem to matter most? Do you lament the lack of spiritual engagement between people throughout the week, and worry that Sunday conversations rarely get beyond small talk?

Let me offer a suggestion for taking things deeper.

Ed Welch has released a new book called Caring for One Another: 8 Ways to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships. Get yourself a copy, read it, and start getting those around you to buy in. Following on from one of his previous books, Side by Side, he provides a simple and practical resource for equipping Christians for real interpersonal ministry. It’s a brief book—8 short chapters that get us thinking about how to encourage each other to live in the light of the gospel of Jesus. There are great ideas, Biblical foundations, practical recommendations, and each chapter finishes with questions for discussion and application.

This book is intended to be read with others. I can see it providing a good tool for one-to-one meetings with key leaders, or in small group leader training, or with a pastoral care team. It’s not specifically a book for leaders—it’s intended to mobilise everyone in the church to be encouraging and building each other—but I’d start by working these things through with leaders and then mobilise them to equip others.

Welch’s book is less of a ‘how to manual’ and more of a ‘keys to the heart’ guide—but practical and hands on nonetheless. He shows deep understanding of God’s part and our part in God’s work of changing people. Humility, prayer, understanding our weaknesses and sin, reflecting carefully on suffering, and knowing the power of God and the gospel are all critical. Caring for One Another moves well past the theoretical. It aims to grow intentionality and to activate us in relationship with each other. It’s grounded in a deep understanding of how people tick and it’s littered with great ideas and suggestions for making things happen.

I’ve read through this book quickly, but I plan to go over it again, and probably again, and again, by reading it with others. I recommend you do too.

Welch writes in his closing:

Caring for One Another has identified ordinary features of person-to-person engagement. There is nothing new here. The purpose has been to remember and live out applications of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But in that, the very power of God is further on display, and the church is strengthened and drawn together. (p67)

R U OK?

IMG_1281Today is ‘Keep a low profile’ day. Well, I expect it will be for many. It’s actually R U OK day – a day to remind us all that it’s important to look out for one another. The trouble is that many will cringe if the only time people care for them is on a designated day. Every day is a good day to ask R U OK. So let’s slow down sufficiently to keep an eye out for each other.

I know a good number of my friends aren’t OK. Life sucks sometimes, and sometimes often. I get this. Sometimes life feels like the walls are closing in on me and I need help to see the big picture.

So if you’re not OK, please reach out.

Beyond Blue  1300 224 636

Lifeline  13 11 14

(Original artwork by Liam)

Will you be my Facebook friend?

facebookSome books are long. Others are short. Don’t judge the value of a book by its size. Will you be my Facebook friend? Social Media and the Gospel is only 48 pages short. The font size is large and the lines are well spaced, but the message is profoundly important. Tim Chester asks us to carefully consider both the benefits and the pitfalls of social media. This isn’t a tirade against the internet, but rather a plea to use it wisely. Social media has the capacity to radically distort reality, and we need to be wise to the dangers. Chester doesn’t leave us with a call to be more self-disciplined, which will lead only to pride or despair. Rather, he reminds us how the gospel reorients our lives and puts them back in real perspective—God’s perspective.

Here are a few words to consider…

The genius of Facebook is that all your friends come to you and all your friends come to them. So we simultaneously all inhabit our own little worlds, each with me at the centre. (p20)

Is your Facebook self more attractive or successful than your real-world self? (p26)

Am I using Facebook to enhance real-world relationships, or to replace them? (p39)

Remember the medium is the message, and Facebook was designed by a teenage nerd. (p42)

The Facebook comments wither and the tweets fall, but the word of our God stands forever. (p46)

If you or your kids are into Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, spend hours in front of the TV, surf the net, scour blog sites, or the like—then do yourself a favour, turn off the computer, the TV, the X-Box, or whatever else, make yourself a coffee and read this book. It might take two cups of coffee, but I think you’ll find it worthwhile!

Growing yourself up

GYUThis book takes me back a quarter of a century to my times as a social worker. In the final year of my BSW degree, I focused primarily on studying family therapy and the writings of Murray Bowen were very influential. I loved this stuff. It was so helpful to see people as part of a family system and to explore the influences and impact of relationships, family members, experiences, and expectations. One time we saw an adolescent boy for counselling. He had been acting out at school and finding a multitude of ways to get into trouble. It wasn’t until we met with his family and discovered that his father had become dependent on a kidney dialysis machine, that we were able to begin understanding and helping him. It wasn’t his problem alone–it was a family problem.

I enjoyed reading through this book and discovered many insights relevant to my circumstances. I know others have found much benefit in this material, but one or two have commented to me that they’ve found it hard going, like entering another world with its own vocal and jargon. Perhaps, my earlier training made this book easier.

Jenny Brown has built heavily on the work of Bowen in her excellent book, Growing Yourself Up. You could probably describe this as a ‘self help’ book, but with a difference. It’s about helping the reader to gain an increased sense of ‘self’ to enable them to enjoy better relationships with others. We grow into personal maturity as we learn to more clearly differentiate ourselves from others so that we develop healthy personal relationships. This book draws on family systems theory to help us understand who we are in the light of, and distinct from, our relationships with others. Our families of origin have a profound impact on who we are—how we think and act and speak.

Brown’s underlying conviction is that it’s never too late for any of us do do some more growing up. Greater emotional maturity is at the heart of this goal.

This book starts with the big question: Are you willing to take a fresh look at your own maturity gaps, instead of declaring that another needs to ‘grow up’?  (p8)

Growing Yourself Up helps us to see and understand the immature part that that we are playing in our relationships with others. Instead of pointing the blame, we are helped to see our own contribution to the problems and impasses we find ourselves caught up in. Unlike much recent psychotherapy which focuses on finding our inner child, this approach is about growing our inner adult in all areas of our relationships. Moving beyond childhood to adulthood can be expressed by the following attributes:

  1. Have your feelings without letting them dominate; tolerate delayed gratification
  2. Work on inner guidelines; refrain from blaming
  3. Accept people with different views; keep connected
  4. Be responsible for solving our own problems
  5. Hold onto your principles
  6. See the bigger picture of reactions and counter-reactions  (p17-19)

It takes time to work through these things. We need to learn about ourselves in relationship with others. We need to learn not to let our emotions dominate our thinking. We need to learn how to take control of our anxieties. This is all part of growing our inner adult—slowly.

Relationships—close relationships, while remaining a distinct self—are at the core of adult maturity. Our experiences of relationship from our earliest times vary along a continuum of feeling isolated and abandoned, through to feeling inseparable or smothered by others. We are helped to understand more clearly the strengths and weaknesses of our previous experiences of relationships—especially those in our family of origin—and how they impact our decision making in the present.

This book takes us through various key life stages, circumstances, and changes. It looks at the threats to and opportunities for growing in maturity. Such areas include leaving home, single adulthood, marriage, sex, parenting, work, facing setbacks such as separation or divorce, midlife, ageing, empty nests, retirement, old age, and facing death. Pretty well covers it really! In all these situations there are issues to face in our quest to grow into adult-maturity. This book helps us to understand our part in navigating these changes and stages wisely.

One section in this book, I found particularly helpful deals with the temptation to triangulate our relationships, especially in situations of conflict. This is one of the major threats to adult maturity. A relationship triangle is where the tensions between two people are relieved by escaping to a third party. (p44) This may serve to dissipate tension and help families and groups to manage, but it also results in issues not being addressed and often placing the third person is a vary awkward position. It’s helpful to examine how we might have been (or currently be) involved in such triangles, and why. Such triangles are very common and universally unhelpful for dealing with conflict and tensions in families, churches, teams, and a range of relationships.

This is the type of book that you benefit from reading through completely and then returning to digest the most relevant sections in more detail. As a pastor who deals with people all the time, I found this book offering many helpful insights. It is especially important to understand people in the context of their relationships. And it’s in these relationships that we grow ourselves up.

Faith, hope and tears

The shortest verse in the Bible is filled with empathy. Jesus, the author of life, understands what it feels like to experience grief and loss when a loved one dies. It hurts. It aches. We cry tears of sadness. We grieve in death. There’s a time for mourning, a time for weeping. As it says in John 11:35…

Jesus wept.

Some might question whether it’s necessary or appropriate for Christians to mourn the loss of a fellow believer. Don’t we believe they’ll be raised? Aren’t we confident they’re now with Jesus? Doesn’t our faith in eternal life make such sorrow out of place? Surely, a Christian funeral should be a celebration, not a time of grief and sadness?

Look again at John 11:35…

Jesus wept.

Jesus believed in resurrection. In fact he spoke of himself as the resurrection and the life. He knew that his good friend Lazarus would be raised from the dead. He knew, because he would raise him!

And yet, John 11:35…

Jesus wept.

If you’ve experienced the loss of someone you love, let the tears flow. Jesus did.

No comment? On reflection, comment!

In my recent post on A pastor’s pride I initially finished it with a request for people not to make comments. I wrote much the same thing on the Facebook link. It wasn’t that I was seeking to stifle comment or engagement on the topic. It was more that the post was raw, the subject was deeply personal, and I probably felt more vulnerable than usual. In particular, I didn’t want people stroking my ego or denying my analysis. I just wanted it to sit there and be heard.

However, it’s not hard to get around my request, and I received a number of comments via Facebook messages or email! Many of these included appreciation of the candid honesty of the post or statements about how they had been moved to reflect on their own pride. Two comments stood out from the rest. One suggested that I shouldn’t stifle comment because it would confirm that I or the church (I’m not sure) was ‘controlling’. I certainly didn’t want to promote this perception, so I removed the last sentence from my post. The other was a comment on the phone by my father, who suggested that allowing comments was fundamental to the nature of my blog. I was seeking engagement on the issues I wrote about, and commenting was a good way to get people thinking and acting.

P1010221My father sent this to me via email as a personal letter and invited me to determine whether I’d post it on the blog as a comment. I’ve decided instead to include it as the centrepiece of this post. The last 2 years have been seen important developments in the relationship between my father and I. Mid 2011, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma following the discovery of a large tumour in his throat. This led to a series of successful chemotherapy treatments that have removed any evidence of the disease. About the same time my father was going into remission, in December 2011, I was diagnosed with an incurable lung cancer. I know how shocking this has been to both my father and my mother.

One of the blessings of this experience is that we have grown closer, having a deeper awareness of what we’re both experiencing. I think this has strengthened our relationship in a range of areas. Not that you want to have both of us suffer from cancer to nurture the relationship, but it’s not a bad side benefit! My father will often discuss issues from my blog with me over the phone and sometimes post a comment on the blog itself. Sometimes he’ll make suggestions, sometimes he’ll share how it’s got him thinking, and he regularly forwards the posts to others. Here’s the comment he sent me today:

Dear David my beloved son,

When you first posted “A Pastor’s Pride” you concluded with the sentence “And I think I’d prefer that you didn’t write comments on this.” I note that you have now removed that request. As your father, I had chosen to ignore your preference on this occasion, and I think my decision to comment is supported by the comments now appearing from others. There are several reasons, but let me comment on just one.

Over the past year you have shared your journey with cancer with us in a very public way. Macarisms have included the pain and struggle, the ups and downs, the challenges and the changes of so many aspects of the personal, medical, emotional, relational, social, spiritual dimensions of what it has meant to learn that you have a terminal cancer. It is evident that the macarism has become a significant part of the new ministry which you are discovering and which God is growing in you. It is also evident that macarisms have been fulfilling the hope that you expressed in the very first post – “that people will be blessed as they read and think about life.”

One of the important additional ways in which people might find that blessing is by themselves giving expression to what they have learned or what has happened to them as they have read the macarism and thought about life. That has been evidenced again and again in the comments written in response to the diverse range of subjects that you have covered in your blog. Dealing with pride is one of those subjects upon which we all might do well to read and think and respond.

It is likely that I was participating in a prayer gathering on Saturday morning considering future directions for our congregation at the same time that you were writing your blog. An issue that greatly influenced my thinking and shaped my praying was so close to your writing. Given my many years as a pastor and wide experience, part of my praying was seeking guidance on what is the best contribution I can make to my church’s ministry in this place? It is not an easy question for one who is retired, and our denomination has some expectations about how retired pastors might support but not interfere in the life and current leadership of a congregation. A sense of pride about past ministry can very easily stand in the way of hearing what God is saying about the here and now of his word and call for today.

I noted, too, that whilst you were with your oncologist on Wednesday being reminded that you still have a terminal illness, I was at the Cancer Clinic having my sixth cycle of post-chemo “booster” Mabthera treatment. I, too, have been enjoying the congratulations of people for looking and being and feeling so well in remission. How easy it is to neglect the goodness and grace of God when things are going well for us.

I rejoice in the experiences that you have had during the past week, tough though they have been, and thank God for those persons who have been ministers of his grace to you in this recent encounter.

May God’s grace continue to minister to you, as you minister to others and as others minister to you and to us.

A pastor’s pride

Late last night I wept. I lay in my bed and I cried until my pillow was wet. What brought it on? It suddenly hit me how proud I’d become. My heart was full of me. And this blog was a big part of it.

I wasn’t sure if I should write this post. It could be just another example of what brought me to tears. A proud response to my response to pride. But I need to write it. I want to apologise and I want to change. I think my pride had become public, and thus so should my confession.

My dramatic realisation of my own pride hit me hard. It was a bit like hearing that I had a tumour. I was devastated, the tears flowed, and I prayed. The kids were away, Fiona was in another room, and I cried out on my own to God.

I’d just written a post telling pastors to be humble and yet my own heart was hard. I was writing as the preacher, not the practitioner. I was pronouncing who pastors should and shouldn’t be, but it was me that needed to listen. Here was I, doing all my reading, making all my comments, implicitly claiming to be an authority, telling others what to do, and I wasn’t doing it.

Sometime last night God told me. I don’t know how exactly, but he made it very clear to me that my heart was the problem. I’d been getting the message all week, but I wasn’t listening.

On Sunday I joined in the memorial service for my friend Bronwyn. On the front cover of the order of service, were printed these words:

Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.  (Psalm 115:1)

I was so convicted as I read and heard these words. These words seemed so true on the lips of Bronwyn, but as I mouthed them they seemed so hollow. In fact, even during the service I found my thoughts and tears and prayers wandering away to my self and my family instead.

There were so many people at that service to thank God for Bronwyn, support the family, and pay tribute to her life. I knew so many of them, and they kept coming up to me saying how good it was to see me looking so well, and how they’d been praying for me, even daily. And my heart swelled up. I’d become the prayer celebrity. Oh, how I hate it how my heart can take what is good and twist it so badly.

On Monday and Tuesday I joined a planning retreat with the staff of our church, and it did my head in. I was struggling with the effects of chemo, but that wasn’t the real problem. It was being in a situation I was so familiar with, but in a role that was totally foreign. I’d been the leader and now I wasn’t. It’s not that I wanted to be. I’m very grateful for Marcus, and for the grace that all the team have shown me. But I realise that my heart is still catching up with my head.

On Wednesday I went to the oncologist. It had been a while and I’d been doing so well. I wanted him to tell me that I was the best patient he’d had, that he’d been wrong about me, and that we could expect the cancer to disappear very soon. I now realise I’d become proud of how I’d been going. I’d had 23 cycles of chemo. Most people don’t have more than 5 or 6. I’d been battling cancer and winning. I could succeed where others had failed! How stupid and how arrogant. The oncologist made it clear that I still have a terminal illness. I’d done nothing, but fill myself with pride.

Thursday and Friday I’d been writing. Telling people what to look for in a pastor, what a pastor should be like. What I should have been doing was listening to the word of God that I was preaching. I should have been looking into the mirror and seeing what I looked like. We’d actually read these verses on our staff retreat only days before:

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  (James 1:22-24)

And I’d been doing exactly that! It took the words of two friends to point it out to me. They don’t know it, but they were angels, messengers from God. They were true prophets, for they told me the truth from God. They weren’t so rude as to tell me outright, but their gentle and wise questions helped me to see the truth clearly last night. My heart was proud and it needed to change.

Last night I prayed and I cried, asking God to forgive me and to change me. Thank God, he is gracious and merciful and forgiving. My ongoing prayer is that God will gently work within me to give me humility.

I’ve written and published this because I believe that I owe you, my reader, an apology. Please forgive me my pride.

Please let us speak

CrossroadsDec2011‘Confessions of a blind pastor’ or ‘A new view from the pew’. These were potential titles for this post. You see, I’ve started to observe church a little differently over the past year or so. Instead of being up front nearly every week, viewing all that happens through my leadership glasses, I’ve gained a clearer perspective on how things look as part of the congregation.

If you’d ask me whether church should be an opportunity to speak, I’d have said yes. If you’d asked me whether church should involve interactive and two-way communication, I’d have said yes. If you’d asked me if people were getting an opportunity to speak using their own words during church, I’d have said yes. I’d have said yes, because I believed these things should be happening in church. And I’d have said yes, because I got to speak my own words in church just about every week. I was seeing things from my perspective as preacher or service leader, not as a member of the congregation. In fact, I think the answer is commonly no.

Let me illustrate. A few weeks back I went to church and sat down. We started singing and there were three or four songs in a row. During this time someone I didn’t know came in and sat beside me. The songs ran into each other, so I didn’t get an opportunity to speak. The leader then welcomed people and introduced church. We moved from singing, to praying, to having the Bible read, to listening to a sermon, then singing. I’d been consciously waiting for a break in what was happening up front so that I could at least say g’day and introduce myself to the person beside me. There wasn’t one provided and all I could manage was a very quick “Hi, I’m Dave!” while the musicians played an intro to a song. Church came to a finish, the leader wrapped things up, and then invited us to continue our conversations over supper.

That’s when it hit me. “Continue our conversations!?” We hadn’t even begun. We didn’t have a chance. There was no space. And it wasn’t on the run sheet.

The church I go to is independent. We have no traditional liturgy or forms of words. We’re supposed to be, almost by definition, relaxed and informal. And yet that night there was no space even to greet the person sitting next to me. I’d expect that more traditional churches with their formalities and fixed liturgies might be guilty of this, but not us! We’re supposed to be more relational. I’ve come to realise that independent and informal churches need to pay attention to this issue just as much as denominational and more formal churches.

Now there are some counter-arguments, and I’ve used them. People do get to speak up during church. Every time we sing, people are involved using their voices. When someone leads in prayer, we are invited to say amen. More formal liturgies often involve scripted call and response readings, corporate prayers, reciting of creeds together, and sometimes a break where people are instructed to walk around and ‘pass the peace’. This goes something like ‘Peace be with you’ followed by the reply ‘And also with you.’ Isn’t this evidence of people’s involvement in speaking during church?

It’s speaking, yes. But it’s not voluntary speech using our own words. It’s not natural conversation. It’s following a script. Scripted words can have an important place, but they’re not the ideal way to build relationships between people. Sometimes I’ve visited churches that have invited us to pass the peace to one another. A complete stranger comes up to me and says, ‘Peace be with you’. I find myself replying, ‘G’day. I’m Dave. Sorry, what’s your name?’ I crave an opportunity to relate to people, not to perform a ritual set of words.

So why do I think voluntary, natural, two-way personal communication is important in church? There are many reasons. Here’s a few:

  1. The experience of church should be very different to attending a concert, school speech night, watching a movie, or listening to a lecture. It should be the gathering of a community for the purpose of mutual edification. However amazing the sermon, songs, prayers, readings, videos, dramas, or up front interviews may be… they are all communication from the front.
  2. We shouldn’t force newcomers, guests, or visitors to sit among strangers for 75+ minutes before anyone speaks to them. (Unless they choose to.) It will simply make the people in church look extremely unfriendly. If we create space for a friendly ‘hello’ early on, then people will be more comfortable during church, and more likely to stay afterwards.
  3. Talking together during church can help us to engage more with what’s going on. If we are talking, even for a minute or so, on issues related to the sermon, we’re likely to be listening more attentively.
  4. As we hear God’s word it calls for our response. If we want to promote discussion and mutual edification after church, it’s much more likely to happen if we get it going during church.
  5. We should be helping people get to know one another at church. While the potential for this is limited in a large congregation, and we may rely heavily on small groups, we  should look for ways for people to connect during church also.
  6. It’s helpful for people to be able to share what God has been doing in their lives, or issues they are dealing with. Of course, there are limitations on how much we can do this in a large gathering, but we could at least give it some thought.

So how and when can we get this interaction happening? Here are a few suggestions to get us thinking. You may like to add your own.

  1. Encourage friendly conversations in your auditorium or church building before things officially kick off. During this time, look out for people sitting on their own, and make sure they are welcomed.
  2. The service leader, after welcoming people from the front, can allow 3-5 minutes for people to say g’day to those around them. The kids and youth head out to their own programs in our morning congregation. During this time people are encouraged to be friendly and talk together. Our evening congregation doesn’t have this opportunity, so we have to create one.
  3. The leader could also raise an issue for people to talk about for a minute or so. This could lead people into a Bible reading or the sermon. For example, if the passage deals with issues of suffering, we could get people sharing the questions they have about suffering. The leader could then invite a few responses from the congregation.
  4. While we can all add our amen to up front prayers, it is helpful to encourage people to make their own response in prayer. This can happen by allowing a time of silence for people to pray. In some cases we can invite people to pray with those seated around them (so long as no one feels uncomfortable or pressured to speak out loud).
  5. Questions and comments after the sermon are a helpful way to engage the congregation further in thinking and working through their understanding and application of the passage. If there’s no time for this, perhaps we could trim a little off the talk to allow it. I think people are more likely to discuss the message afterwards if they’ve already been doing it in church.
  6. People could be invited to share something of what God has been doing in their lives with the congregation. This is probably best arranged in advance, so as to give people time to think about what they want to say.

On the question of open sharing times during church we need to consider the logistics. In larger congregations like ours with 300+ people. If everyone spoke for 30 seconds with no breaks between, then it would take 2.5 hours just to get through everyone each week! If we gave everyone 5 minutes to speak and only had one person a week, you would get an opportunity to do this once every 6 years. Maybe this is feasible in a house church, but we have to be more selective in a larger congregation. But, if we allowed 3 minutes for each person to share something with the person beside them, then in 6 minutes everyone would have the opportunity to share something every time we met! Food for thought!

Easter Sunday and new life for Bronwyn

emptytombEaster Sunday. Resurrection Sunday. The day Jesus Christ rose from the grave and first appeared to his disciples. The first day of the week. The first day of a new life, a glorious future, for all eternity, with the God of all grace. What a day! Then and now.

chins2For you, Bronwyn, a day of glorious change. Like a butterfly, transformed from a caterpillar, only far more beautiful. All that was damaged and dying has been resurrected in wonder and joy. Weakness has been raised in power. The perishable has clothed itself with the imperishable. The earthly has been replaced with the heavenly. The mortal with immortality. Death has been swallowed up in victory. The sting of death has been taken away.

You now dwell with your God and Father. You are his precious child. Your tears have been wiped away. Your cancer has gone. You are suffering no longer.

Nothing could separate you from the love of Christ. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, could separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You are now with Christ, which is better by far.

You are loved. You are missed. Your husband, your children, your family, your friends, your brothers and sisters in Christ.

You inspired so many with your kindness and love. Your joy in the midst of sorrow. Your fighting spirit. Your love for your family. Your patient endurance in the face of suffering. Your concern for others. Your testimony to Jesus. Your passion for God’s glory. Your strong hope of life in God.

Bronwyn, you have shown us faith and hope and love in the face of death. We thank you. We miss you.

Bloody facebook

facebook

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. It’s awesome for staying in touch with people, good for keeping contact details up to date, more interesting and engaging than email, fantastic for hearing what people are doing, a nice way to share photos, helpful for remembering birthdays (Happy 21st Matt), you can advertise events, get people into important causes, and lots more. But, what a distraction! How many hours, or should that be years, are wasted on games like FarmVille, words with friends (my archilles heel), personality tests, and other highly addictive activities. The clever predictive advertising annoys me, along with the many dating sites, and the lack of accountability for people posting pretty much anything they want.

But my big concern with Facebook at the moment is Christians. Christians using Facebook to air their grievances, stir up trouble, attack the words or actions or motives of other Christians. The bloodshed created in recent times has left me deeply disturbed. And I’m not just talking about the disturbed schizophrenic who posts constant attacks on my character, claiming I’m an agent of Satan being punished by God with cancer for not submitting to this person’s authority. I’m far more concerned about the rational, calculated, vitriolic, acidic use of Facebook as a medium for engaging in and stirring up conflict.

Yesterday, I found myself lured into some threads discussing John Dickson’s comments on QandA last week. Young Earth Creationists criticising John heavily for his expressed views on science and Jesus. Others getting in on the act and firing back. The temperature rising. Name calling and ridiculing, Blow for blow. Attacks on character. Attacks on motives. Accusations of selling out, heresy, ignorance, pride. I found myself arcing up many times. It was bloody! In all this, I believe that John acted with calm, restraint and humility.

Public wall posts on Facebook are not the forum for criticising others. You can at least private message. Facebook can be a very risky forum for passionate debate. It’s much more the canvas for smart remarks, clever quotes and pithy sound bites. It’s a great place for fun and a grotesque place for fighting. (Like that sound bite?!) It distresses me that I see Christians increasingly using this public forum to fight with one another.

If I can pick on my mate, John Dickson, once again… I’ve had a number of disagreements with John on different issues. We’ve argued over the exegesis of James 5, 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Peter 2, Colossians 1 and probably other parts of Scripture as well. I’m not persuaded by everything John has written. We have different views on some aspects of Christian faith and understanding. But we talk. Sometimes we write things down and send them to each other. Privately. Hopefully, with respect. And a deep appreciation that we are limited and inadequate in our understanding, that we act out of pride all too often, and that maybe we’re both wrong!

When it comes to conflict, public Facebook is hopeless. Private messages and email at least constrain it between the people involved – until one, accidently or even deliberately, passes it on. Phone calls make it a bit more personal, especially if you’re willing to listen and not simply accuse. You can hear tone of voice, clarify, ask questions. Perhaps, skype can make things more personal still. But there’s no real substitute for meeting face-to-face, in-the-flesh. This is where disagreements are to be worked through.

When it comes to Christians using Facebook, here’s a few of God’s words to consider very carefully (and maybe you can think of many more) …

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34-25)

If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?  (1 Corinthians 6:1)

Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.  (1 Peter 2:12)

Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.  (1 Peter 3:15-16)

 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.  (Matthew 18:15, my emphasis)

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  (James 1:19-20)

Macca’s book

Macca

Wow! I have my own book. Last Sunday I was welcomed back onto the staff team at Crossroads and presented with a book. I was gobsmacked and completely humbled as I looked through it. In fact, it was hard to concentrate on the rest of church. Sunday afternoon was spent reading it from cover to cover.

The book is full of thank you messages from friends. It represents 23 years of relationships here in Canberra, and it’s a great encouragement to hear how people have been impacted by God over this time. Some share of how they became Christians as we examined together what the Bible reveals about Jesus. Others speak of the impact of church or the FOCUS ministry or various trips we made to be involved with other churches on the coast.

I don’t know for sure whose idea it was, but I understand that special thanks goes to Marcus and Kelly, as well as the super-crafty Sara Sparks. Let me also thank Derek and Anna, David and Jenny, Monica, Bernie, Cath and Jamie, Klaus and Jude, Matt and Carla, Matt and Annette, Bron and Con, Anthea, Revin, Matt, Mik, Snicko and Anita, Richard and Pinnucia, Cam and Sue, Anton and Kylie, Sarah, Micaiah, Michael and Trish, Michael and Julie, Tim and Kate, Dan and Emma, Rob and Jenny, Steve and Cathy, James and Ali, Jonty and Beth, Sonya, Cliff and Jen, Lexi, Janine and Chris, Phil and Laura, Michelle, Michael and Susan, Andrew and Tanuja, Kate and Hamish, Keith and Joyce, Rob and Arabelle, Grace and Jono (best photo!), Matt, Mark and Louise, Dan and Celine, Eben, Philip and Rosi, Jennifer and Adi, Dave and Kate, Jo and Stuart, Russell and Kiri, Kathleen, Pete and Kate, Kell, Anne and Ian, Jared and Angela, Dan and Simone, Sam, Kerryn and Nathan, Dave, Tom, Ben and Beth, Deb, Nicola and Harry, Tim and Tegan, Mark and Katherine, Tim and Alison, Graeme and Chris, Mike and Donna, Mal and Vicki, Tim and Louise, Roslyn, Shan and Paul, Dean and Jo, Anita and Dave, Ralph and Kylie, Dave and Elissa, Andrew and Wendy, and families, and anyone else too slow to get in it!

Please come over and check it out if you’d like to see it. I was very touched. Thank you 🙂

PS If you click on the image above you can view the contents of the book!

Talking with kids about God

Birthday_Partyover_fencerag_dollgrumpy_day

Having read Grumpy Day, by Stephanie Carmichael and Jessica Green, I admit to having hoped there were more books in the series! There are four and they’re all delightful, with engaging stories and colourful, homely pictures. Friends have told me how much their kids love these books and how they’re often preferred over other ‘cooler’ story books.

There are a few things I’d like to highlight about these books:

  1. They are enjoyable stories for preschoolers and they introduce talk about God in a very natural way. I think this will help to give confidence to parents with their kids.
  2. The stories are simple and their messages are uncomplicated. Each book introduces the reader to a key characteristic of God. These are foundational ideas describing God as God, the one who made us, who knows about us, and who loves us, and whom we can talk to.
  3. The notes for parents section in each book offers excellent tips for making the most of these books and reinforcing the message with other activities.
  4. This note from the authors, printed in the front of each book, gets to the heart of it:

    One of our hopes for these stories is that they will give you an idea of how easily and naturally you can talk about God with your children through the day, helping them grow up in a world where our great God is at the centre (Deuteronomy 6:4-7; Psalm 145:3-7). It’s all about using the little opportunities that crop up each day.

If you’re starting to think about presents for Christmas, then why not take a look at these books. You can get them individually, but it makes better sense to grab the set of four. The publisher’s website enables you to read through each of these books before you buy. It’s an excellent idea to check out what you’re getting before you decide. Having read, or even listened to the author read her own book, you can then purchase with confidence. Your kids, grandkids, neighbours’ kids, random kids will love you for it. These books would also make an excellent gift for friends or to offer your local play group or preschool.

Here’s a final tip for the publishers – reprint the books in a shoebox size and encourage people to put them in next year’s Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts! This way families all over the world will benefit from them.

Love is a verb

Love ain’t a drug
Despite what you’ve heard
Yeah love ain’t a thing
Love is a verb
Love ain’t a thing
Love is a verb
(John Mayer)

Wedding005Today is another anniversary – far more special to me than yesterday’s. It marks the beginning of the 30th year of my marriage with Fiona. I think we should take the whole year off and celebrate! 🙂 Someone said to me once, that birthdays just keep coming round. You don’t have to do anything. But wedding anniversaries take a lot of work and a lot of love. Well, I’m no longer sure of the first statement, but I reckon the second still holds true. Love is a verb – a ‘doing’ word. It’s not simply about falling in love, or feeling love for someone… it’s about LOVING them. The covenant we made with each other on 3 December 1983 was to love each other, whatever came our way. This means whether or not we feel like it, whether or not it comes naturally, whether or not we think they deserve it (I don’t deserve it), whether or not they choose to love me. I can’t remember our promises exactly, but I think they went something like this…

In the name of God,
I, (name), take you, (name),
to be my wife/husband,
to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better or worse,
for richer or poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
until we are parted by death.
This is my solemn vow.

Better, worse, sickness, health! I wonder if we’d known what we’d be in for …! Of course, no one has any idea, really. That’s why they are promises. Unconditional promises. Forever promises. Love is a verb promises. And we need God’s help to keep them.

I’m so grateful to God for giving me my precious partner, Fiona. God calls me to love Fiona with all my being, to encourage and nurture her as my one flesh soul mate. I don’t think I always do a great job at this, but I pray that in God’s strength, I will keep getting better. It’s been a real joy to share these years together, and I pray God will give us many more.

It hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve spoken before about how some of the hardest times have enriched our relationship the most. We’re thankful that so often God has drawn us together in adversity. We’ve had our own conflicts… yes! But God, in his mercy has enabled one or both of us each time, eventually, to extend an olive branch. We’ve sought to be forgiving and peacemaking and to learn from our mistakes. If we learn from our mistakes, then we’ve done a lot of learning together!

I thank God for these 29 years together. I thank him for the beautiful wife he’s entrusted to me. Please God, help me to be like Jesus to my bride.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives.  (Ephesians 5:25-28, The Message)

Grumpy Day

It was raining yesterday, so I took the time to read Grumpy Day by Stephanie Carmichael and Jessica Green. To be honest, I didn’t make much time – just as long as it takes to read a children’s book. I’ve never written a book review longer than the book so, if I don’t want to set a precedent, I’d better keep this to less than 671 words!

I got hold of Grumpy Day because my wife has them. Actually, so I do and so do my kids and so do most people I know! This is a book we’ll put aside to read the grandkids one day, when we need to help them deal with their blues. The words and pictures are beautiful. I reckon it’ll connect well with younger children, but I should probably borrow some kids to test it out. It tells the story of things not working out for three siblings. Two of the problems can be solved simply by the creative mum. But the last is out of her hands – she can’t stop the rain. What she does is broaden her boy’s perspective on why God sends rain, helps him understand he’s not at the centre of the universe, and helps him to speak to God about his problems and feelings. I think this makes it a pretty helpful parenting manual!

On the parenting front, the inside cover helpfully suggests ways the book can be used. There are suggestions of Bible verses that reveal the foundations for the main theme of the book. You can read these to the children, preferably from a simple translation. The book can be used as a springboard to discuss things further with the kids. It offers an opportunity to talk about praying, and to model simply speaking with God and letting him know their needs. You might even want to take things further by doing some drawing, taking photographs, or making up a rhyme or song about things related to the story.

A book like this doesn’t take long to read, and I suggest it’s worth reading a children’s book before you read it to your kids or give it away to others. Not all so called ‘Christian’ children’s books are helpful. Some leave the false impression that in order to be a Christian you need to be a good person. They don’t have God at the centre, and they’re not consistent with the gospel of Jesus. While this book doesn’t actually mention Jesus, I believe it is faithful to the Bible.

Here’s where I have one suggestion. It would be helpful to mention Jesus, because I think it’s important for children to hear, from their youngest days, that Jesus is the way we have a relationship with God. There are probably ways that Jesus’ name could appear in this book without making dramatic changes.

I like this book. 480 words – enough said!

Our miracle baby

This has been a big weekend. I’ve spent much of the day talking with people about our wonderful friend, Chappo, who went home to be with the Lord last night. We’ve just returned from the ‘Shine a Light on Lung Cancer’ vigil at Parliament House, where I got to speak about my experiences with the disease. Today, November 17, is International Lung Cancer Awareness Day.  And I’ve just discovered that today is also World Prematurity Day.

Our family has a very special affinity with premature babies. We’ve recently been praying for a little boy called Noah who was born extremely premature. It’s a tough journey for baby and parents and it’s been a joy to see this little boy slowly growing stronger and eventually heading home from hospital. The reason for our special interest in premature babies goes back to the birth of our third child, 16 years ago. Our daughter was unexpectedly and dramatically born 14 weeks premature. Here’s a letter that we shared with people praying for our daughter in December of 1996…

As 1996 began, we knew this year would be a big one, but we weren’t prepared for just how big. Without a doubt the biggest thing in our lives this year – or should that be the smallest – has been the arrival of Grace Alyssa. Here’s a brief history…

September 30 – we were enjoying a much needed rest on the beach at Coffs Harbour. October 1 began with Fiona going into labour. We hurried to Coffs Hospital, not sure what would happen – but certainly not expecting a baby yet. The doctor told us our baby would be born that day and if he or she lived, we could expect a massive catalogue of complications. In a state of shock I contacted a few friends and family and asked them to pray. A newborn emergency transfer team (NETS) flew up from Sydney and arrived about 1pm. At 2.55pm Grace was born by caesarean section, weighing only 900 grams. The NETS team took charge and attached Grace to every piece of machinery you could imagine. After she was stabilised Fiona and Grace flew to Canberra Hospital and Grace was admitted to the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU). My boys and I stayed overnight with friends in Coffs before driving to Canberra the next day. Day one in a nutshell.

Grace is now 79 days old and has spent her whole life in intensive care. We have visited her every day and grown very attached to her. But the past 11 weeks have been a roller coaster we could never have imagined. She’s had major dramas with her heart, her lungs, and her gut. She has suffered major infections causing serious setbacks. She’s had three air ambulance rides. We’ve spent time at the Children’s Hospital in Westmead. We’ve done a few thousand extra kilometres in our car. There’ve been many times when we thought she was going to die. We’ve experienced the excitement of taking a step forward only to suffer the heartache of slipping three steps backwards. We’ve seen other babies die in the ward around us and wondered if Grace would be next. We’ve watched the joy of parents taking their little ones home and prayed for the day when that’d be us. About five hours every day is taken up with Fiona expressing milk and spending time with Grace. It’s been a long haul so far.

Grace has come a long way. Sometimes we’ve felt silly reporting on Grace because a few hours later the information has been wrong. It has been very much a day to day, hour by hour, journey so far. But the big picture is getting better. Grace is now approaching her expected birth date, 7th January. She’s grown to 2 kilos, is breathing well and drinking breast milk via a tube into the stomach. She no longer seems quite so fragile and vulnerable. We rejoice at the progress she’s made. We hope she’ll come through with no lasting problems. But our journey will in some ways get harder still. Fiona will have to step up the travel as they attempt to establish breast feeding, and then eventually we’ll have to cope with bringing her home and all the changes there. Please keep praying for us, sometimes it all seems a bit much.

In all this we’ve seen God at work. We thank Him for the joy of our little girl. We thank Him for the medical expertise, expensive equipment, and care that Grace has been privileged to receive. We thank Him for the love and support of family, and friends at church and in other places. We thank Him for the many hundreds of individuals and groups all over the world who have spent time praying for Grace. We feel we have the most blessed little girl in the world!

This was more than 16 years ago. Then she was tiny and vulnerable – now she’s strong and healthy. Sadly, for many parents, the outcomes of their stories aren’t as happy as ours. The Miracle Baby Foundation reports that in Australia each year approximately 25,000 babies are born premature and up to 1000 babies lose their fight for life. We thank God for the care and support of the NICU, then and now. We thank God for our miracle baby.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.  (Psalm 139:13-16)

Chappo’s gain

 Chappo
John Charles Chapman
23 July 1930 – 16 November 2012
being with Christ is better by far

I received news earlier this evening that John Chapman was not expected to live much longer. He was in ICU, his breathing was shallow, and he was no longer responding to people around him. I wanted to call and tell him that we loved him, to thank him for his kindness, generosity, love and prayers. I wanted to thank him again for writing to our youngest son, encouraging him to read his Bible, sending him books, praying for him. I wanted to tell him what a huge influence he’d had on my life and so many others. As I spoke with a friend at the hospital, I asked if he would read Chappo Psalm 62, so that he would be reminded again that his God is all powerful and all loving.

At 9.15 this evening Chappo departed to be with his Lord and Saviour. This was the occasion he’d been looking forward to since he was a teenager. This was the hope that Chappo had shared with all who’d listen. Chappo loved explaining to people that Jesus had given his life to pay for their sins and offer forgiveness. He’d share how God had raised Jesus from the dead, and how he was now the Lord of this universe. He’d passionately plead with people to consider how they’d been treating God, to turn and seek forgiveness, and to hand over control of their lives to Jesus.

What a privilege to have known Chappo as a brother and friend, and I look forward to catching up with him one day in heaven. In fact, as we spoke with each other (both in hospital) nearly a year ago, I think I said that maybe I’d make it there before him. It wasn’t to be.

John Chapman gave up his life tonight. But he’d given up his life daily for the last 57 or so years. He gave up his life in the service of God and others. For Chappo, to live was to serve Christ, and to die was to be in the presence of Christ. He kept on serving Christ to the very end, sharing his faith, encouraging others, preaching in the last few weeks, and publishing his latest book. It’s been better for us that Chappo has lived! And now it’s Chappo’s gain. He’s where he truly belongs – not because he was a great man, but because he has a great Saviour. The words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians truly describe how Chappo lived and died…

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  (Philippians 1:20-24)

I miss Chappo already. My heart is heavy. There’s sadness and tears. And yet, I also feel joy because God has completed the work he began in my brother. Thank you God.

Thank you God for bringing us into Chappo’s life and he into ours.

Thank you God  for Chappo’s gruelling sermon deconstructions and critiques.

Thank you God for the huge encouragement I received after preaching at Sydney University, when Chappo came up to me and said, “If I wasn’t a Christian already, I’d have become one immediately after that talk!”

Thank you God that Chappo kept our family in his prayer diary for the past 24 years – and that he prayed!

Thank you God for Chappo’s prayers for Fiona and our family after the accident.

Thank you God that each time he got up at night to go to the toilet, he’d pray for me and his other ‘oncology friends’!

Thank you God that Chappo would write and ring up, just to offer a word of encouragement – even though he had the worst phone manner of anyone!

Thank you God that Chappo preached at our first ever Crossroads Christian Church service and many more after that.

Thank you God for letting me and many of my friends and family share my 50th birthday with Chappo this year.

Thank you God for placing it on Chappo’s heart to write and encourage my son.

Thank you God for Chappo’s passion for preaching Christ.

Thank you God for changing people’s hearts as they came to know Christ through Chappo’s preaching and writing.

But mostly, thank you God that you have removed the sting of death, that you’ve prepared a place for Chappo, and that he’s now free from sickness and suffering, and enjoying your presence forever and ever.

The key to resolving conflict

I’m not much of a fan of conflict – especially when it involves me. I don’t like causing it and I don’t like being on the receiving end of it. Give me peace and harmony any day! But conflict happens. We disagree, we argue, we get defensive, we sulk, we blow up in anger, we grow resentful, we wallow in bitterness. It’s a death cycle for relationships and it’s way too common.

As I look back over my life, I can see the damage caused by conflict with others. Good friendships gone bad. Working relationships broken down. Tensions with relatives. Relationships strained and awkward.

Most of the conflicts were nothing at first. A word here or there. An oversight. Simple misunderstandings. Unmet expectations. Assumptions. Nothing to worry about. It’ll be all right. Things will blow over.

But they don’t blow over. They stay, and they grow, and we feed them. The small problem gets bigger and bigger and, before too long, we have an unresolvable crisis. Judgments have been made. We become entrenched in our position. They in their position. Neither of us will budge. We appoint blame and demand the other change. Apologies are empty, we’ve heard it all before, there’s no hope, the relationship’s over.

Conflict hurts. We know the pain. We live with the scars. Couples, families, homes, workplaces, teams, schools, churches. It doesn’t matter where. Conflict is far too common and we keep failing to overcome it. So what hope is there?

In my experience there is one key to resolving conflict. It’s very simple to understand, but so hard to put into practice. It’s not a technique. It’s not a set of words or exercises. It doesn’t require counselling or courts to make it happen. It needs something much more profound – a change of heart.

The key to resolving conflict is forgiveness.

forgive-bible-quotesThat’s what it takes. So simple, yet so difficult. To forgive means to count the cost, to absorb the hurt, to no longer hold it against them. To forgive means to cancel the debt, to let go of your pride, to release your bitterness. To forgive means to value the other person, to seek the relationship, to work for reconciliation. That simple! That impossible!!

What really stands in the way of resolving conflicts is me! I’d prefer to stand on my rights, to demand an apology, to wallow in my self-pity or pride. I’m the problem and, left to my own resources, I’m a problem I can’t fix!

But… God can. The power to forgive comes from forgiveness received. As I recognise how much God has forgiven me through the death of his Son, Jesus Christ, so I become more able to forgive others. God has wiped my slate fully clean. He’s forgiven me all my selfish thoughts, words and actions. He’s washed me cleaner than snow. He’s removed a debt that I could never repay.

I need to be constantly reminded of the magnitude of God’s forgiveness of me. The enormous cost that he paid to remove the conflict between us. God is the ultimate peacemaker. He’s the awesome reconciler. He’s the author of forgiveness. As I begin to appreciate how much I’ve been forgiven, what could be too much for me to forgive others? And God doesn’t leave me to try and become a forgiving person on my own, relying on my own strength and resources. He pours out his Holy Spirit to bring peace into our lives and relationships.

It’s worth remembering this story that Jesus told:

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Hopefully, you too are outraged by the response of the servant. He’d been forgiven 10,000 bags of gold and he can’t even bring himself to forgive 100 silver coins. Wow!

Of course, there’s a sting in this tale. If we’ve received forgiveness from God for every selfish thing we’ve ever done, then how can we not forgive others the petty grievances we so willingly cling on to. Perspective please!

God wants us to enjoy peaceful relationships. Firstly, with him, and he calls us to put our trust in Jesus so that we can receive his forgiveness. Secondly, with each other, and he expects us to keep the forgiveness going. Don’t give in to conflict. It’ll destroy relationships and it’ll ultimately destroy your soul. If you need forgiveness, then please seek it. Otherwise, please humble yourself and be willing to offer forgiveness to others.