Baggage

Baggage

Nicole and I have recently returned from a few weeks overseas - for a conference and some holidays, as we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.

I love to travel. The very atmosphere of airports and airplanes energises me. I love visiting new places and meeting new people. However, my wife doesn’t get quite as excited. In fact, she starts packing a few weeks ahead of time, just to make sure she’s got everything she needs. I tend to pack in the last minute. 

You know, as we travel through our journey of life we all tend to carry various sorts of baggage with us. Some types of personal baggage from our past can become pretty tiring to carry after a while. In fact, the emotional strain can become overwhelming. Sometimes we have to make a choice to ‘let go’ of things, including situations in the past where we were hurt by other people, where we were disappointed by life, or maybe where we failed ourselves. 

What’s in your suitcase? What are you carrying with you right now? What’s dragging you down? Are there some things worth off-loading? Is there some baggage you’d be better off getting rid of? Doubts, questions, regrets, hurts ... maybe it’s time to let them go. Why not do that today ... even right now.

Baggage ... think about it.


Optimism

Optimism-breeds-optimism

Generally speaking, there are two types of people in the world – pessimists and optimists.

Pessimists:

  • believe that bad events will last a long time,
  • imagine the worst,
  • tend to see themselves and situations as ‘helpless’ give up more easily,
  • tend to ‘awfulise’ and ‘catastrophize’, turning mere setbacks in disasters, and
  • are more stressed than the average person,

Optimists:

  • see bad events as temporary and surmountable,
  • are happier,
  • and more content then other people,
  • have greater coping skills,
  • achieve better than pessimistic people, 
  • their health is unusually good, and 
  • they age well and live longer.

Of course, unrealistic optimism can be dangerous. Optimism must be balanced with reality. Otherwise you will end up in denial. However, after decades of research, not one good thing is able to be said about pessimism!

So we can see that our mind (or our habits of thinking) has a powerful influence on our body, our mood, and our entire life. That’s because there is never a thought without a consequence. And if the thought is optimistic, the consequences are better.

Optimism – think about it.


Jesus: I AM the Way

I AM 1080

John 14:1-7. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” NIV

Trusting God in Troubled Times (vs.1)

Difficult days lie ahead for the disciples, filled with uncertainty and confusion. Jesus senses their fear and their worry. He challenges them to not allow their hearts to be troubled but instead to place their trust in Him, just as they trust God. Jesus himself knew what it was to be troubled (see John 12:27; 13:21) yet he takes time to offer his disciples emotional and spiritual support, teaching them the importance of shifting their focus from the fear of intense circumstances to active faith and trust in God. After all, life is not ruled by luck, fate or chance. God is sovereign in the events of this world and Providence will rule the day.

Much of our world today is ruled by fear and this often causes troubled (worried and anxious) hearts. How apt are Jesus’ words for us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” You can choose to shift your focus from fear to faith.

An Eternal Home (vs.2-4)

Jesus is going away and his disciples are naturally anxious about where he is going and whether they will be able to follow him. So Jesus speaks of his “Father’s house” and hints of a new world - heaven and earth meeting together as God renews the whole world. At that time there will be room for everyone. Through this promise, Jesus is assuring his disciples that though he’s going away, it will be for their benefit; he won't forget them, he won’t abandon them. Jesus’ words reach out his first disciples and encourage us. These words are often used at funerals and we can understand why. We can’t see the way ahead and we need to know not only that there is indeed a way into the unknown future, but that we will be able to find it.

Heaven is a reality - another world, another place, where God lives. His home and our future home too. It is a place where God’s will is done and where there is no pain, no crying, and no sickness or death. Jesus’ emphasis is not the lavishness of the house or its rooms (“a mansion over the hilltop!”) but the fact that we will be with him – together, forever.

Jesus also promises to come back and take his followers to be with him (vs.3). His second coming will complete all that his first coming began. We know that there are various promises yet to be fulfilled before Jesus returns, then many things to happen at his return and also after his return. The challenge for us today is to live expectantly and ready should he return in our lifetime, yet with the wisdom and foresight that he may not return in our generation.

I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life (vs.5-7)

Thomas often had his doubts yet we can admire him for his desire for clarity from Jesus. He always wanted to be sure. He wanted the facts. Amazingly, his question (vs.5), “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” prompted one of Jesus’ greatest statements (vs.6): “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the way to God the Father. He is the truth about the Father, being the ultimate representation of what God is like – “the Word made flesh (in human form)” (John 1:14). He is also the life of God.

As the way, Jesus does not offer us a map or a set of instructions of how to get to God. He offers us himself, as our personal guide to the Father. Through him we can come to the Father and become children of God.

As the truth, Jesus is the clearest illustration of what God is like. It is so easy to develop distortions of what God is like based on religion and the opinions of others. We need to constantly have a fresh look at Jesus, as revealed in the Gospels, to see him as he is.

As the life, Jesus is the purest example of life as God intended it to be lived. A life full of love, joy and peace. Earlier, Jesus had declared that he had come to give his followers life, and life to the full (John 10:10).

This statement by Jesus has been critiqued by some, because of its apparent exclusiveness – “No one can come to the Father but through me (vs.6).” After all, Jesus is not declaring himself as one god among many, but as the way to the true and living God. However, we must understand that Jesus did not come to exclude anyone but to include everyone. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” God is a hopeful universalist in that he desires everyone to be saved, not just a few (see also 1 Timothy 2:1-6. 2 Peter 3:8-9). However, people do have a free will, so their own choices in response to the grace of God will determine their future destiny. We have to believe that God is actively pursuing people with his love and that each person will be judged on the degree of knowledge or light they have received. In the end, God will do what is right with each person (Genesis 18:25). Our role is to pray and to reach out and join God in his mission towards each individual in the world. 

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the impact of fear in our culture today. What feeds fear and how does it affect us? What are the primary worries and concerns that you hear people talk about? How can we apply Jesus’ words and shift our focus from fear to faith (active trust in God)?
  2. Reflect on heaven. What do we know about it? How much should it fill our minds today? How can we avoid being “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good” yet also living with the realization that this world is not our ultimate home?
  3. Reflect on the second coming of Jesus Where is the balance between living with the readiness for Jesus to come at any moment yet also with the wisdom to keep preaching the Gospel and expanding his kingdom until that time?
  4. Consider the idea of the Christian life being a relationship with a Trinitarian God – Father, Son and Spirit – characterized by love. We come to the Father, through Jesus, by the Spirit.
  5. What are some distorted views or pictures of Jesus that we need to avoid today, that a reading of the Gospels provides a corrective for?
  6. Paul describes the fruit or evidence of the life of Christ in the believer as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Gal.5:22-25). Why are these qualities sometimes missing from the lives of Christians? What are some keys to living the life Jesus intended for us on a daily basis?

Your Story

Your-life-storyEvery one of us has a story to tell. 

Your life is your story. Your story is your life. 

Like a story, your life has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. There is a theme, characters, subplots (work, family, health, happiness, friendship), trajectory, and tone.

 What kind of story is your life?

  • A comedy?
  • A drama?
  • A thriller (horror) movie?
  • A romance or a love story?
  • An action movie?
  • A fairy tale?

In reality, each of our life stories is an EPIC. It’s a long journey with many scenes, experiences, twists and turns, characters, and smaller individual story lines.

I wonder what is the ‘theme’ of your life? Yes, life has many twists and turns, as well as highs and lows, many of them beyond our control BUT you can choose what the theme of your life is going to be. You are not a victim to your circumstances or to what other people say or do. You can choose how you respond to what comes your way. Don’t make worry, fear, anger, or bitterness the theme of your story. Why not choose joy?

Your Story – think about it.


Your Home Base

Sea-of-galilee-2-magdala

Luke 5:16. As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer. The Message Bible

This is an amazing description of how Jesus lived and did ministry.

  • He loved solitude - by the sea or in the country, on a boat or in a garden. 
  • This required withdrawal from people, busyness and activity. 
  • It was his home base - the place he continually returned to. 
  • He spent as much time there as possible. 
  • Out from here, he left to do ministry and serve the people God had sent him to.
  • His life was full of conversation with God - Father and Spirit; a dance of divinity. 
  • Maybe this was the key to not only his survival from the pressures of life and ministry and also his triumph over the pressure of life and the temptations from the devil.

What's your home base?

[Picture: The Sea of Galilee: View from Magdala]


How Politics Works

BillThe world of politics has been a bit of a circus lately, especially in Australia, the UK and the USA.

I saw this funny joke the other day, which has been floating around, and thought it was worth re-posting:

Dad: "I want you to marry a girl of my choice."
Son: "No!"
Dad: "The girl is Bill Gate's daughter."
Son: "Ok."

Dad goes to Bill Gates.
Dad: "I want your daughter to marry my son."
Bill Gates: "No!"
Dad: "My son is the CEO of the World Bank."
Bill Gates: "Ok."

Dad goes to the President of the World Bank.
Dad: "Please appoint my son as the CEO of your bank."
President: "No!"
Dad: "He is the son-in-law of Bill Gates."
President: "OK."

That's politics for you!

 


The Art of Loving Confrontation

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Life can be very rewarding and fulfilling. It can also be very difficult at times. Two of the hardest things to do are handling criticism and confronting people, not that we should love confronting people (!) but learning how to do so in a loving manner. The apostle Paul once wrote in Ephesians 4:15 that one of the marks of a mature church is the ability to “speak the truth in love”. Some people speak the truth but not always in a loving manner. Others are so loving that they never speak the truth. Finding the balance of doing both well is essential.

Being Lovingly Assertive

We all need to be lovingly assertive, when appropriate. Assertiveness is all about being able to assert your rights. Errors in this area can lead to a lot of relational problems. Christian counsellor Arch Hart notes that sometimes as Christians we have adopted a belief that says that it’s not right to be assertive. We should surrender our rights and even be willing to be wronged in the name of love. The key issue is how we define ‘assertiveness’. The truth is that you can be both loving and assertive. Of course, Christian love may involve choosing to sacrifice our rights when appropriate.

Over-assertive people lack tact and sensitivity, hurt other people, steam-roll their ideas and opinions, and tend to be autocratic (‘we’ll do it my way’). In contrast, under-assertive people can’t set limits, they can’t say “no” (without feeling guilty), they are easily manipulated by stronger people, they are unable to express feelings of anger constructively, they avoid conflict situations and shirk responsibilities, they are excessively apologetic (“Oh, I’m sorry!”), they can’t send clear and unambiguous messages, they experience anxiety and guilt when they do not assert themselves, and they tend to fantasise after the conversations (replaying the situation over and over). This often leads to passive-aggressive behaviour. They are always assertive in their imagination (fantasy) but never in reality. How many of us have said some real assertive things in our mind but never had the courage to speak them out! As a result, under-assertive people find that their relationships remain superficial, they develop other unhealthy ways of expressing their anger, and they are often the most stressed people around due to a feeling of helplessness.

There is a balance between ‘under-assertiveness’ and ‘over-assertiveness’. We need to avoid swinging unnecessarily or inappropriately between the two. If you are angry, you have forfeited the right to be assertive. When anger is involved, assertiveness is no longer a healing activity. Aggression is not what assertiveness is about. When you do it right there should usually not be offence.

A Few Thoughts About Confrontation

Confrontation is not easy. In fact, it is very difficult. Confrontation is difficult for a variety of reasons, including: we all fear being disliked, we want everyone to like us, we may be afraid of making things worse (however, usually it is the attitude in which you confront that makes things worse, not the confrontation itself), we may fear rejection, we may find it difficult to share our feelings, we may think that confrontation will destroy love and trust (actually, if done correctly, confrontation can build more love and trust into the relationship) and we may lack confrontational skills. Good leaders learn how to confront in love.

1. Deal with conflicts quickly. Deal with issues the moment they come up. Don’t save all your complaints and problems up and then dump them all on a person. When tensions arise, clear the air immediately and personally. When you let tensions continue without dealing with them, they usually get worse rather than better (Eph.4:26-27).

2. Confront with the right attitude. Don’t be either overeager or too hesitant to confront. Confront, not because it makes you feel good, but because you are committed to seeing people mature in Christ (2 Cor.10:1. 2Tim.2:24. Gal.6:1). Confronting with the right spirit comes out of having the right goal in your confrontation, which is: (a) a better understanding, (b) a positive change, and (c) a growing relationship. The goal is not to ‘win a battle’ or to ‘unload our frustration’. Think Win/Win.

3. Outline the problem clearly. Be open and honest. Clearly define what the other person is doing to cause you a problem, how this makes you feel, and why this is important to you.

4. Seek to understand their perspective. Encourage a response. Get the issue out, then let them talk as long as they need to. Their feelings need expression, so give them time to do this. People may feel shock, hurt or resentment. At this point, your goal is to understand their perspective on the situation. You want to learn and to gain understanding. Don’t automatically assume that you are right and they are wrong. You may not agree with them, but be sure you understand where they are coming from. You may need to repeat or rephrase their comments to ensure you’ve understood correctly.

5. Seek to resolve the issue whether it is an action or an attitude. Re-establish or clarify the issue and ensure understanding or forgiveness. Indicate the desired action be taken. Place the focus on the future at this point. Clearly define what needs to change and what your expectations are. Don’t mistake an emotional release for fixing the problem. Let it happen but move to a resolution.

6. Affirm the person and put the issue in the past. Be positive. Affirm the person, even if you don’t like what they have done (Eph.4:29). Thank them for who they are and what they contribute. Express appreciation for them and your desire to work together. Don’t bring it up again unless the problem reoccurs.

The biggest mistakes we make in confrontation are: failing to get all of the facts (relying on hearsay evidence or subjective impressions), confronting while angry (anger causes you to lose objectivity), being vague about the offence (know what you’re talking about by being - people can’t fix things they can’t see), failing to get the other person’s side of the story, and holding a grudge (don’t keep hostilities but let it go and move on).

Your success or failure as a leader will depend more on your ability to build strong healthy relationships than anything else. Unless you learn to get along with a wide variety of people, your effectiveness as a leader will be greatly diminished. Have the courage and the consideration to learn to confront lovingly.

Discussion Questions:

1. Reflect on a time when a confrontation you were involved in went really well (whether you were on the giving or receiving end). What were the contributing factors?

2. Reflect on a time when a confrontation didn’t go so well. What were the contributing factors?

3. What one insight from today’s teaching or discussion will you apply this next week?


Church Unite 2016

CU

Church Unite 2016 is only a few months away. It will be held on Sunday, 16th October with two events - one at 4.00 pm and one at 7.30 pm in the Melbourne Convention Centre. It's FREE and registration will open soon.

Church Unite is a place to join together to celebrate our love for Jesus, one another, and our heart for Melbourne. In unity we will worship Jesus and lift up our city in prayer. You are integral to the impact of Church Unite 2016, it won’t be the same without you.

Church Unite was originally born out of established relationships and now includes many other churches across Melbourne.

Why we gather together is as vitally important as what we din gathering together. We have gone on a journey over the last two years, listening and learning from those who have attended.

Church Unite will look a little different in 2016. There will still be two gathering times 4pm and 7pm each going for 1.5 hours. Our guiding principal for this year is "Celebrate.Jesus.Together." The gatherings will be generationally, culturally and denominationally diverse so that we will all find opportunities for our hearts to engage with our love for God during the service. There will be parts of the service you connect with more strongly than other parts, its a bit like an extended family gathering where we are excited to be together and the doing needs to be inclusive of all the family members attending.

Our hearts desire is for unity and from this place we will worship Jesus, pray for our wonderful city and celebrate one another. We know that from this place of unity God's plans and purposes for the church of Melbourne and the people of Melbourne will be seen in full.

With the above in mind we have expanded what will be happening in the foyer - Church Unite Expo.

Mark the date in your diary - Sunday, 16th October.

I hope to see your there!


Conflict Resolution

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Have you had a conflict lately?

When we are hurt by other people we all respond differently. 

David W. Johnson, author of Human Relations and Your Career, has identified five styles of conflict resolution:

1. Some people are like teddy bears. They keep the peace at all costs, even if it means giving up what they think or want.

2. Other people are like turtles. They withdraw when conflict comes and they avoid it at all costs.

3. Other people are like sharks. They respond to conflict by going on the attack, seeking to win at all costs. They often get their way as others withdraw from their assault, but they make few friends. 

4. Other people are like owls. They are very wise. They respond to conflict calmly and firmly. They do not run from it, nor do they go on the attack. They listen to the other person’s point of view. They put their case forward firmly and calmly and they seek to satisfy both their goals and the goals of the other party. Their aim is always to maintain the relationship. 

5. Other people are like the fox. Foxes are clever or skilful managers of conflict. They’ve discovered that always responding like a teddy bear, a turtle, a shark, or even an owl is not the answer. Different situations call for different responses. Sometimes it is best to be a teddy bear and give in to save the relationship; sometimes it is best to be a turtle and sidestep the problem, thus avoiding any conflict; sometimes it is right to be a little bit shark-like and to get angry and say a firm no; and sometimes what is needed is to be an owl. Sometimes a compromise is best.

Why don’t you see if you can resolve the conflicts in your world!

Conflict … Think about it.


Think Win/Win

WinIn his best selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey noted that when it comes to healthy relationships, mature people think “win/win”.

Win/Win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all situations, agreements and solutions. With a Win/Win solution, all parties feel good about the decision and are committed to the action plan - there is something in it for everybody and everybody wins. Win/Win sees life as a co-operative, not a competition. One person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others - it’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way.

It helps to avoid alternative approaches such as:

1. Win/Lose - “If I win, you lose.”  Most people see life in terms of dichotomies: strong/weak, big/small, master/servant, win/lose etc.  Our society is structured around this type of thinking.  In families where there is conditional love children are taught that life is about comparison with someone else or against some standard.  In peer groups children are taught that acceptance is based on conformity to a standard or norm.  At school there is a grading system which compares each child to the other and determines which is the better.  In business, we operate in a “dog eat dog” environment where there is only room for the survivor at the expense of all others.  In our pastimes such as sport there is only a prize for the winner. Unfortunately, most of the quality we want in our lives depends on our co-operation with others not on whether we or they are better.

2. Lose/Win - “I lose, you win.”  People who think lose/Win are usually quick to please. They seek strength from popularity or acceptance.  They have little courage to express their own feelings and convictions and are easily intimidated by others.  In negotiations, Lose/Win is seen as giving in or giving up.  In leadership style, Lose/Win is permissiveness or indulgence, being “Mr Nice Guy” even if nice guys are walked on.

3. Lose/Lose - Some people are so centred on an enemy, so totally obsessed with the other person’s behaviour that they become blind to everything except their desire for that person to lose, even if it means losing themselves. Lose/Lose is the philosophy of war. “If I can’t have it, then neither will they.”

4. Win - People with the Win mentality don’t necessarily want someone else to lose - what matters is that they win.  This is probably the most common approach to everyday negotiation.  Win thinking is in terms of securing your own ends and leaving others to secure theirs.  “Look out for No. 1”

5. Win/Win or No Deal - This is a higher expression of Win/Win which says that if we can’t find a solution that would benefit us both then we agree to disagree agreeably - No Deal.  With No Deal as an option, you are liberated because you are able to say that it would be better not to deal than to live with a decision that isn’t right for us both.  If you can’t reach a true Win/Win, then No Deal is better.

Which option is best?

The most effective option depends on the situation:-

  • Win/Lose - This might be used to stimulate business
  • Lose/Win - If you value a relationship and the issue isn’t important.
  • Win - If someone’s life is in danger etc.

However, in most situations the best result will be achieved with a Win/Win approach - particularly when there are people and relationships involved (interdependence). 

Jesus himself taught that we should think about how other people like be treated then grab the initiative and treat them that way (Matthew 7:12). That's win win!


The Great I AM

I AM 1080

Moses desperately wanted to know God personally and God revealed himself to Moses as the great ‘I AM’ - the God who is, who was and who is to come … and who is whatever and whoever we need him to be.

Years later, Jesus came - God in human form - to show us in more detail who God is and what he is like.

In John’s Gospel, we learn about the ‘I AMs’ of Jesus. He boldly declared, “I am the light of the world, I am the bread of life, I am the door, I am the good shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the way the truth and the life, and I am the true vine.”

My prayer is that we will come to know and experience God more meaningfully these next few months as we explore these amazing truths together as a church.

 

The Europe Conference 2016

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Next week, Nicole and I travel to Sweden where I am pleased to be one of the guest speakers at this year's Europe Conference, hosted by Pastor Joakim Lundqvist and the Word of Life church in Uppsala, Sweden.

This annual summer conference draws thousands of visitors from all over the world. There is strong teaching, dynamic worship and plenty of activities for children and youth. Other speakers this year include Sameh Maurice (Egypt), Mark Ramsey (Australia), Cannon J. John (UK) and Tan Seow How & Cecilia Chan (Singapore).

If you know anyone who lives in Europe, be sure to encourage them to come.


Navigating Transitions

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At our recent INSPIRE Conference for CityLife volunteers and leaders, I shared a message about "Navigating Transitions". This is a very relevant message for our church at this time as we prepare for the upcoming appointment of a new Senior Minister

Here is a summary of the main insights I shared:

1. Trust God for the Future.

God has led CityLife for almost 50 years now and we have navigated transitions like this well before. We can trust God to lead us through this next transition into an even more fruitful future.

Life is a journey with many seasons. We can have a sense of where we have come from, where we are now and where we are going. Seasons are marked by endings and beginnings. Occasionally, there are unexpected turns in the road. Some things are within our control while many things aren’t. 

Placing our trust in God is based on a belief that his providence is undergirding everything (Romans 8:28). Trust is active faith, not fatalism. We don't know what tomorrow holds but we do know who holds tomorrow in his hands. He is the Alpha (the beginning) and the Omega (the end). He has begun a good work in each one of us and he will complete it (Philippians 1:6).We can sleep at night because of that assurance.

Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. NLT 

In many ways, experiencing change is a little bit like letting go of one trapeze and you still haven't taken hold of the next one. That's a scary feeling! It requires trust in God that he will not let us fall and that there is a new trapeze for us to lay hold of.

We grow in our faith as we build experiences of God’s faithfulness. When David faced Goliath (a giant beyond anything he had fought before) he recalled God’s help in defeating the lion and the bear. We can do the same, as we recall God's faithfulness in the past. We know he will be with us today and tomorrow. 

2. Understand that the Church's Mission Remains the Same.

Our church's mission is clear and will continue under the new leadership. Just like Moses passed the baton to Joshua, the mission is bigger than any one leader or group of people. There is more of the mission yet to become a reality as God's vision continues to unfold for the next horizon … then the next and the next. Just like individuals have a unique calling and purpose, so do churches. God has not finished using CityLife for his purposes yet.

3. Prepare for Change. 

Change is coming. CityLife will soon have a new Senior Minister. People are never replaced but roles are. A new leader will have their own unuqie personality and style. Things will be different. That means some grief and loss - for me too. Endings require us to ‘let go’ of past (the way we were) yet endings make way for new beginnings.

Isaiah 43:18-19. Forget about what's happened; don't keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I'm about to do something brand-new. It's bursting out! Don't you see it? There it is! I'm making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Message Bible

Change is not something that many people like because it makes them feel uncomfortable. It implies leaving the old familiar ways behind and stepping out into new, uncharted waters. It definitely does not sound safe. However, God is in the change business and his plan requires us to change. We are not what God wants us to be yet. God is not finished with us. We must move on. We need to change and grow.

People hold the key to change, and the ability and willingness of individuals to change is the key factor to the future of any group. Change is a process that is both exciting and difficult, and resistance  to it is natural and should be expected. The key is to turn resistance into change-readiness. Change-readiness is an attitude that is open and receptive to new ideas, excited rather than anxious about change, challenged (not threatened) by transitions, and committed to change as an ongoing process. Change-readiness is taking actions to anticipate and initiate change, to challenge the status quo, to create instead of react to change and lead rather than follow.

Individuals and churches that are good react quickly to change. Individuals and churches that are great create change. We must be forward-thinking people. The apostle Paul made it his aim to forget the things that were behind and to stretch himself forward to what was ahead. He refused to become comfortable or complacent. From his point of view, this way of thinking is a mark of spiritual maturity (Philippians 3:10-15).

In case you had not noticed, God is a God of new things. He has made us new creations, given us new hearts, a new spirit and a new covenant. We live in a new day; we have a new name; we have a new commandment; we have been given new garments; His mercies are new every morning; we drink of the new wine; we are headed for a new Jerusalem and eventually a new heaven and a new earth. In the end, God makes all things new!

Embracing the new things God has for us implies leaving the old behind. It requires change and transition. God wants freshness in our lives not stagnation, staleness or sameness. God sent the manna to Israel fresh daily. It could not be kept for the next day or it would rot and stink (Exodus 16:12-31). In the same way, we need to keep receiving the new things God has for us. He wants us to be willing, open and ready to change. Let's be change ready rather than change resistant!

4. Keep Serving Faithfully Side by Side.

During seasons of change, it is important to look after yourself (Acts 20:28). Keep your spiritual tank full through prayer, feed on God’s Word, manage your internal stress, keep healthy and fit, and be sure to allow ample time for recreation – have fun, enjoy life, and do some things outside of ministry.

Rom 12:11-13. Don't burn out; keep yourselves fuelled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. MB

Times of transition also provide us with the opportunity to strengthen our relationships. Life is a journey and it's not just about us and God. He’s called us to do life in community with others. We are created with a need for relationship. It is ‘not good’ that we are alone (Genesis 2). During times of transition, change, and adversity, we need each other more than ever. Don’t isolate yourself. Spend time with some ‘safe’ people who you can be open and real with. Share your heart. Externalise your feelings. This often helps to bring clarity as you process what you are experiencing. Open conversation is vital.

Hebrews 10:23-25. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. NLT

5. Pray for this Important Time.

Please pray - for the Elders, for the next Senior Minister, for me, for the church congregation and for yourself. Ask for his wisdom and guidance. Read your own heart. Make your own calling sure. How is your own passion, enjoyment, fulfilment, dreams, capacity, fit, energy and growth? Is it time to push through some discouragement of complacency or maybe to give yourself more time settle in (possibly to a new role or new situation)? Or is God unsettling you for a time of re-positioning yourself? How's your own race going? I have always had the attitude of doing what I am doing now with the commitment that I may do it forever BUT holding it lightly enough so that I am willing to ‘let it go’ whenever prompted by God.

We can do this church. There are good times ahead!


Top Tips for Travellers

Travel-tips-for-perfect-holidays

Thinking of travelling any time soon?

My first overseas trip was when I was 9 years old and my family visited the USA. I love travel and enjoy the whole experience (well, most of it!) - airports, airplanes, visiting other countries, and meeting new people.  

As an experienced traveller, here are a few tips that you might find helpful for your next trip:

1. Preparation. I always read ahead about the places I am visiting, learning aspects such as weather, culture and the local religious environment (Operation World is a good guide for this). 

2. Clothing. When I travel, I usually wear a track suit with slip-on shoes. That way I am not wasting time taking off belts and jewelry or untying shoelaces at the security check. I always travel with a light jacket as it can get quite cold on the plane. 

3. Packing. I travel light but always allow enough clothes so I don't have to do a wash while away. I check the local weather ahead of time. I have a packing list which I keep on my phone, so I don't forget anything.

4. Seating. I usually travel Economy, unless the people who invite me cover a Business Class airfare, which is always nice, or I use my frequent flier points to upgrade. In Economy, I always try for an exit row, since I am so tall. For a long flight, I go for the window seat (it's easier to lean against the window when you want to sleep) and for a short flight, I like an aisle seat. Check out www.seatguru.com which is an excellent site that rates every seat on every plane.

5. Travel Documents. I have a special wallet for travel that holds my passport, tickets, cash (I exchange some Aussie money for foreign cash ahead of time), boarding passes, credit cards and frequent flier cards.

6. Check in. I always check in online so I can choose my seats and print my boarding pass ahead of time. Most airlines allow you to do this within 24 hours of flying. This saves a lot of time at the airport. 

7. Sleeping. If I want to sleep, I use some eye covers and earplugs and take a sleeping pill (I use Restavit, which you can purchase at your local Chemist). I try not to eat or drink too much before hand, so I don't have to get up and use the toilet.

8. While Flying. I always take reading material - newspapers, magazines and some books, with my Kindle for iPad fully loaded. I sometimes listen to music too or watch a movie. Before flying, I ensure all of my devices are fully charged and synced.

On a long flight, I get up and walk around frequently and stretch my legs out while seated. I also take an aspirin the day before flying to ensure adequate blood circulation. 

9. Food and drink. I eat relatively healthy all the time but especially when travelling. I avoid too many carbs and sugars. 

10. Time Zone changes. I try to immediately get into sync with the new time zone once I arrive. I go to bed in the new time zone, taking a sleeping pill the first 1-2 nights, just to help me get a good, long sleep. I do the same when I return home.

11. Electricity. I take a multi-country A/C adaptor with me plus an Australian power board, so I can charge my multiple devices simultaneously. 

12. Travel Apps. My iPhone has some excellent travel apps. My favourites are: World Clock, World Weather, FlightBoard, World Atlas and any kind of Travel Guide like Frommers.

13. Communications. While away, my primary communication back home is via email and Skype. I plan ahead and find free Wi-Fi spots.

Happy flying!


Money Talks (Part 3)

MoneyIt may take time … but having and working a financial plan is the path to financial freedom and God’s blessing whatever your situation. Notice the plan is not the 80-10-10 plan. The order is important. Put God first in your finances. Then change ratios over time as you’re able - 15-15-70, etc. This is pretty simple: a 10-year old can do it. Every person’s financial situation is unique. What is right for you may not be relevant for someone else, but these principles can work for just about everyone.

My motive in sharing this message is to help you personally – because a lot of people live under tremendous financial pressure and all of us need to learn principles of wise financial management. It is not because the church is desperate for more money. We are healthy financially. Yes, we can always use more, so don’t stop giving, but that is not the primary purpose of this teaching. Notice that our focus is not just on giving, because, as important as giving is, it is only one part of the wise financial management.

If you’re doing well financially, well done. Be a blessing and help to others around you. If you’re not doing that well, begin making some changes right away. If you’re under financial pressure or if you have a lot of debt, obtain some financial advice and help to work your way out of your current situation.

There are many things in life more important than money. You can have an enjoyable and fulfilling life without having a lot of money. There is more to life than money and possessions including pleasing God by living right (Prov.11:4; 16:8; 28:6), enjoying quality relationships (1Cor.13:13), as well as experiencing inner peace and contentment (Prov.15:16; 23:4-5. Phil.4:11-13. 1 Tim.6:6-10).

[You can listen to this entire message online OR watch it on You Tube]

Reflection Questions

  1. The Bible talks a lot about money. How do you feel about it being talked about in church?
  2. Reflect on the dangers and the benefits of wealth.
  3. Read Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14:28-30 about considering the cost of discipleship and discuss what relevance it has to wise financial management.
  4. Read Paul’s comments on work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 and consider its application to today.
  5. In what situations is it appropriate not to be working and be dependent on someone else for income?
  6. What are some principles of promotion in the work place? How do Paul’s comments in Colossians 3:23-25 relate to this?
  7. Reflect on the problem of gambling in Australia. What are some of its causes and consequences?
  8. What are the benefits of managing resources wisely? What are the consequences of not doing so?
  9. How can the church community provide a place where each person is encouraged and helped to be blessed financially?
  10. Why do you think some Christians struggle with the concept of ‘tithing’ (giving 10% of their income to the church)?
  11. What testimonies do you have that illustrate how giving can release God’s blessing in your life.
  12. What are some things you would like to do in the future that will require money?
  13. Why is saving so hard for most people?
  14. What are some lessons about financial investment you have learned (including both successes and failures) that may be helpful to others?
  15. What are some questions we can ask ourselves before buying a particular item (‘shopping tips’)?
  16. What are some ways we can reduce our expenses so we are living within our means?
  17. Finish by praying for financial blessing for your life as you honour God with your  finances.

Money Talks (Part 2)

MoneyEstablish and Live by a Budget

If you don't take control of your money it will take control of you and your life. Money is a great servant but is a cruel taskmaster. A budget is the most important and effective tool for getting your finances under control. A budget is simply a plan for earning and spending money. It provides limits and boundaries, which give security. There are many Scriptures on planning (Proverbs 15:22; 20:18; 21:5; 27:23-24. Jerermiah 29:11. Luke 14:28-30).

INCOME - How to Acquire Money

Human labour is the means by which we earn money. It is the key to the earning side of the financial equation. God is a worker. He worked for six days (on His creation project), then rested from his work on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). We were created to work (Genesis 2:5, 15). The primary means of acquiring income is through work. Work was not a result of sin. It is part of God’s plan for our lives. He works and he wants us to work too. We are created to make a contribution and to add value to the world. In return we receive finances for our efforts.

A Plan for Financial Freedom

Most people will earn millions of dollars in their working lifetime. However, what we do with that money is what is most critical. That brings us to the second part of our budget which is our expenses. We need a plan for doing three things with our money - Spending, Saving and Giving. Most people only do one thing with their money - spend it. In fact, a lot of people spend more than their income and as a result they’re drowning in an ever-enlarging pool of debt. Consider starting with something like the 10-10-80 plan.

1. GIVE - first, give at least 10% to God. God gives us our very breath and the power to acquire wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18) All that we have comes from him and therefore belongs to him (1 Chronicles 29:14-16). Giving God the first part of our income is a regular reminder to us of this reality. In doing so, we honour him as our Lord and as the source and owner of all of our resources. In Old Testament times, ‘tithing’ (giving 10%) was a law for all Israelites. In the New Testament, the emphasis moves toward generous giving. Followers of Christ are instructed to give to God’s work - proportionately, generously, sacrificially, willingly, regularly, cheerfully, and wisely, excelling in the art of giving (see Matthew 6:1-4, 19-24. Mark 12:41-44. Luke 19:8. Acts 2:41-47; 4:36-37; 11:27-30; 20:35. Romans 15:25-27. 1 Corinthians 9:11-12; 16:1-4. 2 Corinthians 8-9. Philippians 4:18. 1 Timothy 5:17-18. 2 John 5-8). Giving 10% (‘tithing’) of our income to the work of God is an excellent principle of good financial management (not a law).

Abraham tithed 430 years before the law and Jesus affirmed the principle of tithing (Matthew 23:23. Luke 11:42). The new covenant of grace brings us to a higher law - a place where we give not because we have to but because we want to.

The subject of giving can be approached from two different perspectives - human wisdom or the wisdom of God. The natural mind says, “Giving means I make a loss.” The truth is when you give or invest in the God’s work it is not a loss but it is actually a deposit in your heavenly account. God records it and there will be return for you (Matthew 6:19-21. Luke 6:38. Philippians 4:10-19). God can make your 90% go further than you can make your 100% go without his help and blessing. Secondly, the natural mind easily says, “I can’t afford to give” or “I’ll give when I’ve got some surplus.” However, God challenges us that when we give in faith even when we are in a time of need, his miraculous provision begins to come our way. He only asks us to give of what we already have, not what we don’t have, and as we go first, in faith and obedience, we release his blessing into our life (see 1 Kings 17 and Mark 12:41-44).

2. SAVE - secondly, take at least another 10% and pay yourself by putting this in a savings or investment account. Prepare for the future by adopting a savings and investment plan (Proverbs 21:20). Savings creates freedom, reduces pressure, enhances joy, is a powerful witness and enables you to give. Make a decision to become a saver and get a plan to make it a reality (Proverbs 13:11; 21:5). Spend less than you earn, then save and invest the difference over a long period of time. Ants have small bodies and small brains but they are very smart (Proverbs 6:6-11)! They store up (save) for the winter months. We humans have bigger bodies and bigger brains but sometimes we’re pretty foolish. We have nothing saved up for the future. Growth financially takes time and continued effort. If we are faithful with what we have, God will give us more (Matthew 25:21).

Investing is about getting your hard-earned money to work for you. There are a lot of ‘shonky’ investment schemes out there that promise you a fast track to wealth (Eccesiastes 5:13-14). If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, there are many investments that can yield good returns. Do your research, obtain good advice and learn about different investment types - both their potential returns and risks.

3. SPEND - use the remaining 80% or less to pay everyone and everything else. This is for the rest of your normal living expenses – food, clothing, housing, transportation, debt reduction, entertainment, holiday, extra giving, etc. You’ve already honoured God and paid yourself. You can now enjoy life a little because you’re on plan. You’re living wisely.

Beware of the major “budget busters”, especially “impulse buying”, which refers to unplanned expenditures based on emotion. Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean you should buy it. If you buy something on sale, you are not saving, you are spending. Advertising motivates us to buy things we often don’t need and seeks to make us dissatisfied with what we have now. Material things always oversell themselves and rarely deliver on their promises over the long term. Avoid situations that encourage you to spend. Be satisfied with what you have. Focus on what you have not on what you don’t have.

Use debt strategically (to increase assets) not destructively because debt puts you in bondage (Proverbs 22:7), it puts you under pressure (Proverbs 23:4), it can sabotage your peace and joy (Ecclesiastes 4:6), it can damage your Christian witness and it hinders you from being able to give (Luke 10:25-37). If you are in debt, make a decision to get out of debt, get a plan, get some help and don’t give up (Proverbs 3:27-28. Romans 13:6-8).

If you can’t live on 80% of your income you have to make some changes: Either earn some more income – find a higher paying job (upgrade your skills, if necessary, to make yourself more qualified), work extra hours or start an extra job (possibly part time). These are all possible options but consider the ramifications of each choice. The other option is to reduce your expenses, which may require you to ‘down-size’ your living standards (see Eccesiastes 4:6). If your standard of living is creating great pressure and stress in your life and relationships, why not lower it. Right-size your living expenses to match your income.

Most people think that the solution to their financial problems is to earn more. However, it’s not what you earn that matters - it’s how much you spend. If you consistently spend less than you earn, and save or invest the rest, you will gain financial freedom. It has nothing to do with how much you earn. Overspend just a few dollars a day and you can be thousands of dollars in debt in a number of years. On the other hand, put aside a few dollars a day into savings and you’ll save thousands of dollars in a number of years.

[Part 3]


Money Talks (Part 1)

MoneyJesus and Money

In Luke 16:1-13, we have an example of Jesus’ teaching about money. There’s a difference of opinion as to what exactly Jesus is commending about the manager in the story but the application of the parable is very clear: (1) all of us will be called to give an account of how we have served him and what we have done with our resources; (2) preparation for that day of account should involve wise use of our resources, especially in the area of finances; and (3) wise use of resources, demonstrating a life of true discipleship, will be rewarded with eternal life and joy. Jesus then added a few other lessons after he finished the story: (1) How we handle small things is an indicator of how we will handle larger things (vs.10); (2) God looks at how we manage the financial resources (‘worldly wealth’) he puts in our hands to determine how much spiritual responsibility (‘true riches’) he will give us (vs.11). Money is a test of spiritual maturity. It reveals our heart and the quality of our character; (3) How we handle or manage other people’s things is a test of our character and maturity (vs.12). If we can’t do well with what belongs to another person, we probably won’t be given our own; (4) Finally, Jesus observes that you can’t serve God and money, in the sense of making an ultimate commitment to both at the same time. Obviously, Jesus is saying that a real test of our discipleship is our attitude towards and our management of our finances. You can tell a lot about a person by how they spend their money. It’s more than just numbers. It reflects values. As part of another teaching on money, Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” In other words, your money follows the desires and values of your heart.

Jesus talked about money and possessions in 16 out of 38 parables and 1 out of every 10 verses in the gospels refer to this topic. He talked more about possessions and money than about heaven and hell combined. He did this because how we handle our money matters.

Your Personal Money Makeover

We live in one of the richest countries in the world. Over half of the world’s population lives on just a few dollars a day. Every one of us is ‘rich’ in comparison. Yet despite that fact, many Australians, including many Christians, are under financial pressure. When we experience financial difficulties, every area of our life is affected. Thankfully, there are biblical principles to help us achieve financial freedom and for living wisely on the resources we have.  

On the negative side, the Bible teaches us that money can become like a monster that rules our life if we allow it to. Money can be addictive (Ecc.5:10), deceptive (Mt.13:22) and destructive (1 Tim.6:9-11), and it’s only temporal (Lk.12:16-21). Money can be difficult to master and that’s why the Bible says that the “love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim.6:10). If you don’t control your money, it will control you and it has the potential to destroy you. Riches can be a threat to your relationship with God. That’s why the Bible has many warnings about the dangers of wealth. You don’t have to have money to love it. Both poor people and rich people can be lovers of money. So, should we all be poor? Not at all. God doesn’t mind us having money as long as our money doesn’t have us. Money is not the problem; it’s our attitude towards it. Money is essential for survival and the expansion of God’s kingdom. It depends on our motives, our priorities and our values.

On the positive side, the Bible teaches us that if we serve God, money can become a blessing in our life. The Bible shows us that God desires to bless his people. God prospers us for a purpose. Money can meet our basic needs (Dt.8:10-20), provide for our enjoyment (Ecc.5:19) and enable us to meet the needs of others (1 Tim. 6:17, 18) and resource God’s work on the earth.

A Financial Assessment

About 10 years ago, we shared a series of messages focused on a personal money makeover. It’s worth looking at this again. A money makeover starts with an assessment of where you are at right now financially. You will benefit from a very simple financial check-up. This is what you need to know about your finances:

  1. What you own – your This includes cash, house, car, furnishings, tools, investments, money you.
  2. What you owe – your liabilities. This is what you owe – a personal or bank loan, or credit card debt.
  3. What you earn – your income. This includes wages, investment returns, gifts, government support, royalties, etc.
  4. What you spend – your expenses. Expenses include all your living expenses, loan or debt repayments, etc.

#1 and 2 are referred to as your Balance Sheet. Hopefully, you have some ‘equity’ or a positive ‘net worth’. The percentages and proportions are more important than the actual amounts.

#3 and 4 are referred to as your Profit and Loss Statement. Hopefully, there is a ‘profit’, because you are spending less than you are earning. The percentages and proportions are more important than actual amounts.

Doing an assessment such as this takes time but it is worth it. Get some help if you need to. Make use of a simple computer program, consider taking a basic accounting course or purchase a basic book on financial management. Remember Jesus said how we manage your financial resources is very important.

A Balance Sheet statement is very important as it is a snapshot of your current financial position. However, it is simply a result of what we do on a day-to-day basis with our finances, which is shown by our Profit and Loss Statement. If you’d like your assets to increase and your debts to decrease over time, then you need to ensure that your income is exceeding your expenses on a regular basis then apply the resulting profit to those goals.

[Part 2]


The 2016 Australian Christian Book of the Year

BOY

The following titles have been shortlisted for the 2016 Australian Christian Book of the Year Award.

  • Post-God Nation: How Religion Fell Off the Radar in Australia and What Might be Done to Get It Back On, Roy Williams, ABC Books.
  • Understanding Jesus and Muhammad: What the Ancient Texts Say About Them’, Bernie Power, Acorn Press. 
  • Zechariah: The Lord ReturnsMichael R Stead, Aquila Press. 
  • Leon MorrisNeil Bach, Authentic Media ltd. 
  • Child Arise! The Courage to Stand’, Jane N. Dowling, David Lovell Publishing. 
  • The Anonymous Leader’, Ralph Mayhew. 
  • Maralinga's Long ShadowChristobel Mattingley, Allen & Unwin.
  • Trumped By Grace’, Peter Stiles, Poetica Christi Press. 
  • They Conspire Against Your People: The European Churches and the Holocaust’, Colin Barnes, Kings Divinity Press and the Centre for Jewish-Christian Studies. 
  • Resilient’, Sheridan Voysey, Discovery House. 

[More details about the books here]

Join this year’s Sparklit Awards Night ($20 per guest. $60 per family). Buy tickets online or grab your credit card and call 1300 13 7725 or write to: admin@SparkLit.org

Visit www.sparklit.org today. 
You can follow SparkLit on Facebook

For more information contact:

Michael Collie
National Director
SparkLit
(Formerly SPCKA)

1300 137 725 
admin@sparklit.org


Taming the Email Monster (Part 4)

EmailMonstersmallSo how do we manage all that incoming email? Here are a few tips:

1. Make Your Email Inbox an 'In' Box.

Make your email Inbox a processing station, not a holding station. Imagine if you left all your paper letters in your physical letter box at the front of your house for weeks on end. What a mess it would be! See you email inbox the same way. How many email are there right now? 50, 100, 500, 1000, more? Learn to process items as soon as possible and get that inbox to empty.

2. Set Up a Simple Folder Filing System.

Within your email inbox you can create additional folders (just like drawers within a physical filing cabinet). Just select 'File/New/Folder' within your email program and give the new folder a name. You might want to include folders for various projects, people or categories such as: Urgent, Waiting, Reading, Events, Finance, etc. etc.

3. Use a Process for Handling Email.

For each email that arrives, make an immediate choice to:

  1. Delete it, if it of no use or interest to you.
  2. Do it - if it will take 2 minutes or less.
  3. Delegate it - to someone better suited to respond to it.
  4. Defer it - set a time in your Calendar, flag it, make it a Task, or put it in your ‘Reading’ folder (CCs are fyi). 

Touch emails only once and never open an email without processing it. 

Another idea is to right-click on an email and see a host of options, including 'flagging' it for follow up later, creating a 'rule' as to how you'd like your email application to handle that kind of email. Also, check out the various 'view' options available to you.

 4. Set Some Specific Times to Look at and Respond to Emails.

Depending on your work or personal role, maybe having some time to check email first thing in the morning, at lunch then and before the day ends is best for you. Either way, have some 'email free' hours each day. Turn off those sound notifications. Don't multi-task, it merely causes distraction, lowering your productivity. Go offline if that helps. If someone needs to get in touch with you urgently, they can always text or call you. 

I hope that these posts about email have been helpful. There is much more to life than sitting in front of a computer or digital screen. Get outside and smell the roses and don't forget that life is about loving God and people. That's best done 'live' - in person. Be fully present with people and put that phone away for a while. You'll be fine.


Taming the Email Monster (Part 3)

EmailMonstersmallLet's face it, we all send emails to other people and add to their inbox. So let's talk today about how to write effective emails.

1. Don't Over-Communicate by Email. 

As we have already noted, a big source of stress for people, especially at work, is the sheer volume of emails they receive. So, before you begin writing an email, ask yourself: "Is this really necessary?” Sometimes, it is better to speak directly to the person by phone or in person.

Email is not as secure as you might want it to be, particularly as people may forward emails without thinking to delete the conversation history. So avoid sharing sensitive or personal information in an email, and don't write about anything that you, or the subject of your email, wouldn't like to see plastered on a billboard by your office. Also, work email accounts are the employer’s property.

Whenever possible, deliver bad news in person. This helps you to communicate with empathy, compassion, and understanding, and to make amends if your message has been taken the wrong way.

Remember the protocal in regards to whose email address to put where: 

  • TO: only send to the person who is to take action on your email.
  • CC: (courtesy copy) is simply 'for your interest'. No is response required. It's for their reference only. A person can read, delete or file the email.
  • BCC: (blind copy) is for use when sending an email to a private distribution list.

2. Make Good Use of Subject Lines.

A newspaper headline has two functions: it grabs your attention and it summarises the article, so that you can decide whether to read it or not. The subject line of your email message should do the same thing. Use an informative Subject Line - referring to a project, action, or important date. A blank subject line is likely to be overlooked or rejected as “spam”. Use few well-chosen words to tell recipient what email is about.

A well-written subject line delivers most important information without the recipient having to open the email. It also serves as prompt that reminds recipients every time they glance at their inbox.

3. Keep Email Messages Clear and Brief.

Keep your sentences short and to the point. The body of each email should be direct and informative plus contain all the pertinent information. Email is free, so send a separate email for each topic. Ideally, limit emails to one subject. Keep it to one screen (1-2 paragraphs). Avoid long drawn out emails. Short and simple is better. Combine several, related points into one email. Use bullet points or numbers. Most importantly, be clear on what action orresponse you want. 

4. Be Polite and Check Your Tone.

Emails are less formal than traditional letters but your messages reflect you (your values, professionalism, and attention to detail). Recipients may decide to print emails and share them with others, so always be polite.

When we meet people face-to-face, we use the other person's body language, vocal tone, and facial expressions to assess how they feel. Email robs us of this information, and this means that we can't tell when people have misunderstood our messages. Your choice of words, sentence length, punctuation, and capitalisation can easily be misinterpreted without visual and auditory cues. Think about how your email "feels" emotionally. If your intentions or emotions could be misunderstood, find a less ambiguous way to phrase your words. Without empathy, misunderstanding often results. 

5. Proofread. 

Finally, before you hit "send," take a moment to review your email for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Your email messages are as much a part of your reputation and rapport as the clothes you wear (hopefully, you look in the mirror before you head out the door each morning!), so it looks bad to send out a message that contains typos. As you proofread, pay careful attention to the length of your email. People are more likely to read short, concise emails than long, rambling ones, so make sure that your emails are as short as possible, without excluding necessary information. 

Next: Managing Email Effectively.


Taming the Email Monster (Part 2)

EmailMonstersmallYesterday, we briefly referred to the exponential changes that have taken place over the last 500 years in the way we communicate with one another.

Today let's talk about some of the challenges of email.

1. We often feel expected to reply immediately. Have you ever had someone ask you if you got their email - yesterday? Long gone is the era where it took 10 days for a letter to a arrive from overseas and you had a few weeks to respond and send a reply!

2. Online messages interrupt our day. Most workers dread the Monday morning over-flowing email inbox. Many people now receive over 50 emails every day and it is estimated that the average office worker receives 80 emails daily. Reading and responding to them all takes a long time. Our work can easily take a back seat and we can get behind on our projects. The average American worker is interrupted 11 times per hour, costing an overall loss of of $600 billion to industry. We often stay up late just to catch up.

3. Emails create the stress of new tasks and information. This overload of continual and relentless inflow can be exhausting, even affecting people's sleep patterns. Nowadays, we read less and spend less time with our loved ones.

4. Email can become highly addictive, like a drug. Any repetitive behaviour can lead to compulsive behaviour, including email checking. It alters our brains and causes attention or concentration span disruption. A recent survey of average response time revealed a rate of 104 seconds. Amazingly, 70% of people responded in just 7 seconds! How many times a day do you pick up your phone to check your email? Have you ever experienced 'email withdrawal'?

Email can be very helpful when used properly and controlled. If not … we start to feel overwhelmed.

Next: How do we tame the email monster??


Taming the Email Monster (Part 1)

EmailMonstersmallLet's do a quick tour of how communication has changed over the last 500 years.

  • In Britain in 1500, only 5-10% of the population could read or write. Wow! What did they do. They probably talked to each other - sharing stories in person.

  • Postcards took off in 1871, resulting in what TIME magazine called an ‘epidemic’.

  • In 1840, the average American sent 3 letters a year; in 1900, that number rose to 69.

  • The telegraph changed everything. A message could be sent across the Atlantic in a matter of hours rather than the 5 weeks it took for 'snail mail' to arrive.

  •  This peaked in 1945 with 240 million telegrams a year.

  • In 2007, just over 60 years later, emails globally hit 35 trillion (10,000x higher than the peak of the telegram). Email communication is easier, faster (pretty much instantaneous) and cheaper (basically 'free').

Email has completely changed the way we communicate and has made life easier in countless ways … BUT it's come at a price.

Next: The Challenges of Email.

[Source: The Tyranny of Email: The 4,000 Year Journey to Your Inbox by John Freeman]


Confessions: A 3 Month License Suspension

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Confession time ...
 
Right now I am in the middle of serving a 3 month driving license suspension.
 
Where I live in Australia, there is a demerit point system for driving offences such as speeding, driving through a red light, etc. If you accumulate 12 points or more in a 3 year period of time you lose your license for 3 months. 
 
I have been on 9 demerit points for a few years now and I have been driving exceptionally carefully, usually right on the speed limit using cruise control pretty much all of that time. Unfortunately, I received a red light ticket coming home from speaking to our Manningham congregation late December 2015 (doing the work of the Lord!). [To me a yellow light means "Hurry up, you still have time!" but obviously the traffic gods have a different definition] I even ordered the photo but sadly, the camera never lies (see above). That put me at 12 points. I could have taken a 'grace period' extension of 12 months but if I received only 1 demerit point in that period of time I would receive a 6 month license suspension. Too risky, from my perspective. 
 
So, I am arranging the help of some friends to drive me to and from work at the church office, as well as weekend church meetings. Once this 3 month period is over, I go back to 0 demerit points. All my driving sins will be washed away. Yay! 
 
I shared this story with the church in this year's Mother's Day message. As I mentioned at the time, no doubt some people are shocked to hear this, as they expected me to be more angelic in my behaviour. A pastor should be an exemplary driver! Other people have showed more empathy, many of whom have their own accumulated demerit points :) 
 
Life provides us with many lessons, from both our successes and failures.
 
No doubt, I need to learn to SLOW down. This is not easy ... especially for busy, adrenaline-addicted junkies.
 
I am more dependent on others now but I am enjoying spending some extra time with family and friends, who are helping me by driving me around. 
 
Also, I am not in control now. As a leader, this is not easy, because I am used to influencing things all the time. Right now, I am out of the driver's seat and into the passenger seat. In my Bible reading the other day I read this in Luke 9:23 in the Message Bible: "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat — I am." That's me. I have to trust and be a patient passenger. Someone else (God in his providence) is driving and leading the way in my life. This is a vital lesson for me, especially at this time in my life with some big decisions and changes ahead.
 
Thanks for your prayers.
 
James 5:16. Confess your sins (faults, mistakes) to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. NLT

Our 30th Wedding Anniversary

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30 years ago today, Nicole and I were married. She was 20 and I was 24. You never know where the road of life may lead but I couldn't imagine a better traveling companion. Nicole is a person of deep compassion, courage and conviction. She is also heap of fun to do life together with and she is the best mother in the world to our amazing family. Most of all, Nicole is my best and dearest friend. 

As we come to the last chapter of this first book of our life, I am truly grateful to God and his grace.

Now, I can't wait for the sequel.

Here's to the next 30 years of life … together.


Living a Life of Gratitude

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Prayer and Praise

When our kids were little, we used to drive the whole family north from Melbourne up to Queensland in the summer holidays to visit their grandparents. It was a multiple day trip and one of the things I hated to do was stop for petrol. After all, all those trucks, caravans and slow pokes I had been passing throughout the day, would now be passing me. My wife, Nicole always fills up for petrol with about 1/4 tank remaining. I tend to see how far I can go on a tank of petrol. I’ll never forget one night, as it was getting dark, looking at the red ‘empty’ fuel night wondering if we would make it to the next petrol station (while Nicole was saying, “I told you so!”). I remember telling all the kids in the back seat, “Pray!” Yes, we all prayed for what seemed like an eternity. Thankfully, God had mercy and a petrol station appeared just in time and I said out loud, “Thank you, God!”. After filling up, we headed off again and as we drove on in the silence of the night, I was challenged. I realised that the intensity of our praise did not match the intensity of our prayer! Have you ever experienced something similar? Ingratitude is not that uncommon.

Ten Lepers Healed

In Luke 17:11-19, we have the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee, two places where the people had strong hatred and animosity towards each other. Ten lepers stood at a distance from Jesus as he entered into a village. Biblical leprosy differed somewhat from today’s various skin conditions, but it was a highly contagious disease that required the person to be isolated from other people. Jews viewed leprosy as a punishment for sin or a mark of God’s displeasure. These lepers must have heard of Jesus healing one of the worst lepers in Galilee a few months earlier (see Luke 5:12-16). In desperation, they cried out for mercy. Without a miracle, their situation would remain hopeless.

They knew that Jesus was approachable and when Jesus saw them he did so through eyes of mercy and compassion. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, as the law required (See Leviticus 14-15). The priest would examine them and then issue a certificate of clearance if they were healed. This was a test of their faith and obedience (much like Naaman of old – see 2 Kings 5). As they went they were healed. Dry scales fell from them, white spots disappeared, a healthy colour returned to their flesh, their disfigured members were restored, and the thrill of new life filled their whole being with incredible joy. They could now return to normal life with their families and friends. Each one of them must have been ecstatic with excitement and gratitude to Jesus.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan (vs.15-16). When this man saw that he was healed, instead of going on to see the priest (to be declared clean), he turned back towards Jesus to express his thanks and praise. He lifted his voice in praise as he had done in prayer (vs.13) before going on his way to enjoy his healing. He was the least likely person to come back but he had an attitude of gratitude.

Jesus responded by asking, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner (vs.17-18)?” Feel Jesus’ surprise, disappointment and possibly sadness. Ten had received a blessing but only one took time to stop, break from the group, and return to give thanks to Jesus. The other nine hurried on to be with their families and friends. Jesus said to this one man, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well (or “saved you” - vs.19)." While all ten were “healed”, only one was “saved”, experiencing spiritual healing and wholeness. Nine were healed in their bodies, restored to society but not cleansed of the sin of ingratitude. Only one was cleansed completely.

Lessons for Today

There are so many different and unique applications of this story for us today. Here are a few:

  1. Take time daily to express thanks to God. A ‘quiet time’ of some sort is a terrific way to start each day. Read God’s Word, talk to God and share your requests, but be sure to take time to praise and thank God for his goodness. Make this your pattern for prayer. This is especially important during times of pressure and difficulty when we so easily forget what God has done for us in the past.
  2. Have your guard up against negativity. It is so easy to focus on what is not going well rather than what is. Before long, we can find ourselves grumbling, complaining and whinging. Our words and attitudes affect the atmosphere around us and push away our joy and peace. Stick a thermometer in your mouth and catch yourself when negativity settles in.
  3. Approach gathering together with others to worship God as a priority. Church services are a meeting with God. The singing and worship times aren’t for us. They are an opportunity for us to express our thanks and praise to God as a church family.
  4. Never limit who God might use you to bless. This Samaritan leper was a person living on the margins, away from the general public. Yet Jesus reached out to him in love and compassion. Remember no one is too far from the grace of God. Faith can show up in surprising places, including across common social and racial boundaries.
  5. Keep an attitude of gratitude in all your relationships. Express appreciation to people regularly, say “thank you” and choose not to take anything for granted. Each day is a gift. Any success we may attain is always aided by the help and support of others. Humility acknowledges that God and others contribute to the achievements of our life.

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the aspects of prayer (asking God for assistance) and praise (thanking God for his help). Which do you think we are better at or do more of?
  2. What two specific things they are most thankful to God for?
  3. In what ways does gratitude affect the atmosphere our our mind and our world?
  4. What could lack of punctuality to church services say about our attitude to the times we have of praise and worship together? Have we made the preaching more valuable to us?
  5. Jesus healed these ten lepers out of compassion. He is still able and willing to heal today. Take time to pray for someone in your world who is unwell.
  6. Jesus also ‘saved’ this man, bringing spiritual wholeness to his life. Take time to pray for friends and family members, that they will experience Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

Getting Ready to Vote - Australian Federal Election 2016

Election-australia-2016The 2016 Australian Federal Election season is well upon us and in just 2 weeks time from today (2nd July) we will be going to the polls to vote. Voting is an important privilege and responsibility for every Australian citizen. As people of faith, it is especially important that we prepare to vote in a prayerful and educated manner.

I have a personal conviction that it is not my role to tell people how I think they should vote. Neither does our church take a stand with one particular political party or individual politician. However, we do encourage people to do all that they can to make an informed vote, for the common good of our nation.

What factors will influence your vote? What are the key issues in this particular election? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each political party and each individual candidate, all of whom are vying for your vote? Which voices will influence our vote?

There are many opinions out there and multitudes of groups telling you how to vote. Look through them carfefully, or attend your local 'meet the candidate' forum, and then evaluate the parties and candidates with wisdom and prayer.

I suggest you read How to Vote Christianly by John Dickson and also check out YourVote, which is an assessment of the policies of the various political parties based on your answers to 30 questions related to your values and what is important to you (more details on this online tool). You can even do a practice vote.

Please join with me in praying for the outcome of the coming election so that Australia will continue to be a great place to live, raise a family and share our faith. 

Matthew 6:7-13. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. NLT

 

 


How to Connect with God (re-post)

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Jesus told his disciples to “abide” in him (John 15:5). They were to stay “connected” at all times. The apostle Paul’s one goal in life was to “know God” (Phil.3:7-11). His prayer for the church at Ephesus was that they might “know Him better” (Eph.1:15-17). But how do we get closer to God? How can we experience God in a more intimate and meaningful way?

Different people give different answers: “Get up early and spend hours in prayer”, “Stay up late and write in a journal for hours”, “Fast regularly”, “Go on spiritual retreats all by yourself”, “Memorise lots of Scripture” or “Speak in tongues for an hour each day”. Well-intentioned people often tell us that their way is the “right way” and the proof of spirituality. Often we try these things that may work for others, yet for some reason they may not work for us, so we end up frustrated and wrongly believe that maybe being close to God is just for a few special people.

You’re Unique 

As humans, we have a lot in common – a lot of similarities. However, we are also each very different and very unique in the way God has made us (personality, spiritual gifts, etc). We also experience God differently. We each have a unique relationship with God that is different than anyone else. We need to discover how God has “wired us” to best “abide”. The activity or means is not as important as the fact that you do “abide”. When do you feel closest to God? What is your “abiding style”? How do you best experience God?

Ways of Connecting with God (“Abiding Styles”) 

There are different ways that we each experience God. Each style represents different traditions of the Christian faith. We will have a natural bent to one or more styles and may find some others more difficult.

1. Contemplative Style

* People with this style enjoy silence and solitude, possibly out in creation. They like isolation and therefore guard their alone times. They don’t fill their diaries up. They like to walk, visit a forest, journal or go for drives out in the country (environment is important).

* Too much time with people and activities drain them. They prefer to be “un-busy”.

* They have enormous capacity for extended prayer and worship times. They enjoy being quiet – meditating, reflecting and thinking deeply. Sometimes they may appear “in the clouds” and forget stuff.

* They march to a different drumbeat and at times seem to be out of step with other people. They are very sensitive spiritually. They can be the church’s spiritual “conscience”. Often great songwriters and authors are contemplative.

If you’re not this style, then this kind of stuff drives you crazy. Historically we can think of people such as the Apostle John, John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence, Madame Guyon and Henri Nouwen.

2. Intellectual Style

* Their mind has to be fully challenged before spiritual growth occurs. They enjoy reading and studying God’s Word to gain deeper understanding. They enjoy reading intellectually stimulating material.

* They struggle with just testimonial or experiential activities or church events. They want “substance” and “theology” not froth and bubble. Where’s the “meat”?

* When they are convinced about something, watch out! There’s no stopping them. Once the mind is convinced, passion and decision follows.

* They’re passionate about “renewing” people’s minds (Rom.12:1).

Historically we can think of people such as Paul, Martin Luther, Francis Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias and N.T. Wright.

3. Serving Style

* Some people feel closest to God (most joyful, exited and alive in Christ) when helping others and using your gifts. Even more than when doing prayer or Bible study.

* They thrive spiritually when they are labouring in the kingdom. They enjoy being an instrument in God’s hands.

* This could be within the church, through social action (feeding the poor, etc) or social justice.

* People with this style enjoy making things happen. They love to see the church or their ministry advance and grow. They revel in a challenge-intensive environment. They are most enthusiastic when fully challenged. They feel best when going all out for God.

* They are at their spiritual best when at top speed. They live at full speed, to the point that others fear for them. They are action orientated and love to live on the edge. They thrive on being active and motivating others.

* They pray more and live in more dependence when spending and being completely spent for the kingdom of God. They are kingdom maniacs. They choose to live like this. Try to slow them down and they’ll find a way to do something. I’m not suggesting that “insanity” or “out of control” is right.

Historically we can think of people such as John Wesley, George Whitefield, D.L. Moody, William Booth (the Salvation Army) and Mother Theresa.

4. Relational Style

* Isolation doesn’t work. Praying alone, doing Bible study alone, serving alone or worshipping alone is hard.

* When they get together with other Christians, their spiritual experience of God comes alive.

* A community component is essential. “Together” is the key. Groups are essential. Their favourite Scripture is “Where two or three are gathered together in my name …” (Mt.18:20)

5. Charismatic Style

The focus is on what the power of God can do. It thrives on the manifest presence of God among His people.

* Experiencing supernatural things like prophecy, visions and dreams, spiritual warfare (including deliverance), speaking in tongues (or “spiritual language”) or ministry time (“falling down”) brings them closest to God.

* They flourish when they can “feel” or “see” something.

* They enjoy praying for people (for physical, emotional or spiritual needs), waiting on God for “words” or direction.

* They thrive when they can sense or see evidence of God’s power.

* Their heart is opened to God through music and a worship atmosphere. King David was like this. Worship brought him close to God (Psalms). “Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your heart (Eph.5:18-19).”

Historically we can think of people such as Evan Roberts, Aimee Semple McPherson (the Pentecostal movement and charismatic renewal), Kathryn Kuhlman and John Wimber.

Which is the ‘right way’? All of them!

Cultivating Your Style

1. Identify your primary abiding style(s). You may have more than one. Don’t pick the one you think that you should have or want to have. Accept the way God has made you.

2. Arrange your life so you have ample opportunity for doing what connects you most to God. Invest lots of time into doing what draws you closer to God and helps you “abide” better. Create a spiritual formation plan around your style.

3. Understand and accept how other people are different. Help others discover the way God has made them and give them permission to “abide” that way. In marriage, understand each other. On your team, understand each other.

4. Learn other ways to connect with God. Develop an appreciation for all the styles. Jesus modeled all of these styles in perfect balance during his life on earth. We are to imitate him and walk “in his steps” (1 Pet.2:21). Avoid the imbalance that can come with attention to only one style.

5. Consider the implications of this model for leaders – of teams, small groups and churches. Create an environment that encourages expression of all of these styles, not just the one you are most comfortable with.

Recommended Resources

* Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Christian Faith by Richard Foster (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998).

* Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), chapter 11, “The Leader’s Pathway”.


Stories of Jesus Transforming People’s Lives

Jesus the Transformer

Jesus, THE Transformer

This year our theme is ‘Jesus, the Transformer’. In a world of upheaval and uncertainty, Jesus is our hope. Only he can change a human heart and transform a community and a nation. While on earth, Jesus sought to bring positive change to his world – one life at a time and one story at a time. He is still doing the same today in our time. That’s why our vision as a church over this last 3-year period has been “to see over 10,000 stories of transformation by 2016.” As each one of us engages with our world (through focusing on 1 person to be a blessing to) and connects in community and service, this vision can become a reality.

Gospel Stories

So far this year, we have been working through the Gospels, gleaning insights and inspiration from the stories of Jesus changing people’s lives. [Visit the church web site or phone app to access audio and video podcasts of these messages from our teaching team]

  • Jesus and the Supper (Mark 14:12-26). Jesus calls each of us to the table, where he shares a meal with us, displaying his great love to be demonstrated through his death on the cross.
  • Jesus and Judas (Mark 14:10-11, 43-52). Like Jesus, we may experience betrayal even from those close to us. Through God’s grace we can still offer forgiveness, even if reconciliation isn’t always possible.
  • Jesus and Peter (Mark 14:27-31, 66-72). The story of the denial shows us that we all fall and fail at some time, yet Jesus reaches out to us in forgiving love to free us from guilt and shame, restoring us and commissioning us for kingdom contribution.
  • Jesus and the Outsiders. Jesus was always reaching out to people outside of the racial and social confines and boundaries established by the Jewish religion. This reminds us that no one is too far from the love and grace of God.
  • Jesus and his Mother (John 1:25-27). Jesus’ love and care for his mother, even from the pain of the cross, gives us an example of the importance of honouring our own parents.
  • Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-30). Often there is one thing that stops us from full surrender to Jesus. For this man, it was his wealth.
  • Jesus and the Demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). No one is too far from the freedom that is available to them through Jesus. Jesus is more powerful than any demon, stronghold or destructive habit.
  • Jesus and the Prostitute (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus’ grace is shown to all of us, even those caught in a life of sin.
  • Jesus and the Little Boy‘s Lunch (Luke 9:9-17). When we bring what we have to Jesus, even if it does not seem like much, Jesus is able to use it and multiply it for the benefit of others.
  • Jesus and the Prophet (Luke 7:18-28). Jesus doesn't always do things the way we expect him to. His ways and his thoughts are much higher than our ways and thoughts. This can lead to disappointment if we are not careful. But we must never doubt the faithfulness of God to fulfil his promises - in his way and his time.

Reflection Questions

  1. Which Gospel story so far this year has had the greatest impact on you? Why?
  2. This year we are encouraging everyone to Focus on 1 person who they are praying to come to know Jesus. We can do this practically by seeking to BLESS that person. Review the BLESS acronym and reflect on how this is working in your own relationships. How can your Life Group further apply the Focus 1 strategy for reaching people for Jesus?
  3. The rich young ruler’s wealth kept him from following Jesus. What other ‘one thing’ can hold us back from full surrender to following Christ?
  4. Review the keys to being a great Life Group member. How do you think your group is going so far this year?
  5. Take time to share a story of what God has been doing in your life this year with someone else.
  6. What is your greatest challenge right now? Pray that Jesus will intervene, bringing change and transformation.
  7. Reflect on the six dimensions of the sacred meal and then celebrate communion together with family and friends.

Pareto in Practice

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As you think about the power of priorities, just for fun, think about these principles:

  • 20% of our time produces 80% of our results.

  • 20% of our relationships produce 80% of our happiness and meaning.

  • 20% the customers make up 80% of the sales.

  • 20% of the people take up 80% of our time.

  • 20% of our products produces 80% of the profit.

  • 20% of the book contains 80% of the content.

  • 20% of the presentation produces 80% of the impact.

  • 20% of the people donate 80% of the money.

  • 20% of the people do 80% of the work.

  • 20% of the volunteers do 80% of the work.

  • 20% of the leaders have 80% of the influence.

  • 20% of the people eat 80% of the food.

What could this mean for how you think about your life and work today?


The Power of Priorities

“Most major goals are not achieved because we spend time doing second things first.” Robert J McKain

 “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” John Maxwell

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” William James.

ParetoKnowing what is important (our priorities) and focusing our time and efforts on these things is a key to greater productivity and effective leadership. Yet these are two of the most difficult things to get people to do. Conventional thinking is linear and assumes that all activities and tasks are equally important. But research reveals that not all work produces the same level of results. In fact, there is a universal imbalance between effort (input) and reward (output. Only a minority of activities produce a great impact while a majority of tasks have only a small impact.

This is referred to as The Pareto Principle (named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population) or The 80/20 Principle. It says that 80% of our results come from 20% of our activities.

Greater productivity can often be achieved by doing less rather than doing more. Effective people redirect their efforts away from tasks that only have a small impact towards those that have the largest impact. By aiming for quality rather quantity you will see your impact increase exponentially. This doesn't mean that we write off everything else but this principle helps us tap into the power of simplicity and of the impact of focus.

This simple concept can be applied to any sphere of life, ranging from business to friends and quality of life.

Applications

  1. Identity the 20% of your activities or tasks that produce 80% of your results.
  1. Focus (concentrate) your time here.
  1. As a result, you will decrease the time you spend on less meaningful matters. It’s about maximum result from minimum amount of effort. By dedicating yourself to work harder for a shorter period of time, you’ll find you work improved and your free time expanded.

P21

 

 

 

 

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you believe that this principle is true?
  1. Do you think Jesus practiced this?
  1. How does this principle apply to you in your work or vocational role?
  1. How does this principle apply to the efforts of your team?
  1. How does this apply to your personal life?

Also, check out Pareto in Practice.


National Reconciliation Week 2016

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National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated across Australia each year between 27 May and 3 June.

The week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements and to explore how each of us can join the national reconciliation effort. Reconciliation is at the heart of our nation's future. Make it apart of your future too.

Watch 1 minute video

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that this video may contain images and voices of people who have since passed away.


Transforming Your Church

Cover Pic (small)I became the Senior Minister of CityLife Church in 1995. Back then, I invested extensive time in prayer, study, research and reflection about principles for building a healthy and effective church. As a result, I was prompted to lead our church through seven "strategic shifts" over the next few years. This has resulted in much positive change and impact. 

Over the years, I have taught this material to many pastors and church leaders. Eventually, these principles were put into a book called Help Your Church Change and eventually an international version titled Transforming Your Church: Seven Strategic Shifts to Help Your Church Navigate the 21st Century. This was released in the year 2000 and then a completely updated and revised edition was published in 2010, with much additional matieral, including five new appendices covering topics such as church governance, the role of the senior minister, women in leadership, and self care for church leaders. This book has also been translated into Swedish, Indonesian and Russian.

You can purchase a paperback copy of this book from WORD Australia or City Christian Publishing in the USA (under the title Seven Strategic Changes Every Church Must Make). An eBook format version is also now available for Kindle at Amazion.

I pray that this book will continue to be a blessing to many churches and Christian leaders.


Mark and Nicole

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Nicole and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniverary this June. Nicole is my best friend and my life's climbing companion. I can't wait to see the joy that is around the next corner for both of us. 

To keep track of our whereabouts, check out our web site, which has been recently updated.

[Photo taken while we were in Moscow last year where I was speaking at a pastor's conference for church leaders from all over Russia, hosted by the Word of Life Church, Moscow]


Stages of the Life of Faith

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God’s kingdom is often described in an organic way and is seen as growing larger and stronger (Mark 4:26-29. Luke 13:18-19). The church is also seen as growing and maturing (Ephesians 4:15-16). Individual followers of Christ are also called to grow in their relationship to God (Colossians 1:9-10; 2:6-7). Personal and spiritual growth occurs over a period of time and always involves a process that is very much like a journey. Many people find it helpful to have a roadmap or at least a loose guide for their journey of faith. In their insightful book, The Critical Journey, authors Robert Guelich and Janet Hagberg, propose the following six stages:

Stages in the Life of Faith

1. Recognition of God. This is where we all begin our journey of faith. The experience of faith at this stage is the discovery and recognition of God. It is accepting the fact of the reality of God in our lives. Someone bigger than us really exists and He truly loves us. This may occur in childhood or later in life as adults. For some people this is a very identifiable experience, like a moment in time where everything changes. For others, there is a gradual realisation, with no certainty as to just where or when the experience began. Either way, we simply ‘know’ that God is there. Factors contributing to this experience can be either a sense of awe or a sense of need in our lives.

2. Life of Discipleship. This stage is about learning and belonging. We begin to learn, explore, absorb and put into place our set of beliefs or faith principles. In this stage we learn the most about God by association with others we respect and trust. We are apprentices. We need others because we are relatively unsure and insecure at first in our growth and what we believe. The group also provides a sense of belonging, which helps to alleviate some of our feelings of fear and even inadequacy that accompany the excitement of new learning. The group begins to give us a sense of identity and security. We start to feel at home, with family. We are loved and accepted, despite our struggles. It’s not always easy but we are with our kind of people. We have a sense of security and comfort in our faith.

3. The Productive Life. This stage is best described as the ‘doing’ stage as it is the period of time where we find ourselves most consciously working in service for God. It’s now time to give in return for all we have received. This is usually a very active stage of our journey. It is positive and dynamic, centred on being productive in the area of our faith. This stage nourishes us because it is so personally rewarding. It operates on goals and achievement, building and creating, which can be exciting, fulfilling, inspiring and fruitful. We start to feel unique within our community. We are taking on extra responsibility. We feel a degree of confidence because of our experience. Leadership may be part of this stage.

4. The Journey Inward. This stage is a deep and very personal inward journey. It almost always comes as an unsettling experience yet results in healing for those who continue through it. Until now, our journey has had a very external dimension to it - the community of faith, serving with our gifts, leading others, and productivity. Upon entering this stage, many people experience a period of questioning, exploring, doubting, and even uncertainty. This can be caused by a life or faith crisis. For the first time our faith does not seem to work the same as it has before and our answers seem inadequate, leaving us feeling quite vulnerable. Some people refuse to engage fully with this stage. Therefore they become inadequate guides for others who enter this stage.

The Wall. Somewhere near the end of Stage 4, we experience the Wall – a face to face experience with God and with our own will. This is a critical experience. It represents another layer of transformation and a potentially renewed layer of faith – for those who have the courage to move into it. We decide anew whether we are willing to surrender and let God direct our lives. This is a time of mystery and not something we can do through our own strength or wisdom. This is a pivotal moment. We are afraid, yet drawn to surrender, knowing it will not be easy, but that it will be worthwhile. We are dying to self and letting God be God. [Click here for some thoughts on "Growing in the Dark"]

5. The Journey Outward. This is the next step after rediscovering God and accepting his love. We surrender afresh to God’s will to fully direct our lives. This outward journey may seem similar to earlier stages, but our focus is different. We have changed. We endure suffering gracefully, because of our confidence in God. Our primary motivation in life becomes the desire to love honestly and live according to God’s purposes. There is a fresh sense of calling, vocation or ministry. We start to focus more on other people’s best interests. We start to experience a deep calm and stillness. We allow for a new certainty in God while being comfortable with ambiguity.

6. The Life of Love. At this stage we reflect God to others in the world more clearly and consistently than we ever thought possible. We let our light shine in such a way that God is given the credit and the thanks. We have lost ourselves yet truly found ourselves. We are selfless. We are at peace with ourselves, fully conscious of being the person God created us to be. Obedience comes naturally. We give our all without feeling that it means surrender or sacrifice. We are at one with the Spirit of God. God becomes everything to us.

There is a mystery to our journey of faith. Everyone is unique and will experience variations in their individual journey but we are all headed in the same direction – closer to God. It is helpful to view this journey as a circle rather than as a linear progression. God is at the centre. He is at work in each stage and our goal is not to try to control our growth experience but to draw closer to Him in each season. There are no set formulas for spiritual growth nor can we always know exactly where we are in our spiritual journey. Stages may overlap and we may re-visit stages at times.

Reflection Questions

  1. Where do you think you are now in your own journey of faith and why?
  2. Where have you been in the past? What stages do you recognise or identify with?
  3. Select two Bible characters and see if you can see this pattern in their faith journey.
  4. What are some insights for relating well to others who may be at a different stage than you?
  5. What sort of activities or experiences might be most helpful at each stage - and especially the stage you are at right now?
  6. Click here for a list of additional reflection questions for each stage of faith.

The Value of Time

Time

To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who failed a grade.
To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who just missed a train.
To realize the value of ONE SECOND, ask someone who just avoided an accident.
To realize the value of ONE MILLISECOND, ask the person who won a silver medal at the Olympics.

Treasure every moment that you have ... and treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time with. Remember, time waits for no one.

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why its called the present.

[Unknown]


First Things First

Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you (Jesus).

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Good is the enemy of best.

Establishing priorities is essential to life and ministry effectiveness. Not every task or project is created equal. The challenge is to put “first things first”. Basically, all of us spend our time in one of four ways, as illustrated in the Time Management Matrix. This matrix defines activities as “urgent” or “not urgent”, and “important or “not important”. Most people discover that they spend far too much time responding to the urgent crises of Quadrants I and III, escaping occasionally for survival to the not urgent, unimportant time wasters of Quadrant IV.

7h-matrix

The ideal is to work toward eliminating time spent in Quadrants III and IV, and increasing time spent in Quadrant II. As you invest more time om planning, prevention and relationship-building activities of Quadrant II, you’ll find that you spend far less time picking up the broken pieces in Quadrant I or reacting to the urgent demands of other people in Quadrant III.

Applications:

  1. What one thing could you do (that you aren’t doing now), that if you did on a regular basis, would make a significant positive difference in your personal life? What one thing in your ministry life would bring similar results? Schedule both of these things weekly.
  2. Draw a Time Management Matrix and estimate how much time you (and/or your team) spend in each quadrant. Then log your time for 3 days in 15 minute intervals. How accurate was your estimate? Make needed changes by concentrating on Quadrant II.
  3. Start organising your life on a weekly basis. Write down your roles and goals. Then incorporate your goals into a specific action plan.

Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom

Prison Break by Mark Conner (Book Cover)Quite a few years ago now, we conducted a survey in our church. One of the open-ended questions was: "I wish someone would preach about ..." We collated the answers and I have enough to preach on until Jesus comes back!

Actually, what surprised me the most at the time was the fact that people wanted to hear messages about dealing with common challenges such as worry, fear, anger, depression and rejection. These weren't subjects we were speaking on very often and as a result we were not "scratching where people were itching!"

After this survey, we crafted a series of messages around the theme of "Prison Break". In Jesus' first sermon, he declared that he had come to set the prisoners free - to lead a prison break! We shared messages on freedom from worry, freedom from fear, freedom from anger, etc, etc. It was one of the most impacting teaching series we have ever done. Eventually, these messages were compiled into a book and it's been a best-seller ever since.

You can purchase Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom from WORD Books in paperback format or from Amazon in downloadable format for Kindle. If you enjoy it, thanks for leaving a recommendation. 

Here's the full description and a recommendation from Dr. Arch Hart.

Living in our broken world creates the possibility of becoming trapped by various negative emotions and habits that can easily become like a prison around us. In this helpful book, Mark Conner shares practical principles for finding freedom from common problems such as anger, fear, worry, rejection, depression, addictions, and spiritual bondages. With God's help you can make a prison break- beginning today.

"To some extent we all have our personal prisons, in these hectic and stress-filled days. This is why Mark Conner's book Prison Break is so timely and helpful. Whether your personal prison is one of anger or fear, worry or some destructive habit, addictions or whatever, Mark offers help that can free you from your prison. The book is practical yet sound, both psychologically and biblically and easy to read. I am sure no reader will be disappointed." 

Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., FPPR. 
Senior Professor of Psychology and Dean Emeritus 
Graduate School of Psychology 
Fuller Theological Seminary 
Pasasena, California


Jesus and His Mother

MaryAs Jesus was dying on the cross, he was not completely alone. There were a small group of people who loved him dearly, right there until his last breath (John 19:25-27). They demonstrated great courage just to even be there. One of them was Mary - Jesus’ mother. I am sure Mary did not always understand her Son, Jesus (what he was up to and why he did what he did) but she always loved him. Her presence there was the most natural thing in the world for a mother. Jesus might be a criminal in the eyes of the Roman government, but he was her son. Imagine the anguish of watching your own son die. The undying love of a mother was on full display at the cross - through the heart of Mary.

Despite the agony he was experiencing with the entire salvation of the world hanging in the balance, Jesus saw his mother Mary and thought of her well-being in the days ahead. He could not entrust her to his brothers, as they did not yet believe in him (John 7:5) and Joseph had most likely passed away. Here was his mother, a widow, alone. He was her eldest son. Would she be okay? Who would look after her? There was John - his beloved disciple but also his cousin (Salome’s, Mary’s sister’s, son). So Jesus committed Mary to the care of John and John to the care of Mary, that these two would comfort each other’s loneliness when He was gone.

Notice Jesus’ care and respect for his mother. It was not uncommon for a crucified person to make a pronouncement or distribute their estate from the cross. Jesus had nothing - no home or possessions … but he had a mother - Mary. The Gospels record important words of Jesus from the cross, such as “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”, “It is finished!” and “Into your hands I commit my spirit” - all sacred and treasured. But I think these are some of the most moving words Jesus spoke from that cross - demonstrating the love and care of a Son for his mother. Jesus, in his own pain, said, “Please, look after my mother!” One of the last things Jesus did was to ensure that the woman who birthed him, who taught him, and who loved him would have no lack.

Mary herself is an example of a devoted disciple and an exemplary mother. She was favoured by God (Luke 1:26-38), she had a responsive heart to God’s unexpected intentions for her life, she endured great hardship (Luke 2:34-35), and yet she treasured deeply all of the events of her life (Luke 2:19, 51). Not only was she at the cross when Jesus died, she saw him risen from the dead and she was in the upper room praying on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14), when they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).

No wonder Mary was called “blessed among all women.”

See also: Mother's Day 2016


Happy Mother's Day (2016)

Happy-Mothers-Day-Flowers

[Watch this message]

It’s Mother’s Day: a century-old tradition of taking time to thank and honour our amazing mums. Mums are special people we owe so much to - in addition to our very existence! Most mums are faithful, loyal, hard-working, loving and caring people. We honour and applaud them today. Of course, Mother’s Day brings a variety of emotion with it – gratitude, if you had a great mum, some sadness and pain if you had a difficult or absent mum, and grief if you have lost your mum or wanted to be a mum but haven’t yet been able to have children.

Our Mothers

What was your mother like? Mothers are highly influential people but no mother is perfect. Ideally, they provide care, love, nurture and protection for their children, but that isn’t always the case. In their recent book, Our Mothers, Ourselves: How Understanding Your Mother’s Influence Can Set You on a Path of a Better Life, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (best-selling authors of Boundaries) unpack how our mothers shape us – for better or worse, including describing different types of mothers and styles of mothering. These include the Phantom Mum, the China Doll Mum, the Controlling Mother, the Trophy Mum, the Still-the-Boss Mum, and the American Express Mum. It is easy to dismiss the past, but even as adults we need to understand our mother’s pervasive influence on our life.

No matter what our mother was like, we need to give them love and respect, gratitude, and forgiveness. In addition, we need to “leave” appropriately and be who God has called us to be, severing that umbilical cord of dependence, as it were. Then we return, hopefully as friends.

The Art of Mothering

All mothers should seek to be the best mothers that they can be. This includes making a choice to:

  1. Love unconditionally. True love is not just an emotion but is an act of will to do what is best for another person, regardless of what they are like. Kids aren’t perfect yet they need to know they are loved … no matter what.
  2. Affirm frequently. Words are powerful (Proverbs 18:21). Use them for good – to build up your children (Ephesians 4:29). Children thrive under encouragement, affirmation and praise.
  3. Instruct clearly. Establish clear expectations and consequences, then follow through consistently. Teach desired behaviour (what) and the values behind it (why). Example is essential (kids do what they see), as is a loving relationship.
  4. Discipline lovingly. Loving discipline is about giving appropriate consequences for disobedience, not abuse or harsh, angry punishment.
  5. Empower fully. As children grow and mature, empower them more to make their own decisions and be responsible for their own lives. Our kids are really not ours. We don't own or possess them. They are gifts …. loaned for a time. Help them become who God has designed them to be. Don’t project your own wishes on them. Then trust God and let go of any unnecessary guilt or condemnation for the choices they may choose to make.

[More BLOG posts on parenting: Wisdom for ParentsParenting TeenagersDamaging Parenting Styles and Some Thoughts on Parenting. There are many good books on parenting but I especially encourage you to check out The Parenting Book by Nicky and Sila Lee]

God as Mother?

Sometimes mums can find it difficult to see themselves as a reflection of the image of God. This may be because of the number of male references to God in the Bible, such as king or Father. But God is not male! [God created woman so if he was a man this would be impossible because we all know that men know nothing about women!] God is Spirit. He transcends gender yet includes what we know as male and female. Men and women were both created in God’s image. God has both masculine and feminine qualities (see Isaiah 42:14; 49:14-16; 66:13. Hosea 13:8. Matthew 23:37). He has motherly traits of caretaker, comforter and nurturer. That's why it takes both men and women to reflect God accurately. Mums - you are made in the image of God. You reflect his nature and his characteristics … even in your mothering of your children. Walk with a sense of dignity and honour. You matter … just because of who you are!

Reflection Questions

  1. Reflect on the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. What can we learn from her?
  2. What does Mother’s Day mean to you?
  3. Think about your own mother. What are you thankful for? What was difficult?
  4. Review the five suggested tasks in the “art of mothering”. Reflect on how God is the model of the perfect parent.
  5. Consider some of the feminine aspects of God’s nature – such as love, care, nurture, and protection. Why do we sometimes struggle with seeing God this way? What do we miss out by thinking of God only in male images?
  6. Finish by praying for all of our family relationships.

See also: Jesus and His Mother.


Showdown in the Desert (pt.2)

Desert

Lessons from Jesus’ Temptation

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus' showdown in the dessert. Today, let's glean a few lessons for our own lives from this story.  

1. We are in a spiritual war.

We live in a spiritual battle zone between God and Satan, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. There is no neutral ground. We will either overcome or be overcome. The battle will intensify as history proceeds from this time until the return of Jesus. 

Before the world was created, a number of theologians believe that one of God's archangels was cast out of heaven and thrown to earth because of rebellion. This being became 'Satan' or the devil. In the Garden of Eden, Satan in the form of a serpent, deceived Adam and Eve, leading them to sin and forfeit their inheritance of dominion over the earth (Genesis 3:15-16). All through the Old Testament we see conflict between the “seed of the woman” (the godly line) and the “seed of the serpent” (the ungodly line). 

At the time of Jesus’ birth, King Herod attacked the new-born babies. When Jesus’ ministry begins, he is led into the wilderness where Satan tempts him personally. Throughout Jesus ministry Satan tries to trick him, even through one of his disciples, Peter. On the cross we have the ultimate battle against darkness.

Jesus was revealed to destroy the works of the evil one (1 John 3:8. Acts 10:38). On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Jesus prayed that the Father would “keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15) and told his disciples to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13).”

The early church portrays a community of people advancing into the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Satan attacks and persecutes but does not overcome (Matthew 16:18-19. Romans 16:20).

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul speaks of the struggle (literally a wrestling match) we experience in life against the “schemes (methods or tricks) of the devil” in the spiritual realm. We enter God’s kingdom through much tribulation - pressure and hardships (Acts 14:22).

Revelation 12:1-20 gives us a prophetic picture of a pregnant woman about to give birth to new life - a son who will rule the nations. There is also an enormous dragon representing the devil or Satan. He is standing in front of the woman about to give birth so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. Then there is war in heaven as Michael and his angels fight against the Dragon and his angels. On earth again, we see the dragon pursuing the woman who is taken into the desert ... out of the serpent’s reach. Satan is enraged ... waged war against the rest of the woman’s offspring.

God has a plan and the devil has a plan. We are in the midst of this cosmic battle.

God is always seen as “birthing” something into the world. He is the creator. He is moving forward, taking ground for the kingdom and freeing those oppressed by the devil. God’s kingdom is forcefully advancing - offensive activity (Matthew 11:12). Satan is always seen as seeking to deceive or destroy and to hinder God’s work. Like a thief, he comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

2. Satan will attack us.

Because we are in a spiritual warfare, we will know what it is to be tempted, tested and come under the attack of the devil. Satan is real and he hates God’s work in our lives. Again, it’s important to realise that not everything bad that happens to us is the devil at work. Sometimes our own sin or foolishness is the cause of our pain. At others times other people can cause us difficulty. Don’t blame everything on the devil! 

Luke 22:31-32. "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." NIV

2 Corinthians 2:10-11. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven - if there was anything to forgive - I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

Ephesians 4:26-27. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. NIV

Ephesians 6:11. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. NIV

James 4:7. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

1 Peter 5:8-9. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. NIV 

We are in a spiritual war and we will be attacked, so we need to be alert and on guard. Satan may not tempt us in exactly the same way as he did Jesus, because as we are not the unique Son of God. However, he tries to trip us up and offer us shortcuts that hinder our walk with God.

Tests or temptations are not bad. In fact, they may be sent by God (James 1:2-4). If we are to grow spiritually, we can expect trials. The main issue is our response to the test. Do we look to God to guide us through? Do we trust him or do we reassert our control?  Sometimes opting for comfort means selling our soul to the prince of this world. Our work, our status, our possessions, our family or even our ministry can stand in the way of knowing God. Satan always offers us an easy path without suffering or difficulty. When we lack trust in God, we try to force him to act on our behalf. At times we can attempt to control God rather than follow his leading.

Satan attacks all believers and especially leaders, seeking to destroy them. We must defend ourselves and conquer him in order to be effective ministers. We know that Satan seeks to blind the minds of unbelievers to keep them from hearing or understanding the gospel. He binds them in fear and hopelessness. Satan seeks to attack individual Christians through temptation, doubts, fear, deceit, sin habits and other strongholds. He seeks to hinder them from living in victory and especially from becoming active ambassadors for God’s kingdom. He will use anything from attacks on the mind to demonic spirits, sickness, curses (generational) or emotional wounds (bitterness, inferiority, fear, etc). This is a spiritual war, not fought with physical weapons or in the material plane. The battleground is within us. He is subtle and deceptive.

3. Our enemy targets our weakness.

Our spiritual enemy knows where we are vulnerable and targets his attack there. Satan has “schemes” which he uses to try to outwit us. He prowls around looking for a foothold or for an opportunity to take advantage of us.

Pray about your vulnerable or weak areas. It’s easy to gradually drift and Satan often uses subtle shifts or distractions to trap us. Imagine you’re the devil (just for a moment) or a head demon. Devise a strategy to defeat you! When are you most vulnerable? Build defences in these areas. Strengthen what is weak. Who’s praying for your weakness?

Deception is Satan’s only power over us. He comes as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He uses the philosophies of the world, sin, riches, pride, idolatry, wrong desires or whatever he can. His plan is to deceive the whole world. He is a liar and the father of all lies and falsehood (gives birth to, sustains, source, author, begins). The lie began in heaven with Satan - he deceived himself (Isaiah 14:12-15). He is the Deceiver (Revelation 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3,8,10. 2 John 7). He is the enemy of the truth. He hates it and there is no truth in him (2 Thessalonians 2:9. 1 John 2:21,22. Acts 5:3,4).

4. We can overcome!

Jesus has already defeated Satan at the cross. We have His authority and His power so we can defeat all the works of the enemy. Jesus Christ in us is greater than he who is in the world. The Second Adam did what the First Adam failed to do. He conquered temptation. He now lives in us and gives us the power to overcome, to escape and to resist the devil.

Jesus overcame the world, Satan and sin even though he was tempted just like us. We overcome by faith - trust and dependence upon Jesus, not our own strength. Christ in you. Let Him live (overcome) through you. As we watch and pray we can overcome temptation.

Mark 14:38. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (NIV)

Luke 21:36. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." (NIV)

Use your weapons and your authority (2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Ephesians 6. Romans 12:1-2) – prayer, the Word, forgiveness and the name of Jesus.

Resist the devil! Flee, stand and fight.

5. Personal victory precedes public victory.

Jesus faces his temptation alone and we only know about it because he must have told his disciples what happened. In order to plunder Satan’s kingdom, Jesus would have to defeat him (Mark 3:22-27) and resisting temptation was the first of Satan’s defeats.

Jesus’ ministry was described like this. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and … he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (Acts 10:38 NIV).” Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). 

Like David, we must defeat the “lions” and “bears” in our own lives (personal problems and bad habits) before we can take on the Goliath’s on behalf of a whole nation (1 Samuel 17:32- ). He learned to use his weapons. Jesus overcame Satan then the world.

As we deal with our own personal battles, we gain confidence and strength to help others overcome. By faith we must enter into this victory and storm the gates of hell. People need to be set free from the power of Satan.

Paul’s ministry was much like that of Jesus. God said to him, “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:17-18 NIV).”

Jesus wants to help us overcome and be part of his army of warriors who, despite the overwhelming odds, will free many from the clutches of the enemy through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What are your private giants? Are you conquering them? Or do you need help (counsel, accountability, etc)? Have you given in to the lie that you will never overcome?

Conclusion

  1. Are you awake and alert to the spiritual battle we are engaged in?
  1. Are you aware of your weak or vulnerable areas? 
  1. Are you taking steps to guard yourself against the devil so that you can overcome him? 
  1. Do you see the importance of overcoming the enemy? You need it and so do others.

Prayer Points

  1. Pray that followers of Christ will have a fresh awareness and understanding of the spiritual battle that we are in as believers so that we are more awake and alert spiritually. 
  1. Pray that we will have our eyes open to the ways the devil attacks us personally. 
  1. Pray that we will become aware of their own weak and vulnerable areas. 
  1. Pray that we will take practical steps to guard ourselves against the devil in those areas. 
  1. Pray that we will see and believe that we can overcome every attack, temptation and test of the devil. 
  1. Pray that we will see the importance of personal victory so that God can use them to help set others free.

Showdown in the Desert (Pt.1)

Desert

Jesus has prepared well for impacting his world through total surrender, a strong relationship with his Father and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

The final aspect of his preparation is a showdown with the devil himself.

Immediately after the “mountain-top” experience at his water baptism, Luke describes Jesus as “full of the Spirit”. The Spirit then “led” Jesus into the desert or wilderness (in comparison to the garden paradise where Adam and Eve were tempted). Jesus fasted (ate no food) for 40 days. During these 40 days he was also tempted or tested by the devil. The three specific temptations recounted by Matthew and Luke seem to have occurred at the close of this period - when Jesus hunger was the greatest and his resistance the lowest.

As Christians, we sometimes face our greatest struggles right after conversion or some act of recommitment, rather than before. This should not surprise us.

God in his sovereignty initiates this time of testing. However, he allows no temptation except which furthers his ultimate purposes. Yet he never directly tempts anyone (James 1:13) and is wholly disassociated from evil. Because the Holy Spirit initiated these temptations, they should be understood not as a defensive struggle but as an offensive attack on the rule of Satan. The kingdom of God had come and the rule of this evil age was now challenged.

This test is similar to the 40 years period that God led Israel through the wilderness to humble them and test them in order to know what was in their heart, whether or not they would keep his commands (Deuteronomy 8:1-5). Also, 40 days and nights recalls the experiences of Moses (Exodus 24:18; 34:18) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).

Whereas Adam failed the great test and plunged the whole race into rebellion against God (Genesis 3), Jesus was faithful and demonstrated his qualification to become the Saviour. Jesus shows his moral qualifications as messiah by relying on God and his word, rather than like Adam, reaching for the power that Satan tempts him to take. What Adam as son of God was not, Jesus is. He is ready to minister on behalf of all humanity.

Jesus was also tempted as we are so that he could become our “merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17) and therefore be “able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:15; 4:15-16). He becomes a model for us. These were real temptations. Jesus was tempted in every way just like us, yet without sin. Satan tempts Jesus. Jesus resists Satan.

The three temptations are somewhat unusual, in that they don’t appear to be a temptation to real “evil”. In each case, Satan uses a selfish tactic in justifying the action he wants Jesus to take. It was a temptation toward independence.

There are fascinating parallels between these three temptations of Jesus, the three temptations in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6) and the three kinds of temptation 1 John 2:16 lists to summarise “everything in the world.”

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17).

1. First Temptation (Luke 4:3-4)

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Man does not live on bread alone’”. 

Satan questioned Jesus’ identity by saying, “If you are the Son of God …”

The devil tempts the Son of God to use his supernatural powers for his own ends. This seemed attractive, as Jesus was very hungry. He tried to get Jesus to use his power and authority to fulfil his own natural desires or appetites. However, Jesus didn’t use his miraculous power for personal benefit. Satan questions God’s provision and care and lures Jesus to act independently of the Father.

“Surely you should feed yourself, Jesus.”

It was not a temptation to a crime or sin in the traditional sense. It is a test as to what kind of Messiah will Jesus be – one who uses his power for his own ends or one who lives in dependence and trust in the Father to provide his needs.

On the cross, Jesus would have the same temptation to use his own powers to “save himself”. A criminal scoffed, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Spectators took up the cry: “Let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him .” But even with 12 legions of angels at his disposal, he would not call on them (Matthew 26:53). He would trust instead on the providential care of the Father. For Jesus to save others, he could not save himself. There was no easy, painless path.

This was the “lust of the flesh” and compares to “the tree was good for food.”

Yes, there is nothing wrong with feeding yourself, but when it conflicts with what God has ordained, it is sin.

Jesus conquered Satan’s attack with the “sword of the spirit”, which is the Word of God. Jesus knew the Word of God. It was in His heart and mind. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Ps.119:11). He didn’t discuss, contemplate or reason with the tempter. He gave a decisive “No!”

Jesus relied on his Father for food, not his own miraculous power. Jesus understands that life is more than food and is to be lived in obedience to God. For Jesus, the spirit ruled. His spirit was strong through feeding on God’s Word even though His body was weak through lack of food.

2. Second Temptation (Luke 4:5-8)

The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. He said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’”.

The kingdoms of the world and their splendour were offered to Jesus if He would bow down and worship the tempter. This was a temptation to power, prominence, fame, fortune, and glory. Satan, as the “prince of this world” and the “ruler of this present age”, had the power to do this. Jesus did not challenge his ability to make such an offer. This is not an attempted deception by Satan to give what he could not.

This was the “lust of the eyes” (appealing to the ego or self) and compared to the fruit being “pleasing to the eye”.

The devil was tempting Jesus to avoid the sufferings of the cross. The temptation offered an easy shortcut to world dominion. It was a “cross-less solution” to the world’s problems. However, Jesus rejected all political concepts of messiahship. The world needed a saviour that would provide forgiveness, reconciliation with God and salvation from future judgement.

“Surely the Father wants you to have authority, so just give me your allegiance.”

Jesus answered emphatically: “Away from me, Satan! (Matthew 4:10)” Resist the devil and he will flee from you! (James 4:7). 

God must be first and only. Love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Let Him be your treasure, your desire and your focus in life. Jesus’ entire focus was on pleasing His Father through worship (relationship) and service (ministry).  His eyes were not on material rewards whatsoever. Jesus’ drive was to do the will of God - obedience to the Father’s commands. His priorities were to worship (love) and to serve (obey) God.

3. Third Temptation (Luke 4:9-12)

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God”, he said, “Throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’”.

This may have been a vision-like experience. The temple in Jerusalem had a Royal Porch on the Southeast corner, which loomed over a cliff and the Kidron Valley some 450 feet below. Josephus mentions that just looking over the edge made people dizzy. To cast oneself down from such a height and survive would take divine intervention.

Satan was testing Jesus to test God’s faithfulness. This time Satan quoted Scripture, those he misused or misapplied Psalm 91:11-12. He twists its meaning and uses it for his own purpose. This was a test of presumption - putting God to the “test” (Deuteronomy 6:16). Surely God would care for his own and not let Jesus suffer pain.

“Surely God will protect his Son, so why not try him out?” It is a dare on Jesus’ part to make God rescue him.

This was the “pride of life” and is similar to Satan saying that the fruit was “desirable for gaining wisdom (so as not to die).”

Jesus answered with Scripture as he had on the other two temptations, quoting Deuteronomy. We should marvel at Jesus’ restraint. Why didn’t he just blast Satan away!?

Jesus overcame all three temptations. He was totally dedicated to God’s will and call. He will take only the road God asks him to follow and refuses to take any shortcuts.

Result:

  • The devil left Jesus until an “opportune time”. Satan continues with his testing throughout Jesus’ ministry (see Mark 8:33), culminating in the supreme test at Gethsemane. Jesus is also about to confront demons very shortly (Luke 4:31-44).
  • Angels came and ministered to Him (Matthew 4:11).
  • Jesus then returned to Galilee in the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) and his public ministry began.

Tomorrow: Lessons from Jesus' Temptation 


Pass the Baton: Successful Leadership Transition

Screenshot.jpgCityLife Church, located in Melbourne Australia, has had three Senior Ministers so far in it's 49 year history. Richard Holland was our founding pastor and led the church for 20 years, followed by my dad, Kevin Conner, who led the church for the next 8 years. I have been the Senior Minister for the last 21 years and have recently begun succession planning conversations with our Board of Elders.

Like any relay race, passing the baton effectively is vital for any organisation, including a local church. I wrote about this a few years ago, in response to many people wanting to know what lessons we had learned from our leadership successions at CityLife. The book is called Pass the Baton: Principles of Successful Leadership Transition.

This book outlines the story of the two successful senior leadership transitions that have taken place at CityLife Church - from Richard Holland to Kevin Conner and from my dad  to myself. Also included are many practical principles for any leadership transition - in a church, a ministry, an organisation or a business. We have had very good feedback from many churches and leaders who have used the lessons from our journey to help them in their own transitions.

I pray that this book continues to be a help and a blessing to many churches and ministries in Australia and around the world. The revised edition has a number of edits and updates, including the fact that our founding pastor, Richard Holland went home to be with the Lord in 2008.

Recommendation for Mark's previous book Transforming Your Church:

  • "Mark Conner is one of the finest leaders I know. He is that rare combination of a bright mind and a fully yielded heart. His observations concerning the shifts that must take place in order for a church to reach its redemptive potential are profound. And Mark’s insights are far more than theory. One visit to his church is all it will take to turn cynics into believers. The Church for the 21st Century will require a higher level of leadership than any other era in human history. Books like this one will contribute a great deal to the development of such leadership. I am deeply grateful to Mark for his friendship and the impact that he is having on churches and leaders in Australia, and increasingly all over the world." Bill Hybels [Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church]

A Call to COURAGE

Courage

ANZAC Day

Tomorrow is ANZAC Day, a day when Australians and New Zealanders remember the beginning of World War I. This was Australia’s first major military encounter as a nation with the wider world as we joined Britain’s fight against Germany. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the ANZACs landing at the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. This was supposed to be a quick knock-out battle but the wildness of the terrain and the fierce resistance of the Turkish defenders led to a stalemate campaign that dragged on for 8 months. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships.

ANZAC Day evokes mixed and strong emotions. Some people feel it glorifies war. Our last ANZAC, Alec Campbell, pleaded on his deathbed: “For God’s sake, don’t glorify Gallipoli - it was a terrible fiasco, a total failure and best forgotten.” War is not a noble enterprise, nor a great source for national identity, or an ideal proof of a person’s coming of age. Only those who have been to war can understand its horror and the trauma it leaves in its wake. Others say it is a fitting tribute to remember those who gave their lives and made such a sacrifice. We should honour the dead not glorify war. Regardless of our personal views of the annual ANZAC Day celebrations, we can find common ground in commending the spirit of the soldiers who went to war. Their commitment, sacrifice, friendship (‘mateship’), endurance and courage in the face of great adversity is admirable. Courage is the attribute we want to focus on today.

Courage

Courage is strength in the face of fear, grief and pain. Afro-American author Maya Angelou once said, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.” Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” JRR Tolkien noted, “Courage is often found in unlikely places.”

The Bible has a lot to say about courage and how important it is in our daily lives:

  • “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
  • “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart.” Psalm 27:14.
  • “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
  • “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Acts 4:31
  • “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7.
  • “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Eph.6:10

As followers of Jesus, we are called to stand strong in the face of adversity – to be courageous! Thankfully, God is with us even in the midst of challenge, suffering and pain. We can draw on God’s strength.

Our Mission

John ‘Jack’ Simpson is one of our ANZAC heroes, as he rescued 300 injured soldiers from the heat of the battle over a period of 24 days, with the help of a donkey he found at ANZAC Cove. Sadly, he was hit in the back with a bullet from a machine gun. He died saving others. This reminds us of the words of Jesus Christ who said, “Greater love has no one than this than to lay down their life for a friend” (John 15:13). Jesus modeled this by leaving the comforts of heaven to risk and eventually lay down his life to rescue us from sin and death. That’s great courage!

It also takes courage for us to pursue our God-given mission today. Many of our World Impact workers and partners are working in some of the poorest, most persecuted and least evangelised parts of our world today. For many, there is a high price tag that includes their lives being endangered. We admire and commend their courage in planting churches, raising up leaders, growing congregations and transforming communities.

A Call to Courage

Here are three ways we can respond to this call to courage, as we draw inspiration from our ANZACs and our mission workers:

  1. Pray … for our mission workers. Adopt a mission work or project and consider joining a support group. Jesus’ desire was for his Father’s house to be a “house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17). Clear the clutter and move out anything that is hindering your heart from being a place of prayer and worship.
  2. Go … to another nation. Consider being part of a short-term team or taking up a medium or long term placement in another nation. You will be a blessing to the people there, an encouragement to our mission workers, and travel enriches you too. Augustine once said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
  3. Give … financially to the work of World Impact. Yes, there are local church ministry needs and we have building and community projects that need funds, but we never want to lose our heart for global mission. Make a financial donation to your church's mission program. Compared to the rest of the world, we are ‘rich’. As our generosity grows, our capacity as a church does also.

Your Life 

What are you facing right now that is calling forth courage within you? Are you overwhelmed by fear or discouragement? Has criticism or adversity taken its toll? God’s Word to you today is, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go!” God is with you and he will give you the strength to go through whatever you may be facing.

Reflection Questions

  1. What does ANZAC Day mean to you?
  2. Reflect on a time in your personal life when you had to be courageous.
  3. How does courage relate to us engaging in our mission to reach our neighbours and friends with the good news of Jesus?
  4. What story have you heard so far from our mission workers that inspired you the most when it comes to courage?
  5. Spend some time praying for a specific mission worker or project.
  6. Ask someone who has been on a short-term team to share about their experience.
  7. Ask a friend what challenge they facing right now that is requiring courage for them. Pray for them. 

Floss Regularly

Floss

As a kid, I hated going to the dentist! The very smell of the dentist's office caused panic and nausea for me. Thankfully, I didn't need too many fillings growing up but I still dread the 'scale and clean' experience even as an adult. I'm so glad when it's over.

We all know that flossing our teeth helps prevent tooth decay and makes those 'scale and clean' experiences much more bearable. I try to floss every few days but sometimes I drift and let it go for a few weeks. It's much harder then to clear those gaps between your teeth.

I think flossing has spiritual and relational lessons for us. Imagine how much better life would be if we stopped and engaged in a spiritual examen every night before going to sleep and ensured that our conscience is clear before we finish each day. Now that's as good as a thorough floss of the teeth!

Why not try it out: 


Jesus' Empowerment by the Spirit

During Jesus' baptism in water, the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove (Luke 3:22). This implies a sort of “anointing” for ministry. Jesus was “filled with the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) and was then “led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) into the wilderness where he overcame the devil and returned in the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).

Jesus lived his life by the Spirit’s power. We too need the power of the Spirit to help us live a life of purpose and impact, an abundant joyful and victorious life.

The disciples separated themselves to God, developed a relationship with the father and also received the power of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The evidence of this empowering was “spiritual language” (speaking in tongues) and a boldness to witness for Jesus (Acts 2).

Spirit-Powered Living

We have all experienced the frustration of trying to live a good life in our own strength. After all, we all have weaknesses, sinful tendencies, bad habits, wrong desires and good intentions we don’t follow through on. We desperately need the help of the Holy Spirit.

The foundations of the Christian life are seen in Peter's first sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39).

1. Repentance – a decision to make. This is about new life (conversion) through faith and a relationship with the Father God.

2. Water Baptism – a command to obey.

3. The Holy Spirit – a gift to receive.

The Christian life begins with repentance and faith that results in an inner transformation (salvation, eternal life, being 'born again'). The next step is to be baptised in water, an outward declaration of our allegiance to Jesus Christ. We are also to be filled with the Holy Spirit. These three steps are just the beginning and form a firm foundation for a strong Christian life.

There is now a new life to be lived “in the Spirit”. We are to be filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit. We are to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit - God's nature and character. We are to be empowered by the Spirit both to overcome the enemy and be witnesses to the life that is in Jesus Christ. So there is much to learn as we begin to grow from “babies” to become mature “sons and daughters of God.”

In the first century, at times people experienced all these things simultaneously. In other cases, these things happened at different times. God deals with each of us in different ways and we all respond differently to His work in our lives.

How are your spiritual foundations?

Further Reading:


Jesus' Relationship with His Father

As Jesus was being baptised, Luke notes that he was praying or talking to his heavenly Father (Luke 3:21). Throughout his gospel, Luke makes a special emphasis on Jesus’ life of prayer – one of close relationship with his Father (Luke 6:12; 9:18, 29; 11:1; 22:41).

After being baptised, the Father spoke to him Jesus and said, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

This is probably a private and personal experience between Jesus and the Father. The voice speaks directly to Jesus. Luke does not record any reaction or response from the crowd, as in other cases when such events occur more publicly (e.g. Acts 9).

Jesus has developed a close relationship with his heavenly Father beginning as a child (age 12).  Jesus was obedient and he did those things that pleased his Father.

This statement by the Father indicated that Jesus had:

  1. Identity - “my Son”.
  2. Acceptance - “whom I love”.
  3. Approval - “well pleased”.

This endorsement of the Father is like a personal commissioning of Jesus, not making him something he wasn’t before but recognising that the much loved Son will launch out into actively exercising the authority he possesses.

Jesus’ relationship with his Father was the source of his strength and the foundation of his life. This enabled him to stand firm even when his identity was attacked by others (“If you are the Son of God ...”) and or when others did not accept or approve of him. Jesus was not shaken because he was not dependent on nor did he base his life on the opinions of other people. Jesus' relationship with his Father is the source of his confidence and direction for his ministry.

The relationship that Jesus had with the Father is not for him alone. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called into the same intimacy and security of the Father’s love.

1. Identity – we are the children of God, his sons and daughters. He is our Father and that makes us special, important and significant ... simply because we are his. We are not slaves or simply servants of God. We are sons, daughters and heirs of the promises.

2. Acceptance – God’s love for us is not based on our goodness or our performance. It is a love given as a free gift, even though it is undeserved. This is the power of grace.

3. Approval – as we obey God and follow his ways, we can also know his pleasure and approval. Obedience pleases God. However, obedience isn’t to be done out of self-effort to try earn God’s love but rather as a response to the grace he already has shown us.

Following Jesus Christ and living God’s way will put us in situations where people may not accept us or give us their approval. They may laugh and even mock us. Unless our roots are deep and strong in the Father’s love, we will falter at those times, compromise our faith and lose our potential impact. May your life be rooted and grounded in the Father’s love (Ephesians 3:14-19), not rejection, insecurity, inferiority or fear.

How?

  • See who you are – a son/daughter not a slave.
  • Believe what God says about you.
  • Take captive every contrary thought and bring it under submission to Christ.
  • Live with this truth as your daily foundation.

Get Outside of the Box!

Box

In most neighbourhoods today, there is a daily pattern: a garage door opens, a car drives out, and the occupants head to work. Later that day, the car returns, the garage door opens, and the car disappears. Nancy Whitney-Reiter notes that if an alien were to visit our planet, he or she might observe: "You know, these people are all living in boxes. Then they get in their box on wheels, drive to another box (their office), probably spend all day working in front of a box (their computer), then drive home again, disappear back into their box, and sit and watch a box (their televisions) all night." 

There are many benefits of getting outside. It clears our heads, the fresh air is good for us, and we get in touch with God's world.

George Washington Carver once said, "I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting system, through which God speaks to us every hour, if only we the in." 

Here are a few ideas for getting outside:

  1. Plan a BBQ or eat al fresco in your own backyard.
  2. Take a walk around your neighbourhood.
  3. Sit outside and write in a journal. 
  4. Go outside at night and do some star gazing. 
  5. Spend you next lunch hour in a nearby park. 
  6. Pack a picnic and head to a lake or forrest somewhere.

Is it time to get out of your box... literally?


Jesus' Preparation for Ministry

Bap

At the age of 30 (Luke 3:23), Jesus began turning his attention towards his ministry to the people His Father had sent him to. Jesus’ preparation for ministry included his baptism in water (Luke 3:21-23), his relationship with his Father, the empowerment of the Spirit (Luke 4:1-2), and his defeat of the devil and his temptations (Luke 4:3-13).

Jesus prepared for 30 years for 3½ years of significant ministry. It has been said, that people today go to Bible College for 3½ years to prepare for 30 years of ministry.

Proper preparation is essential.

Anything significant is preceded by intensive and thorough preparation (often behind the scenes). Things just don't happen. In fact, the quality of the preparation determines the quality and success of events.

  • A delicious meal requires hours in the kitchen when no one else is around.
  • An enjoyable musical performance requires hours of practice and preparation.
  • A superb sports performance demands hours of training and preparation.
  • A doctor spends years studying before he or she ever take the tools and begins to operate (aren’t you glad!).
  • A significant ministry of high impact also requires the same intensity of preparation. God often takes his time.

The better the preparation, the more significant and lasting the impact. So in the spiritual. God prepares by His Spirit and we also must prepare. 

God sent John the Baptist to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 1:11-17, 76-80; 3:1-6) He was God's prophetic messenger sent before the coming of Messiah “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:27).”

Every significant event in the purposes of God is preceded by a time of intense preparation.

Common Misunderstandings about Ministry:

1. “Ministry is only for people who work on staff at the church”.

This viewpoint misses the fact that every believer is in “full time ministry” wherever they may be – in church, in the marketplace, at school, in the neighbourhood or at home.

2. “Significant ministry just happens.”

This perspective misses the process that God uses to develop us over time and through many life experiences.

3. “You can’t minister until you’re perfect.”

This attitude causes you to keep putting things off until “one day” and this can lead to you missing the opportunities for God to use you today. God doesn’t want you in “school” forever. Yes, we keep learning and growing, but we have to get out there and begin “doing” what we’ve been taught.

What has God been preparing you for?


Jesus as a Child

Jesus

Our church is currently reading through the Gospel of Luke.

Luke gives us some interesting insight into Jesus' self-perception ... as a 12 year old.

Luke 2:41-52. Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. NIV

We don’t know a lot about Jesus’ childhood or his life before the age of 30 when he began his ministry. We do know that he grew up in a family with other brothers and sisters and he became a carpenter, a trade he learned from Joseph. It appears that sometime between the age of 12 and the beginning of his ministry, Joseph died, as he is never again mentioned with the other members of Jesus’ family. Jesus’ childhood appears to have been very normal like any other Jewish boy of the time.

Jesus at twelve years of age is one year away from accountability as a Jewish boy. At the age of twelve, the instruction of boys became more intensive in preparation for the recognition of adulthood. The Bar Mitzvah of modern times, however, post-dates the time of Jesus by 500 years.

What can we learn from this narrative about Jesus?

1. Children can know God personally.

Jesus at the age of twelve already had a relationship with God to the depth of knowing that God was his Father. This reference to his Father infers an close, personal relationship to God that is foundational to his life (c.f. Luke 10:21-22). This also implies a sense of personal intimacy, identify and significance for Jesus, even as a child.

2. Children can understand spiritual things.

Jesus is among the teachers of the temple – listening, asking questions and giving replies. Even at a young age, he has an amazing knowledge of and ability to engage in spiritual things. Already, he values the pursuit of knowing God and his ways in the world. Children love to laugh, play and have fun but don’t under-estimate their capacity to know and experience God also.

3. Children can know their life purpose.

At the age of twelve, Jesus knew that his life was to be about “his Father’s business”, that he would one day give his whole time and energy to the Father’s work on earth. Yes, he would have to wait for God’s timing and prepare for 18 more years, but this sense of destiny was already there. 

Early on, Jesus understands that he is called to do his Father’s work. Jesus explains his call in his own words and it reflects his self-understanding. He is always about the things of the Father, then and now. In his humanity, he resisted the urge to selfishness and focused on carrying out God’s will for his life.

However, Jesus' ministry has its proper timing and Jesus will wait to launch what he is destined to do. He is not impatient about starting his ministry and will wait until the time is right. He must, of course, wait until the forerunner comes, John the Baptist, before beginning his own task. 

The above description of Jesus didn’t just happen but was a result of his childhood years, which would have included input from family and friends, along with his own personal development.

May we as a community (comprised of parents, churches, community organisations and schools) seek to help kids come to know God personally, to understand spiritual things (God’s perspective on life), and to know their life purpose.