The Great Unknown

Sometimes in life we experience 'more of the same' as we deal with the familiarity of routine. At other times, there is the adventure of new things and of entering uncharted waters. That's my life right now.

I am in the process of transitioning out of a staff role at CityLife Church where I have served in various roles for almost 32 years, and for 22 years as the Senior Minister. I'll take 6 months off when I finish at the end of February 2017 then see what new opportunities may present themselves. 

I am also living between our new home in the Sunshine Coast and my continuing ministry work in Melbourne. Talk about liminal spaces. It's a bit like walking back and forth through the wardrobe door into Narnia. "Yes, I remember you people!" Exciting but scary. 

During times like this, I find my times of prayer, solitude and reflection even more valuable. My journal is my listening book, enabling me to share my heart and see what God might say to me. I also dabble in a little amateur poetry.

Here is something I wrote a few weeks back that will give you a window into my soul right now. Maybe some of you can identity with it, especially if you are in a season of change right now. It's called "The Great Unknown".

Unknown

About to jump ...
Into the great unknown
No guarantees
No promises

A blank page
A new start
Time to reboot
Owner's reset

Start again
Completely new
Identity search
Who am I?

Lay it all down ...
Achievements and trophies
Titles and positions
Applause and fame

Into the unknown
Stripped bare
Naked yet free
Having nothing yet everything I need

Into the cocoon
Dark and cold
Unsure and unclear
Ready to die

Yet there will be a light
At the crack of dawn
Resurrection
New life

Caterpillar to butterfly
Metamorphosis
Deep change
Transformation

Time to really live
Spirit breath
Life source
Soul force

Across the threshold
What will I see?
Leave the past behind
Time to be me

Discover, discern
Destiny, design
Holy whispers
Divine fingerprints

Into the great unknown ...

[Photo by Thomas Frost Jensen taken in Trolltunga, Norway]

[Read more of Mark's poetry]

 

Is it time to SLOW DOWN a little?

Slow

Many years ago, not long after moving to Chicago into a new fairly high pressured ministry position, John Ortberg asked his mentor, Dallas Willard, “What do I need to do to stay healthy and alive spiritually?” Long pause. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life”, he said at last. Another long pause. “Okay, I’ve written that down”, John told him, a little impatiently. “That’s a good one. Now what else is there?” John had many things to do and this was a long distance conversation, so he was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least time possible. Another long pause. “There is nothing else”, Dallas said.

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life. Hurry can destroy our souls and can keep us from living well. As we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it – preventing us from a depth of spirituality. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.

Today, many of us suffer from what has come to be known as ‘hurry sickness’. We are a generation that is not into ‘good food’ or ‘cheap food’ but ‘fast food’! Even after fast food was introduced, people still had to park their cars, go inside, order, and take their food to a table, all of which took time. So we invented the Drive-Through Lane to enable families to eat in their cars, as nature intended.

Meyer Friedman defines ‘hurry sickness’ as “above all, a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more or participate in more and more vents in less and less time, frequently in the face of opposition, real or imagined, from other persons.”

Ruthlessly eliminating hurry from our lives does not mean we will never be busy. Jesus often had much to do, but he never did it in a way that severed the life-giving connection between him and his Father. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried.

John Wesley, at the age of 70, said, “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry because I never undertake any more work than I can go through with perfect calmness of spirit.”

Hurry is not a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart. “Busy” is an outward state (many things to do). “Hurry” is an inward state – inaccessible to God, preoccupied, caught up with my own concerns, not fully present. It is an inward state of being ‘hassled or frantic’.

What are the symptoms of ‘hurry sickness’. John Ortberg, in his excellent book The Life You've Always Wanted, lists these for starters:

1. Constantly speeding up daily activities. We read faster, talk faster and even when listening, nod faster to encourage the talker to accelerate. At the stoplight, if there are two lanes and each contains one car, we find ourselves guessing – based on the year, model and driver of each car – which one will pull away the fastest. At the grocery store, we try to discern the quickest line. Then we keep track to see where we would have been.

2. Multi-tasking. We try to do as many things at one time as possible.

3. Clutter – lots of stuff and gadgets.

4. Superficiality – lack of depth.

5. An inability to love. Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time and time is one thing hurried people don’t have.

6. Sunset fatigue – we come home too tired, too drained and too preoccupied to love the people who are most important to us. We rush constantly and we live with an underlying tension.

Jesus never hurried. If we are to follow Jesus, we must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives – because, we can’t move faster than the one we are following.

We can become unhurried people. Practice ‘slowing’ – drive in the slow lane, put your horn under a vow of silence, eat your food slowly, take the long check out line or don’t wear a watch for a day. Often hurried people are actually less productive.

The theology behind all of this is that God never requires more of us than we can do.

F.W. Boorham, an Australian writer, once said, “One of the supreme aims of a man’s life is to secure a margin. A good life, like a good book, should have a good margin. The most winsome people in the world are people who make you feel that they are never in a hurry.”

When people are with you do they feel like the most important person in the world?

The kingdom of God is not a hurried kingdom. We cannot do anything of quality when we are in a hurried inner state. Also, when we are tired or exhausted we don’t connect well with God or people.

One of the keys to developing a depth of spirituality is eliminating hurry from your life.

After all, God will not compete for your attention.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 8)

SG

A Few Important Qualifications

Here are a few important truths about ‘spiritual disciplines’ (from John Ortberg):

  • “Spiritual disciplines are not the barometer of spirituality”. The true indicator of spiritual well-being is growth in the ability to love God and people (see 2 Thess.1:3). The real issue is what kind of people were becoming NOT the exercises of spiritual disciplines we may be engaging in. We engage in spiritual disciplines not because they prove how spiritual we are but because they can lead us into God’s life.
  • “Spiritual disciplines are not necessarily unpleasant.” Sometimes, we wrongly think that for an activity to count as a spiritual discipline it must be something we would rather not do. However, if we are training for a life characterised by love, peace and joy then we should assume that some of the practices are going to be enjoyable, especially when we understand their purpose and benefit to our lives. Also, all the disciplines are ‘self-validating’, in that we should see the fruit of their exercise in our lives.
  • “Spiritual disciplines are not a way to earn favour with God.” Salvation is not something we have to work for. It is a free gift of God’s grace. Paul says, “Work out your salvation” not work for”. Spiritual disciplines are not about trying to be good enough to earn God’s favour. They have value only as they help us to change and grow. They are a “means of grace”. They are activities that we engage in to open ourselves up to God’s transforming power. Always, the purpose is freedom and life. This is not a competition with others. Disciplines are not ‘righteousness’; they are ‘wisdom’.

Creating a Spiritual Growth Plan

Life should be viewed as a circle with God at the centre and everything else finding its meaning and perspective from that ‘centre’. God wants to be involved in every area of your life – not just your spiritual life. All of life is to be done with God. He is interested in every aspect of our lives (Col.3:17). Paul is saying that our entire lives – from the moment we wake up until the time we lay down to sleep – be lived out ‘in the name of Jesus’. That is what discipleship is all about. How is this going to happen? Well, one thing we know for sure - we are unlikely to do this if we adopt a casual or haphazard approach to our lives. We need vision, intention and means. ‘Means’ include not only a variety of ‘spiritual disciplines’ but also a ‘plan of action’ for their implementation in our life. Certain things are ‘basic’ and should be done by every Christian. Other exercises can be added in with a specific focus and possible for a specific season of time. Use creativity and be willing to experiment. What disciplines you decide to practise regularly will depend on your own sin tendencies that you are seeking to resist as well as the opportunities for loving service to God and others. Create a plan to strengthen and overcome your weaknesses. Some spiritual disciplines can be done simultaneously. Some of these can be done with other Christians, which makes their practice more enjoyable.

The first five disciplines we covered could be referred to as 'disciplines of engagement' as they refer to things we do in an active manner. They are helpful for dealing with sins of omission. The last five disciplines can be referred to as 'disciplines of disengagement' as they involve not doing something. They can be helpful in overcoming sins of commission. We need both types of discipline, kind of like breathing in and breathing out. A good balance is essential.

‘Hurry’ is a great enemy of our spiritual life. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them. Ruthlessly eliminating hurry from our lives does not mean we will never be busy. Jesus often had much to do, but he never did it in a way that severed the life-giving connection between him and his Father. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried. “Busy” is an outward state (many things to do). “Hurry” is an inward state (inaccessible to God, preoccupied, caught up with my own concerns, not fully present). God will not compete for our attention.

Reflection Questions

  1. Reflect on your experience, if any, with each of the spiritual disciplines. Which ones have been most helpful in your own spiritual growth?
  2. What are the dangers of making the practice of spiritual disciplines THE mark of spirituality?
  3. Think about the difference between being ‘busy’ and being in a ‘hurry’. What things can we do to ‘slow’ down our lives so we can experience a greater quality of life?

Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 7)

SG

Today we will look at three final spiritual disciplines or exercises:

8. Fasting. In fasting we choose to intentionally go without something for a period of time (usually something pleasurable but not necessarily sinful). It could be food (in a variety of forms) or some other activity (TV, music, etc). Jesus assumed that his disciples would fast (Mt.6:16-18) as he himself did (Mt.4). Fasting teaches us a lot about ourselves. It quickly reveals how much we are dependent on the pleasure of eating. It also demonstrates how powerful our body is and especially our appetite! Fasting seeks to confirm our dependence on God by finding strength from him alone. After all, it is not food that gives us true life; it is God’s word to us (Mt.4:4). Life is much more than food (Lk.12:33) and our belly is not our god as it is for others (Phil.3:19. Rom.16:18). Fasting is one of the more important ways of practising the self-denial required of everyone who would follow Christ. Fasting teaches self-control and therefore trains us in restraint with regard to all our fundamental drives. We learn the value of ‘contentment’ (1 Tim.6:6). Fasting is not an easy discipline but its practice yields great benefits in our lives, especially when accompanied by time in prayer and other disciplines.

9. Sacrifice. Sacrifice is giving away something we really value (time or resources) or giving until it costs us quite a bit. It helps to remind us that in God we have all we need and to remember to hold on to things lightly so that they don’t have too strong a hold on us. Jesus calls us to invest our time, talents and finances into the expansion of his kingdom on earth (Lk.18:18-23). We live in a culture that is obsessed with ‘greedy getting’ God calls us into a kingdom where his values are ‘generous giving’. God calls us to a life of ‘giving and receiving’ not one of ‘getting and keeping’. Will we pass this resource test? Again, the amount is not as important as the heart attitude and the motivation (Lk.21:2-4). As a response to his sacrificial love (Jn.3:16), God calls us to a life of sacrifice (Rom.12:1-2). Sacrifice moves the heart of God like nothing else! When we sacrifice we move into a different dimension of faith and often we’re surprised at the results.

10. Secrecy. In secrecy we abstain from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known. It involves doing a good deed while intentionally remaining anonymous. This is an important spiritual discipline recommended by Jesus himself (Mt.6:1-6). Jesus’ point is that our very nature is to try to impress others. He is teaching us that true spiritual maturity means that we don’t feel the need to congratulate ourselves because we’ve gotten something right. The discipline of secrecy exists to liberate those who are trapped by the desire to ‘be seen’ or to impress others. Many people live in what we could call ‘approval addiction’ – bondage to what others think about them. Their sense of identity, esteem and value is wrapped up in other people’s appraisal of our worth. Some practical ideas: immerse a person in prayer and don’t tell anyone, make a generous donation to a ministry or send a sacrificial gift to someone in need – and keep it anonymous, commit a random act of kindness or intentionally down-play any position, expertise, accomplishments or knowledge you may have.

Part 8.


OMEGA: How Will It All End?

Endtms

'End Times' Fever

One of the last questions Jesus’ disciples asked him was about the end of the world (see Matthew 24:1-3). After the resurrection and at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, he ascended up to heaven. As he did, two angels appeared and boldly proclaimed, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:10-11).” The last recorded words of the ascended Jesus are in the book of Revelation. They were to the church and he said, “Yes, I am coming soon (Rev.22:7, 12, 20)!” Ever since that time people have looked for and anticipated the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world. This began with the New Testament believers and has continued right through history but has intensified in recent years. End times fever is alive and well! That’s why it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of the end times so that we are not swayed by various trends or world events.

Observations about the Second Coming of Jesus

1. Jesus will come again. The early church held strongly to the belief that Jesus would come again as he said he would. A common phrase among them was “Maranatha”, which means, “Come, O Lord! (1 Cor.16:22)” The second coming of Jesus Christ is mentioned 318 times in the 216 chapters of the NT. That’s 1 in every 25 verses. Some entire chapters are given to this subject (Mt.24. Mk.13. Lk.21. 1 Cor.15) and three New Testament writers wrote entire books about it (1 and 2 Thessalonians. Jude. Revelation). Jesus said he would come again. Peter, Paul, John, James and Jude all speak of his coming. Not one New Testament writer fails to mention it. There are more references to this subject that any other New Testament teaching. Every time we take communion or the “Lord’s supper” we proclaim the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Cor.11:26). Jesus will return to the earth literally, visibly (“every eye will see him”), physically and personally just like he came. It will be the “same Jesus”, not another. He will come personally to receive us to himself (Jn.14:3). Unlike his first coming, which was in great humility and lowliness, his second coming will be in great glory with his angelic hosts accompanying him (Mt.16:27; 19:28; 25:31).

2. No one knows exactly when. Jesus will return in the Father’s appointed time. No one knows the exact day or hour (Mt.24:36. Mk.13:32. Acts 1:7. 1 Thess.5:2. 2 Pet.3:10. Acts 3:19-21). People who try to set dates or times bring discredit to the Christian faith and cause people to mock (2 Pet.3:4). We can, however, know the “times and seasons”. If we study God’s Word and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we can be aware and ready for his coming. We don’t have to be caught “off guard” like the religious leaders were at Christ’s first coming. Dogmatism and intolerance on exact details is not wise. The Scribes and Pharisees missed the first coming of Christ because it did not happen just the way they thought it would. For those who are unprepared, his coming will be like a “thief in the night” – suddenly (Mk.13:36) and unexpectedly (Mt.24:36-51; 25:1-3. Mk.13:32-37. Rev.3:3; 16:15. 2 Pet.3:10. 1 Thess.5:1-11). Therefore, we need to be spiritual awake, watching and ready.

3. The second coming completes what Jesus began at his first coming. At the cross Jesus conquered Satan, sin, sickness and death. He said, “It is finished”! However, we live in the time of the end, which involves a tension between the “now and the not yet”.

  • “Already” Satan is conquered (a defeated foe), but “not yet” has his final judgement taken place. In between, he continues to try to deceive the nations and must be resisted.
  • “Already” sin has been atoned for and forgiveness is freely available, but “not yet” do we see sin totally eradicated.
  • “Already” sickness has been defeated but “not yet” do we see sickness and disease totally removed from the earth.
  • “Already” death is defeated but “not yet” do we see death destroyed. Our bodies are all ageing and unless Jesus returns beforehand, we will all die.

The contract has been signed and paid in full but we are living in this “in between time” before what has been legally accomplished becomes a complete reality.

  • There is coming a day when Satan and his demonic forces will be judged and cast into a lake of fire for eternity.
  • There is coming a day when sin will be cleansed from the earth and from our lives.
  • There is coming a day where sickness and pain will be no more, where suffering ceases.
  • There is coming a day when death, our last enemy, will finally be destroyed.

That “day” is the second coming of Jesus Christ. So the kingdom is both present (“already”) and future (“not yet”). Until then, we stand firm and continue to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” This prayer is a request for God to reign and to manifest his love, justice and mercy in the earth. Our hope is rooted in Christ’s work of redemption that began on the cross and will be completed at his second coming.

The Bible and the End Times

There are a number of books and passages in the Bible that deal specifically with the ‘time of the end’ and the second coming of Jesus. Obviously, the book of Revelation would be the primary source of information concerning the end times. It is a fascinating apocalyptic book with much prophetic symbolism in it that makes it somewhat difficult to interpret. Over the years there have been a variety of approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation (as well as the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24). There are three broad categories of how people have interpreted this book through the centuries:

1. The Preterist (‘past’) View – this view understands the events of Revelation as having been fulfilled in large parts in the first centuries of the Christian era. In effect the book was written to comfort Christians, who suffered persecution from Rome and also from Judaism. Revelation’s fulfilment is all in the past. We don’t need to be looking for anything happening today that corresponds to its prophecies.

This view has a lot of merit. The book of Revelation was written to real people and real churches in the first century and it had specific relevance to what they were going through. It meant something to them and they would have been able to gain understanding about the times they were living in and to draw comfort and hope from it. In fact, the arguments for a direct correlation between some of the prophetic pictures in revelation and to events in the first century are quite convincing. However, in addition to this, like all biblical books, I believe that Revelation also speaks to believers in all generations and times of history. We must not limit its meaning and application to the first century. In fact, like all prophecy, there are often layers of application to people in different times and circumstances without taking away the direct significance to the first hearers. 

2. The Historicist View (‘literal’) – this view sees the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history. Another variation of this view it what is referred to as a ‘Futurist View’, which argues that the events spoken about in Revelation (particularly chapters 4-22) await the end times for their historical fulfilment.

This view has some good things going for it. The first coming of Jesus historically fulfilled a whole variety of prophecies from generations earlier, and with amazing accuracy. It seems sensible to acknowledge that the same thing will happen with his second coming too. Unfortunately, the task of trying to identify contemporary events with prophecies from Revelation is fraught with danger and must be done very carefully. Otherwise, believers can be caught up in a ‘conspiracy theory’ obsession that only leads to fear and speculation and doesn’t really help anyone.

3. The Idealist View (‘figurative’ or ‘spiritual’) – this view is reluctant to pinpoint the symbolism of revelation historically with any specific social or political events. Rather it sees Revelation as setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil that continues throughout the church age. The challenge is to be faithful to Christ and expectant of a victorious future not to seek any literal or chronological interpretation.

This view also has some real merit. There is a lot of prophetic symbolism in Revelation that paints pictures of spiritual activity in the heavens that can’t be fully understand in human or historical terms. However, to limit the entire book to only spiritual matters without any direct correspondence to events on earth would seem an inadequate approach.

As you can see, each one of these views has strengths and weaknesses. I believe that proper interpretation includes the best aspects of all three views.

An Order of End Time Events

We will now look at a possible order of end time events. It is important to mention that dogmatism and intolerance on exact ‘end time’ details are not wise. The Scribes and Pharisees missed the first coming of Christ because it did not happen just the way they thought it would. Every one of us is in danger of doing the same with the second coming. Here at CityLife, we have no official ‘party line’ when it comes to end time teaching. We allow for diversity on the details of these types of matters After all, we’ll probably all be a little right and a little wrong about how it’s all going to happen. I’m sure there will be a few surprises for everyone!

Let’s look at what will likely happen before, at and after the second coming of Jesus. Of course, I encourage you can do your own reading, study and research on this important topic.

Things to occur before the second coming of Jesus Christ 

Negative things to occur:

1. Increasing spiritual darkness (Is.60:1-3). Jesus told us that the last days just prior to his coming will be similar to the days of Noah and the days of Lot (Lk.17:20-37). He said that there would be great deception (Mt.24. 1 Tim.4:1) with many false prophets and false “Christ’s” appearing (Mt.24:5, 11, 23-26. 2 Thess.2:1-12. Rev.13). We are told of a great “apostasy” or “falling away” of many who are struggling to hold on to their faith in Jesus Christ (2 Thess.2:1-3. Mt.24:12. Heb.6:3-8).

2. Great Tribulation (times of ‘pressure’). There will be a time of great tribulation (Mt.24) and “terrible times” (2 Tim.3:1-7). Wars, diseases and earthquakes will increase (Mt.24:6-7. Rev.6:1-17). There will be times of intense persecution of believers for their faith (Mt.24:9-10, 21).

3. The revelation of the Antichrist. The title ‘antichrist’ refers to someone who is ‘against Christ’ or who sets themselves up ‘instead of’ or in competition with Christ. Jesus himself predicted the appearance of “false Christ’s” (Mt.24:5). There is a ‘spirit of antichrist’ at work in the world (1 Jn.4:3). The apostle John tells that there will be ‘many antichrists’ in the last day (1 Jn.2:18). There also seems to be an indication that there will be one very strong individual Antichrist (‘the’ Antichrist) who will be revealed in the last days before Jesus returns (see 2 Thess.2:1-12). The Antichrist will be revealed and will set up his kingdom for a time (Dan.2, 7, 11. Rev.13; 19:11-21). Satan knows that his time is short and in the last days he will throw everything he can against God and his work on earth.

4. God’s judgements will be revealed (Rev.14:7; 16:7). These judgements are outlined under the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls of anger to be poured out on the earth (Rev.6-16), as people reap the consequences of their decisions and actions.

Positive things to occur:

1. A worldwide outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all people (Joel 2:28-32. Acts 2:17-21. James 5:7-8). This began on the day of Pentecost and will be completed in the “last days”.

2. A great spiritual harvest. Many people will become followers of Jesus and there will be a great harvest of people brought into the kingdom of God. The gospel will be preached to every nation and people saved out of every nation or “people group”, before the end comes (Mt.24:14). Revelation tells us about a multitude of people worship around the throne from ‘every tribe, language, people and nation’ (Rev.5:9). We still have more work to do here.

3. A glorious church. The church of Jesus Christ will be united (Jn.17), glorious (Eph.5:25-27) and victorious (Mt.16). The “last day” church will be greater than the first church (Acts 3:19-21). We are not there yet.

4. The fulfilment of all true prophetic words. All words spoken by the prophets will be fulfilled (Acts 3:19-21). Not one word spoken by God through his prophets will be left undone. Everything will come to pass. In fact, one reason I don’t believe Jesus will come back tonight, is because there are a number of things yet to be accomplished before he returns.

Darkness and light (Prov.4:18-19. Is.60:1-3), the mystery of lawlessness and the mystery of godliness, the weeds (tares) and the wheat are growing together as the coming of Christ draws near. The evidence of many of these “signs” is all around us today and they will increase in intensity as the return of the Lord comes closer. We live in exciting yet challenging times.

Things to occur at the second coming

1. The appearance of Jesus in glory. Jesus’ return will be with “a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thess.4:13-18). He will return in great glory, the glory of his Father (Mt.16:27; 19:28; 25:31). The angelic hosts will accompany him. Every eye will see him (Rev.1:7). John gives us a vivid picture of Jesus riding on a white horse – eyes blazing with fire, a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, his robe dipped in blood and the armies of heaven riding with him (Rev.19:11-16).

2. The resurrection of the righteous. All believers who have died “in faith” will have their bodies resurrected and will live forever with a glorified body (1 Thess.4:13-18. 1 Cor.15:51-57. Heb.9:28. Phil.3:20-21). In that sense Jesus is coming ‘with’ his saints. This refers to all of the righteous believers who have died in faith since time began – their spirits are in heaven right now but they are waiting in expectation for the resurrection and glorification of their bodies.

3. The ‘rapture’ of remaining believers. Although the word ‘rapture’ in not mentioned in the Bible, the concept is. Jesus will return for (those who are “alive and remain” and escape death) and with his saints (those who “died in faith”). In this sense, Jesus is coming ‘for’ his saints – those who are alive and remain on the earth when he returns (1 Thess.4:16-17). There is a generation that will never die. Jesus will come in their generation while they are still alive and they will be "caught up" to meet him int he air. Many have hoped to be a part of that company and we do too.

What a day that will be! It will be more dramatic, more explosive and more exciting than any movie you have ever seen. The second coming is a great source of comfort and of hope for us as believers. There is coming a time when pain, crying and suffering will be gone. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died and gone to heaven.

Things to Occur After the Second Coming

1. Judgement and reward for believers. Believers will appear before the judgement seat of Christ, which is not about salvation but about reward for the good works we have done (2 Cor.5:10).

2. Judgement of the devil. The devil will be judged and cast into a lake of fire for eternity (Rev.20:10). This judgment has been a long time coming being prophesied about in Genesis 3:15 and initially enacted by the work of Jesus on the cross and his subsequent resurrection.

3. Eternity in either heaven or hell (based on our choices in life). There will be a judgment for unbelievers, the great white throne judgement where the book of life will be opened. Those who names are not in the book of life will be cast into a lake of fire (Rev.20:11-15) where the devil and his angels are.

The godly, those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, will live forever in heaven with the Lord (Rev.21:27). Heaven will be a place like nothing we have ever experienced – more wonderful than we could ever think or imagine. God’s heart is that no one perish but that all have an opportunity to receive forgiveness and eternal life (2 Pet.3:9). Hell was made for the devil not for people. God does not wish anyone to end up in hell, that’s why he sent his Son.

Another area of debate amongst end time theologians is when the ‘millennium’ spoken about in Rev.20:1-6 will be. The ‘millennium’ is a 1000-year period where believers will rule and reign with Christ on the earth as a reward for their faithfulness. Some people believe we are in the millennium now and therefore that the second coming occurs after it (post-millennialists). Some people believe that it does not refer to a literal period of time but rather is symbolic of the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ (a-millennialists). Still others believe the second coming will occur before it (pre-millennialists). The challenge for all interpreters is that Revelation 20 is the only explicit reference of the millennium in the Bible and there is no mention of the relation of the second coming to the millennium in the actual text (whether it is before or after). Personally, I don’t think we’re in it now (you call this rest?). I tend to think it will be after the second coming but even that view has some challenges. We should not be dogmatic because there are too many unknowns.

4. The creation of a new heavens and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3:1-13. Rev.21). The end of the biblical story (Revelation 21-22) return us to a new world without sin, suffering or death, just like God originally intended (Genesis 1-2).

How should we then live?

We should live ready for Christ to come at any moment (Lk.21:34-36) but working diligently as if he may not come back in our lifetime. We should avoid extremes (over-preoccupation with a sneaky rapture vs. trying to create heaven here on earth). As Tony Campolo once said, “Any theology that does not live with a sense of the immediate return of Christ is a theology that takes the edge off the urgency of faith. But any theology that does not cause us to live as though the world will be here for thousands of years is a theology that leads us into social irresponsibility.”

1. Live with full devotion to the Lord. Be prayerful and watchful. Love him with all your heart and develop a close relationship with him. Many nominal believers will be shocked on that day (Mt.7:21-23). Don’t be caught without “oil” (Mt.25:1-13). Be spiritually awake, refusing to allow lethargy or apathy into your heart (Mk.13:32-37. Rom.13:11-12. 1 Thess.5:1-10).

2. Live your life in light of eternity. What we do in time echoes through eternity. We have only one life to life. This is not a dress rehearsal or a practice run. This is the real thing so give it all you’ve got. Use your gifts, talents and abilities for the benefit of others (Mt.25:14-30. 2 Cor.5:10-11. 1 Cor.3:1-15). We will be rewarded for faithfulness with what we have been given, not because of the gifts we received or the positions we held.

3. Live with an evangelistic edge. Make heaven’s priority yours. Be stirred to a spirit of evangelism. Build relationships, take risks, look for opportunities, share your faith and invite people to church and to Christ. Join God in his mission in the world.

Life is short, live wisely! Know God’s will, seize every opportunity and invest your time in things that count for eternity (Eph.5:15-17).

Extra Reading

There are a variety of views within the Christian church about all of these ‘end times’ matters. With so many unknowns, it is wise to hold our own views about the future cautiously and with an open mind. Here is some recommended reading for those who’d like to dig a little deeper.

  • Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by C. Marvin Pate (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998).
  • Three Views on the Rapture: Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Wrath, or Post-Tribulation, edited by Craig A. Blaising (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2010).
  • Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, edited by Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999).
  • Four Views on Hell (Second Edition), edited by Preston Sprinkle (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2016).
  • Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, edited by Clark H. Pinnock (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996).
  • Four Views on Eternal Security, edited by J. Matthew Pinson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002).
  • Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, edited by Robert N. Wilkin (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2013).

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. What evidences do you see of ‘end times fever’ today?
  2. Have your ever read the book of Revelation? How did you find it? Did you understand it? Discuss the various ways people interpret this book. What do you think about them?
  3. When do you think that Jesus will return? Soon? In our life time? In another generation?
  4. What are some things happening today that may indicate that Jesus is coming soon?
  5. Do you ever think about the second coming of Jesus? What do you think that day will be like?
  6. Do you think the church, in general, focuses too much on ‘end times’ or not enough?
  7. Consider the things to occur before the second coming. Do you believe Jesus may come back tonight? If so, why? If not, why?
  8. Reflect on eternity – heaven and hell. What do you think they will be like?
  9. How does your belief in the second coming affect your daily life?

End Times Fever

End

The topic of the ‘end of the world’ has been one of interest to humans since time began but it has intensified in recent years.

Church History

Here is a quick overview of what has taken place from the end of New Testament times up until today:

1. Many people have speculated about the time of the second coming and the end of the world as we know it.

  • Even in 100 AD there were believers who thought it was immanent.
  • In the early 200s, Hippolytus of Rome predicted that Christ would come in 496 AD, working out this date from studying the book of Daniel.
  • Another Syrian church leader led his people out into the desert to await the second coming – only to be disappointed when it didn’t happen.
  • Another leader from northern Asian Minor predicted that Christ would come in a year’s time. His people trusted him and when the year went by they were devastated.

2. Many people speculated about the great tribulation.

  • In 303 AD great persecution broke out against the church and there was speculation that the dreaded tribulation may have arrived, with the Roman Emperor Diocletian as the first beast in Revelation 13 and his Caesar Galerius as the second beast.
  • When persecution ceased under Emperor Constantine in 312 AD and the church entered into a period of favourable treatment, many thought that the Millennium (1,000 years reign with Christ spoken about in Revelation 20:1-6) had arrived and that Christ’s coming was near.

3. Then just before the year 1000 AD there is evidence of more millennium and end of the world fever.

4. When the bubonic plague swept across Europe in the 1300s killing 40% of the population many people thought the end of the world was near.

5. There were many radically apocalyptic movements in the Middle Ages.

6. Many people have speculated about the Antichrist.

  • Frederick the Roman Emperor who died in 1250 AD.
  • Luther believed that the Catholic Pope at that time was the Antichrist. Of course the Pope at that time, Hadrian VI, thought that Luther was the Antichrist because of his attacks on the Catholic Church at that time.
  • Many other individuals in history have been given this label too – from Nero to Napoleon to Hitler, from Ronald Wilson Reagan to Henry Kissinger.

7. In the 1800s …

  • Many American Protestants believed that they were living in special times and that current events were hastening the coming of God’s kingdom to earth. Through people such as Jonathan Edwards and a number of great religious awakenings there was a belief that the church would rule supreme throughout the world and all evil would be suppressed ... then Jesus would come.
  • Great evangelistic preacher Charles Finney said that “if the church will do her duty, the Millennium may come in this country in three years.”
  • The American Civil War was the first event to burst this balloon of optimism. Factors such as immigration, urbanisation and industrialisation created numerous problems for the nation and people began to realise that the world was simply not getting better.
  • A church going farmer named William Miller was convinced upon studying the Scriptures (particularly the prophecies of Daniel) that that the world would end in 1844 (25 years from when he made this prediction). Optimism filled the air as did millennial dreams. Miller and his associates began travelling everywhere preaching at camp meetings and distributing all kinds of literature. Crowds of people gather in city after city to hear sermons such as, “Are you ready to meet the Saviour?” It is estimated that more than 50,000 people believed Miller with as many as a million others who were curious and expectant. When March 21, 1994 passed and nothing happened, Miller had to confess his error and acknowledge his disappointment. But one of his followers found a verse in the OT about a tarrying time of 7 months and 10 days (Hab.2:3. Lev.25:9) so a new date was set – Oct.22, 1844. When the second date came and went, just as the first one, most of Miller’s followers were completely disillusioned, Many became bitter and Miller died in 1849 a discredited and forgotten man.
  • By the end of the 1800s, events such as political corruption, international conflicts such as World War I, earthquakes, changing weather patterns, polio and flu epidemics, the rise of cults, and the sinking of the Titanic signalled worse times – not better. These events seemed to be proof to many that the end of the age was rapidly approaching.

8. After World War II (the 1900s), there was further eschatological frenzy. The world definitely wasn’t becoming a better place – two world wars, a depression, Hitler, Mussolini, holocausts and environmental crises proved that. Atomic weapons with incredible destructive power now left no safe place on earth. The USA and the Soviet Union entered the Cold War. A host of prophetic and apocalyptic literature rolled off the evangelical presses in the 1960s through to the 1980s.

  • One example is Hal Lindsay whose book, The Late Great Planet Earth, became one of the best selling non-fiction books of the 1970s, selling more than 35 million copies and was translated into 50 languages. The book focused on outlining all of the signs of the times – everything from the Antichrist to the battle of Armageddon. He predicted the return of Christ in 1988 and the rapture of the church 7 years earlier. Obviously, as that date came and went, Lindsay made some changes to his predictions.
  • Christian rock singer, Larry Norman, wrote a song entitled, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. This song is played several times in the movie The Thief in the Night (1972), the first in a four-part film series. It focused on all the sings of the end – a one world government, a bar code ‘mark of the beast’ and an appeal to become a Christian now.
  • In America, one minister released a book in the early 1980s entitled, “88 reasons why Jesus will come back in 1988”, selling many 1000s of copies to gullible Christians. Interestingly enough, he issued a sequel the following year, “89 reasons why Jesus will come back in 1989.” I assume the extra reason was because he didn’t come back in 1988! Anyway, we haven’t heard much from him since.
  • Other people have predicted dates such as 1994 and 2000 as the end of the world. Anyone remember Y2K? Well, as you can see, we’re still here!

Contemporary Culture …

Many movies made in the last few decades today make us aware of an end times –movies such as Mad Max, The Terminator, Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Matrix and The Day After Tomorrow all have some sort of apocalyptic or ‘end of the world’ theme.

One of most popular set of Christian novels is the Left Behind series created by Tim LaHaye. TIME magazine named this as one of the best selling fiction books of our times (over 65 million copies have been sold) and acknowledged its contribution to the frequent conversations emerging about the end of the world. The twelfth book in the series, The Glorious Appearing, focuses on what happens with those who are left behind after the Rapture. Tim LaHaye passed away in July of the year and the area of 90 ... leaving us all behind.

Just this week, there was an news article saying that Nostradamus (the French seer from the 1500s who wrote down many prophetic sayings) predicted that Donald Trump would win the American Presidency and the end would come soon after. Others are saying that the occurrence of three super moons this year is a sign of the end. 

Yes, end time fever is alive and well!

Well, how will it all end?

See my next BLOG post "Omega: How Will It All End?"

[Much of this information has been gleaned from the Christian History magazine (Issue 61), The End – A History of the Second Coming]


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 6)

SG

Here are some more spiritual disciplines ...

6. Solitude. Solitude is intentionally spending time alone with God away from people and from busyness or distractions. We choose to be alone. It is one of the most important and fundamental of the spiritual disciplines, especially if we are to do some of the other disciplines well. Jesus spent a lot of time in solitude throughout his life (Mt.4:1-2; 14:23. Lk.4:42; 5:15-16; 6:12). Jesus taught his followers to do the same (Mk.6:30-32). Take some regular time for solitude, preferably each day. Begin the day with some time alone with God. Take breaks during the day and end the day reviewing the day with God. It is also good to have occasional extended periods of solitude (half a day, a day or a few days throughout the year). Solitude is about withdrawing from conversation, from the presence of others, from noise and from the constant barrage of stimulation (phones, TV, friends, music, books, newspapers, etc). If we never pull aside into solitude we can tend to hide beneath the busyness of our life and never really find ourselves or God. As a result, our spiritual growth and development can be stunted. In contrast, when we choose to make time to be alone, solitude provides an environment for us to find ourselves and to find God in the deep places of our heart. We also gain clarity and perspective on our lives, our ability to plan is enhanced. Much growth and change can emerge from these times.

7. Silence. In silence, we close off ourselves from ‘sounds’, whether those sounds be noise, music or words. Silence can be frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It leaves us with just ourselves … and God (Is.30:15. Ecc.3:7. Ex.14:14. Ps.4:4; 37:7; 46:10. Hab.2:20). Silence creates a break from the world that is bombarding us. Silence positions us to listen to God. There is also the silence of ‘not speaking’. Talking often gets us into trouble. In the practice of silence we learn the value of words. James says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (Jas.1:19).” Practice in ‘not speaking’ can help us gain better control of our tongues so that they don’t go off ‘automatically’ as much. It helps to create a ‘gap’ where we have more time to consider more fully what we’re about to say and the impact of those words (see Mk.14:61). It also allows us to stop managing the world and especially our appearance in the world. We stop trying to impress people with what we know and what we can say. Become conscious of conveying grace from your speaking. This comes from an inward quietness where you take time to receive from God things that will benefit those who are listening to you (Eph.4:29).

Part 7.


Update on Mark and Nicole Conner

Change
 
At a Special General Meeting on 6th October, the CityLife members confirmed by an overwhelming majority the unanimous nomination by the Board of Elders of Andrew Hill as the next Senior Minister of CityLife Church (read the full announcement from Peter Sheahan, Chair of the CityLife Board of Elders, as well as my initial announcement about leadership transition back in February 2016, in case you missed that).
 
I congratulate Andrew on this appointment and look forward to working with him over the next few months to ensure a smooth transition for him and the church. Good days are ahead. 

February 2017 will be a big month for our church as we celebrate our 50th anniversary (11-12th Feb), have my farewell (18-19th Feb), and have Andrew's official induction as the new Senior Minister (25-26th Feb).

What's next for me? Once I finish in my current role at the end of February 2017, I will take 6 months off then most likely move into a montage of contributions, including some more writing, mentoring/coaching of leaders, and speaking/travel. Of course, Nicole and I are open to anything God may bring our way in terms of a new assignment. We have decided to relocate to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland as our base for this next season of life and ministry.

Thanks so much for your prayers and support during this significant period of change for us and CityLife Church.
 

Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 5)

SG

Another spiritual discipline ...

5. Serving. A very important discipline is the discipline of ‘serving’. It helps us to work hard against our ingrained bent towards self-centredness. Naturally, we’d all prefer to ‘be served’ than to ‘serve’. However, in the kingdom of God, God calls us all to be servants – to take on the nature of Christ and to choose to serve others, willingly and joyfully (Mt.20:25-28. 1 Cor.12:7. 1 Pet.4:10). We are called to serve - at home, at work or school, in our neighbourhood and in our church family.

When we don’t adopt the posture of a servant we continue to live life centred on ourselves and as a result we can tend to become self-absorbed, proud and unattractive people. When we choose to serve, we please God by imitating him, we make a difference in the lives of others and we position ourselves for growth in humility, character and genuine love.

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the difference between the concepts of ‘trying’ and ‘training’.
  2. What do you think of when you hear the term ‘spiritual disciplines’?
  3. Jesus intended for his disciples to know the fullness of his joy. Is being a Christian seen as a joyful experience by the world today? If not, why not and what can be done about it?
  4. Think about the most impacting prayer time you’ve ever had. What happened?
  5. How does fellowship and relationship with other people help us grow spiritually?
  6. What are the spiritual growth benefits of serving?
  7. Out of the five disciplines discussed so far, which one spoke the most to you? What could make the biggest different in your spiritual growth? Is it … celebration, prayer, the Bible, fellowship or serving?

So far we have looked at five common spiritual disciplines that can help us grow spiritually - celebration, prayer, the Bible, fellowship and serving. These are all disciplines of ‘engagement’ - things we ‘do’ to help us grow spiritually. They are all ‘action orientated’. Next, we will look at another five spiritual disciplines that will also be a help to us.

Part 6.


Remembrance Day 2016

RD

Today is Remembrance Day here in Australia. 

Every year, on 11 November at 11 am – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – Australia pauses to remember those men and women who have died or suffered in all wars, conflicts and peace operations since the beginning of the 20th century.

All Australians are encouraged to pause all activities and meetings this morning at 11 am for a minute of silence in respect of those who have given their lives for our nation and our freedoms.

For more details, visit the Australian War Memorial web site or The Department of Veteran Affairs.

Here is a brief history from the Australian Government website:

History of Remembrance Day

At 5am on 11 November 1918, three German government representatives accepted the Armistice terms presented to them by an allied commander, General Foch of the French Army. The demands of the Armistice included the withdrawal of German forces to the east bank of the Rhine within 30 days; immediate cessation of warfare; and surrender of the German fleet and all heavy guns with no further negotiations until the signing of the peace treaty.

The armistice became effective at 11am the same day, and as the guns fell silent on the Western Front in France and Belgium, four years of hostilities ended.

The cease-fire was made permanent the following year when members of the Commonwealth and the League of Nations signed the Treaty of Versailles. People across the world celebrated the war's end - celebrations tempered by thoughts of the enormous suffering and loss of life resulting from the War.

World War I began in 1914 and lasted for four years. More than 416 000 Australians volunteered for service in World War I. Of these, 324 000 served overseas. More than 60 000 Australians were killed, including 45 000 who died on the Western Front in France and Belgium and more than 8 000 who died on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. As well as Australian soldiers, many nurses in the Australian Army Nursing Service served on the Western Front. These nurses worked in overcrowded hospitals for up to 16 hours a day, looking after soldiers with shocking injuries and burns. Those who worked in hospitals close to the fighting were also in danger of being shelled by the enemy.

In Australia and other allied countries, including New Zealand, Canada and the United States, 11 November became known as Armistice Day - a day to remember those who died in World War I. The day continues to be commemorated in Allied countries.

After World War II the Australian Government agreed to the United Kingdom's proposal that Armistice Day be renamed Remembrance Day to commemorate those who were killed in both World Wars. Today the loss of Australian lives from all wars and conflicts is commemorated on Remembrance Day.

In October 1997 the then Governor-General issued a Proclamation declaring 11 November as Remembrance Day - a day to remember the sacrifice of those who have died for Australia in wars and conflicts.

The Proclamation reinforced the importance of Remembrance Day and encouraged all Australians to renew their observance of the event.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 4)

SG

Some more spiritual disciplines ...

3. The Bible. The Bible is the Word of God. It contains his thoughts about life. It is our guidebook for life – how we are meant to live in the kingdom of God here and now (2 Tim.3:16-17). God’s Word is given to us not just to give us ‘information’ but to help bring about a ‘transformation’ in our life. Paul speaks about us being cleansed by ‘the washing of water by the word” (Eph.5:26).

Read, study, memorise and meditate on the Word of God (Ps.1:1-3). Get his thoughts into your heart and mind. Ask God to speak to you as you read. Your goal is to encounter God through his Word. Have an open heart. Desire change and transformation. Determine to be responsive and obedient. Remember it’s not always ‘how much’ you read but ‘how’ you read that makes the biggest difference.

God’s Word is powerful! It can literally change your life! When I choose to ignore God’s Word I remain stuck in my natural habit patterns, deceived by the subtle lies of the enemy and I never enter the fullness of the life God has for me. When I choose to saturate my heart and mind with the Word of God, I am filling my inner world with God’s heart and God’s wisdom for life. As I embrace and then apply God’s Word, it can literally transform me from the inside out.

4. Fellowship. Spend time with other believers. Christianity is not a ‘solo sport’ or ‘do it yourself religion’. It is a community or family of believers following Jesus together. Sometimes it can be easier to be alone but God wants us to enter into the discipline of fellowship. It’s in interacting and relating with other people that we have the potential to grow and change. We can learn a lot just through being with other people – observing and listening to what God is doing in their life (Acts 2:42-47).

We must focus on doing things that build loving and healthy relationships. We must also avoid things that destroy relationships. Jesus’ number one command or instruction to his disciples was that they love each other as he had loved them (Jn.13:34-35). THE measure of our spiritual growth is the indication that we are becoming a more loving person which shows itself in our increasing ability to get along well with other people – even difficult people (1 Cor.13). Our ability to get along with a wide variety of people is not only God’s will for our lives but it is essential for success in life.

Part 5.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 3)

SG

Spiritual Disciplines

Spiritual disciplines are like ‘habits of effectiveness’ for the spiritual life, much like exercises, are used to develop habits of effectiveness for other areas of life (sport, music or language). Richard Foster says, “The disciplines place us before God so that God can transform us.” They get us in God’s presence so he can grow us. A ‘discipline’ is an activity within our power that enables us to accomplish what we cannot do by direct effort. The effect of the discipline is to enable us to do what needs to be done when and as it needs to be done (see Mt.26:41. Josh.1:8. Ps. 119:9, 11). Today we want to talk about a number of spiritual ‘disciplines’ or ‘exercises’ that can help us change and grow.

1. Celebration. Choose to celebrate. Choose to enjoy God and the life he has given you. Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for human beings because joy is at the heart of God himself. The trouble is that most of us seriously under-estimate God’s capacity for joy. The truth is God is the happiest being in the universe. Yes, he also knows sorrow, but like his anger that is only a temporary response to a fallen world. Joy is God’s basic character and as people created in his image, he wants us to know joy in life (Ex.23:14. Dt.26:11; 28:47-48. Ps.16:11. Jn.15:11-12). Jesus lived a life of joy and celebration – despite the fact that he was acquainted with grief and sorrow. He calls us to do the same.

We can make a choice to rejoice – to embrace an attitude of gratitude that focuses on the good things in life rather than the bad (Phil.4:4. 1 Thess.5:16. Ps.9:2). You can be a joyful person. The biblical writers would not command it if it were not possible. But joyfulness is a learned discipline. We have to take responsibility for our joyfulness and for some of us this may not come easily. Too many Christians never engage in the discipline of celebration. They’re grumpy, sombre and negative. They don’t laugh enough. Let’s face it, most of us worry too much, complain too much and get angry too often. We lose our joy over the silliest things!

The psalmist says, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” He doesn’t say, “Yesterday was God’s day – how happy was I then.” Nor does he say, “Tomorrow will be the great day – I’ll just endure things until then.” He says, “This is the great day to rejoice!”  True joy, it turns out, is often ‘in spite of’ something. If we don’t rejoice today, we may not rejoice at all. If we wait until conditions are perfect, we will still be waiting when we die. If we are going to rejoice, it must be in this day.

Celebration can literally change the climate of your inner and outer world! Things such as praise, worship and thanksgiving are all ways we can celebrate God. When we don’t celebrate, we get caught up in the negativity and temptations of this world and we greatly hinder our own personal growth. We become ‘victims’ to our circumstances. When we choose to celebrate, we embrace the very heart of God and his joy can transform our inner world. We become ‘victors’ over our circumstances.

2. Prayer. Talk to God. Obviously, prayer is an important part of developing our relationship with God but it is also a spiritual discipline to help us grow and change. Talk to God – praise and thank him, tell him how you feel, ask for his help, talk to him about others and pray for them (intercession), use your spiritual language and listen for his voice (listening prayer). Some people find the use of a journal or diary helpful so they can write out their prayers (Ps.82:8).

Jesus was a man of prayer and he calls us to be people of prayer (Mt.14:22-23. Lk.6:12). God responds to heartfelt honest prayer. He is not looking for empty tradition or religiosity. Just consider Jesus’ many teachings on prayer (Mt.6:5-15. Lk.18:9-14). Other people can pray for you but no one can do your praying for you! There’s no single ‘right way’ to pray - just do it! Find a quiet place OR talk to him in your car on the way to work or pray silently in the midst of a crowd. Learn to ‘practise the presence of God’ (Brother Lawrence) by being aware of him all throughout the day. This is a discipline that you can learn.

When we don’t pray, we’re basically saying, “God I don’t need you right now, I’m coping quite fine by myself.” When we choose to pray, we’re saying, “God, I love you and I need you in my life.” The difference between those two approaches makes all the difference in the world when it comes to who you are becoming and the amount of change taking place in your heart and life.

Part 4.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 2)

SG

Spiritual Growth is a Process

When we commit our lives to Christ, a new life begins (2 Cor.5:17). We are “born again” or have a chance to start over. It’s not just turning over a new leaf. It’s getting a new life and a fresh start. We now have a new nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit. God then begins a process of change in our lives (Gal.4:19). This reality shouldn’t make us slack but it should make us both patient and persistent in our spiritual journey.

Spiritual Growth is a Partnership

Spiritual maturity occurs through a team effort between God and you. Believers are to ‘work out’ their salvation while God is at work within them, enabling each one to will and to act for his good purpose (see Phil.2:12-13). It is a partnership between God and us. We have to assume our share of responsibility while we also require God to infuse our choices with his power in order to counteract the effects of sin.

God “works in” us by His mighty power. God is involved in the process of spiritual maturity (1 Thess.5:23-24). He gives us his Word, which contains his instructions for life (2 Tim.3:16-17) He gives His Spirit by whom all true change occurs and He works through the circumstances of our life, whether good or bad, to develop his character in us (Rom.8:28-29).

We are to “work out” our salvation. God will do His part as we do ours. Sanctification also requires our cooperation. We must renew our thinking (Rom.12:1-2), daily depend on the Holy Spirit, make choices in alignment with his will and seek to respond correctly to the circumstances of our life. Spiritual maturity doesn’t just ‘happen’. It requires our deliberate and intentional focus and effort (2 Pet.1:3-9).

Note that Paul does not say “work for” your salvation. To work for something means to try to earn it or deserve it. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is not something we have to work for. It is God’s free gift of grace. Paul says, “Work out your salvation.” He is talking about a “spiritual workout”. In a physical workout, you develop or tone your muscles. In the same way, each believer needs to do some spiritual exercises, which are far more profitable than physical exercises (1 Tim.4:7-8. 1 Cor.9:24-27). We often think that being a Christian is about trying hard to be like Jesus. Spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely.

Summary

Sanctification is a process that begins at new birth and goes on for a lifetime. The process will be finally complete when Jesus Christ returns and “we shall be changed” (1 Cor.15:52-53). Then “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 Jn.3:2-3). Should this truth make us slack? Definitely not! John goes on to say, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure (1 Jn.3:2-3).”

God is at work in your life right now – through His Word, His Spirit and the circumstances of your life. Are you responding and partnering with him? Are you renewing your thinking patterns, depending on the Spirit and responding properly to the circumstances you are in right now? As we do our part, God will do his and we will experience spiritual growth.

Reflection Questions

  1. How is it possible for someone to be a Christian for many years yet not really change?
  2. Discuss Rick Warren’s five myths of spiritual maturity and where you think they come from.
  3. ‘Holiness’ (or sanctification) was once a very strong emphasis in the church world. Today it is not talked about that much. Why do you think this is so and what are the results of it?
  4. What do you think of when you hear the word ‘legalism’? Why do you think legalism (an overly strong focus on externals) often becomes a substitute for authentic transformation?
  5. Discuss John Maxwell’s statement, “Most Christians are educated beyond the level of their obedience.” Is this true? Why do you think so? What can we do about it?
  6. Share about an area where you’ve really been able to change or grow in. How did this change occur?

Part 3.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 1)

SG

This term we are doing some training with our staff on genuine spirituality. I'd thought I'd put a summary of our teaching up on the BLOG for everyone's benefit. 

Spiritual Growth

As we get to know God, his desire is to transform and change us to be like him. We were created in God’s image and likeness. Through sin that image was broken. God is now restoring us to his original intentions. This process of change is what the Bible describes as ‘sanctification’. To ‘sanctify’ means to set apart for holiness, to purify, to make free from sin. To be made holy is to be made in God’s likeness, to be conformed to his nature, and to reflect his character. Sanctification is the restoration of God’s image in the human life.

Since Jesus Christ is God made visible among humans, sanctification in its simplest definition is to become Christ-like. This is clearly presented as the goal for each Christian (see Rom.8:29; 12:2. 2 Cor.3:18. Eph.4:13, 23-24; 5:1. Col.3:8-10. 2 Pet.1:3-4. 1 Jn.2:6). There is only one Christian life for all believers and that is following our model, Jesus Christ. Sanctification is not an ‘optional extra’ for the Christian (Heb.12:14)!

God Works "Inside Out"

God always begins his work on the inside of us first – our desires, our motives, our attitudes and our thoughts. When true inner change occurs, the result is an external change in lifestyle – our words and our actions. The Pharisees, who were very religious, focused on externals – how they looked and “appeared” to others – and neglected the internal issues of the heart. They measured their spiritual life in superficial ways. Jesus was radically different. He focused on the centre, the heart of spiritual life. The real issue is the kind of people we are becoming. Am I growing in love for God and people? God desires authentic inner transformation, not just outward conformity (legalism) or doing a bunch of religious or Christian things (see Mt.12:33-35; 15:16-20; 23:25-28). Our lives should be marked by greater amounts of love, peace and joy.

Myths about Spiritual Maturity

There are a number of misunderstandings about ‘spiritual maturity’. Here are a few of them (by Rick Warren):

  1. “Spiritual growth is automatic once you are born again.” Maturity is not measured by how long a person has been a Christian or by how many times a person attends church (although that can help). We can’t just sit around doing nothing and expect to grow. The truth is that spiritual growth must be intentional.
  1. “Spiritual growth is mystical and maturity is attainable by only a select few.” The truth is that spiritual growth is very practical and it’s for everybody.
  1. “Spiritual maturity can occur instantly if you find the right key.” Don‘t believe that all you need in order to become mature spiritually is Bible study, church attendance, water baptism, ‘speaking in tongues’ or any other important Christian experience. The truth is, as wonderful as experiences like this are, they do not necessarily produce sanctification. In fact, the church at Corinth was probably the most spiritually gifted church in the New Testament and yet Paul had to confront it repeatedly for instances of sinfulness and carnality. The Biblical teaching on the subject of sanctification suggests that there is no short cut to obtain it, but that it is a lifelong human endeavour. Spiritual growth is a process that takes time. It takes a variety of spiritual experiences and disciplines with God to produce spiritual maturity.
  1. “Spiritual maturity is measured by what you know.” Christian maturity is not measured by the amount of Biblical knowledge you have. The truth is spiritual maturity is demonstrated more by ‘behaviour’ than ‘beliefs’. Sometimes the last thing a person needs is another Bible study. They already know far more than they are applying in their life. John Maxwell says, “Most Christians are educated far beyond the level of their obedience.” Often what we need is not more knowledge but help living out what we already know!
  1. “Spiritual growth is a personal and private matter.” The truth is Christians need relationships to grow. In fact, it is in the context of community that most personal change either takes place or is worked out.

Part 2.


A Church United

John 17 is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus and it reveals what was important to him. After praying for himself (vs.1-5) and his disciples (vs.6-19), he prayed for all who would believe in him – for the church yet to born (vs.20-26). Nearest to Jesus’ heart was his concern for the unity of his followers. So how are we doing at being “united”, as Jesus prayed? The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that there were 34,000 denominations in the year 2000 rising to 43,000 in 2012. These are all “Christian” denominations, not those of other faiths or beliefs systems. All declare Jesus as Lord yet each has a distinct approach to areas such as leadership, structure, or a certain doctrine or emphasis. Some see themselves as right and others as wrong.

A Worldview Shift

Back in 1995, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about seven “strategic shifts” that the church needs to make in our time [these are outlined fully in my book Transforming Your Church]. One of the shifts is a “worldview shift” which requires us to shift from a narrow local church focus to a much broader kingdom mentality. The “kingdom” refers to God’s work in the world. It is the domain where God rules. God rules everywhere but the expression of that rule is yet to be fully revealed. That is why we continue to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The “church” is a local expression of what the kingdom is like, made up of disciples of Jesus. It is local yet also global, made up of all true followers of Jesus. We are to preach the good news of the gospel and when people respond they are born into the kingdom of God then added to the church. God’s kingdom is much bigger than any expression of the local church. God’s work in the world is way beyond our small church community, as important as we may be.

How can we work towards helping Jesus prayer for the unity of his church become a reality?

1. Be Humble, not Proud. Each local church is special and unique and we should be proud of our church. It should be the best church - for us. However, we also need to value the uniqueness of others. No ministry or local church has it all or is God’s only instrument or the only one true church. We are a part of the body of Christ, which is made up of every Christian and every church that declares Jesus Christ as Lord. Humility demands that we have a sober or balanced view of ourselves. We all need each other. The Great Commission is too big for any one of us to fulfil. We need all churches and all Christian ministries working together to achieve God’s purposes. Praise God for the huge variety and diversity of ministries he is using today. After all, it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

2. Be Inclusive, not Exclusive. God desires us to seek to include others rather than exclude them. Christian love is expressed by an open, warm, embracing attitude toward other people, ministries and churches. We should look for common ground and not focus only on our differences (Philippians 1:15-18). God wants us connected to others, not isolated from them. God has called us to build bridges, not walls. In the Old Testament, there was only one nation of Israel, but it was made up of 12 different tribes, which were further made up of many different households and families. So it is in the church today. There are many different denominations, associations, networks and groups of churches and ministries. Each is unique and has its own distinctives, but we are all a part of the one true church. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We must avoid prejudice against other churches and ministries and watch out that we don’t develop stereotypes of other ministries based on gossip and hearsay, rather than personal experience.

3. Discern, Don’t Judge. It is sad to see the amount of people today who spend their time throwing mud at or criticising other Christian ministries, claiming that so-and-so is a false prophet or spreading heresy. Jesus does call us to discern ministries (by their fruit) but to go beyond this and place a judgment on a person is something we are strongly commanded not do. The apostles tell us to test all things, to hold on to the good, and let the bad go (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22. 1 John 4:1-3). The test is what people say about Jesus - who he is and what he has done. We should, however, place final judgement on nothing before its time (1 Corinthians 4:5. James 4:10-12). God is the true judge, and each person will stand before him (not us) and give account for all they have done. Christian love requires us to avoid a critical attitude that is quick to pull down and point out flaws in other people and their ministries (Matthew 7:1-5). We see this gracious attitude portrayed so beautifully in the advice that Gamaliel gave to the Pharisees when they were considering persecuting the early church (Acts 5:33-39). He told them that if a ministry was not of God, it would die down and come to nothing. However, if it was of God, they should leave it alone lest they be seen as fighting against God. We would be wise to take his advice today as we observe other ministries and churches.

4. Love, Don’t Hate. God has commanded us to love all people but especially other Christians who also love Jesus. We are to pray for God’s blessing on other churches and ministries. We are to rejoice when they thrive and sorrow when they struggle. We are working together for the benefit of God’s kingdom. We are not in opposition or competition with each other. We’re all on the same team. God is actually angry when we fight and hurt each other. Jesus said, “By this will all people know you are my disciples … by your love for one another” (John 13:35). God’s desire is that we come to the “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3) and eventually to a “unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13). The world will know we are Christians by our love for one another, and that is demonstrated by how we relate to other churches and Christian ministries.

Conclusion

It’s a new day. God is breaking down the walls. He is bringing his body, the church, together as a mighty force in the earth. It will take the whole church, taking the whole gospel to the whole world, to complete the Great Commission. The last prayer of Jesus that we would all be one as he and the Father are one is one prayer that will be answered. Let’s work together for its fulfilment in our time. 

Reflection Discussion Questions

  1. Reflect on your experience with the local church. What churches have you been involved in and what have you learned from this experience?
  2. Consider your experience with Christians from other churches. What have you learned and what do you appreciate about different parts of the body of Christ?
  3. Read Mark 9:38-40. In what ways can we be like the disciples today? What does Jesus response teach us?
  4. What are some ways we can avoid the isolation that comes by being totally consumed with only our own church and its activities, needs or concerns?
  5. “Church-hopping” is a major problem today. What are some key factors a person would be wise to consider before changing churches?
  6. In what ways is Christian unity a tremendous “apologetic” (witness, defence or explanation) for the good news of Jesus Christ?
  7. Consider attending one of the Church Unite events with your friends, family or church small group - on Sunday 16th October. Consider car-pooling or going in early for lunch together.

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A New Senior Minister for CityLife Church

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CityLife Church has a new Senior Minister - Andrew Hill. I will be gradually transitioning my responsibilites to Andrew over the next 5 months before his official induction at the end of February 2017. Good days are ahead.

Here is the announcement: 

I am delighted to advise you that the recommendation of the Board of Elders that Andrew Hill be appointed as the next Senior Minister of CityLife Church has been confirmed by the partners of CityLife at a Special General Meeting on 6th October 2016. 

Andrew currently serves as the Executive Pastor of Crossway Baptist Church, a church community of a similar size and scale of operations to CityLife. Andrew was called to Crossway at the end of 2006 and, since that time, has served in the capacity of Young Adults Pastor, Generational Pastor (responsible for the Kids, Youth and Young Adult ministries) and; Community Life Pastor (responsible for providing strategic leadership for all areas under the Community Life stream of ministries including Life Groups, Connection Ministries, Care Ministry, Seniors Ministry, Life Keys, all International Ministries and congregations. Each of these areas has experienced significant growth and development under Andrew’s leadership and are thriving ministries in the Crossway community. 

In 2014, Andrew was appointed to the role of Executive Pastor, second in charge to the Senior Pastor, and is fully responsible for leading the Church in the Senior Pastor’s absence. Since 2012, Andrew has been part of the Crossway Board. Under his portfolio, Andrew oversees Crossway’s campuses, and the Creative, Communications and Connections Ministry. At a Board and Executive leadership level, Andrew has led strategic projects around staffing and culture engagement; launched and resourced new campuses; been involved in organisational design, financial planning and management and; preached regularly across Crossway campuses. 

Andrew is 49 years old and is married to Leanne, who also serves on staff at Crossway as the Families Pastor. Leanne previously served for five years as the Young Adults Pastor. Their three young adult children are actively involved in the life of the Church. 

Our current Senior Minister, Mark Conner, will be interviewing Andrew and Leanne at all services at CityLife Knox on 15th and 16th October. 

In the coming months, Andrew and Leanne will gradually transition from their current roles at Crossway, finishing there at the end of year. After a holiday break, Andrew will commence his new role in late January 2017, and be officially inducted as the new Senior Minister on the weekend of 25th/26th February 2017. 

Please continue to pray for Mark and Andrew throughout the transition process and for the respective Church communities. 

Every blessing 

Peter R Sheahan
Chair, CityLife Board of Elders


The Power of Encouragement

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Someone once said that “encouragement is like oxygen to the soul”. Each one of us thrives in an environment of affirmation and encouragement. No one likes to be in an atmosphere where we are being torn down or ridiculed.

So think about what you are doing to those around about you.  Are you encouraging them? Are you lifting them up with your words?

Occasionally, I’ll sit at a funeral and listen to the eulogy or the tributes that are given and often think, “I wonder if that person knew those things when they were alive?” Don’t wait until someone dies to tell them what you appreciate about them. Take the time now to express your love and your affirmation for them. 

The Bible tells us that God the Father burst out of heaven at Jesus’ baptism and said “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased”. God is an affirming God and he wants you and I to do the same. Don’t just think good things about people. People cannot read your mind. Take the time, write a note, make a phone call, tell somebody how much you appreciate them today. Encourage them.

Encouragement is powerful!

 


No Worries

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Have you been worrying lately? Worry is a common thing. How do you deal with your worry?

Well, firstly you need to ask yourself, “What am I worrying about?” A study was done recently about the things that people worry about.  

Here are the results:

  • 40% of the worries were about things that never happened or would never happen.
  • 30% of the worries were things in the past for which they could do nothing about.
  • 12% were worries about health and worry actually worsens your health.
  • 10% were about petty or minor worries.
  • Only 8% of the worries were about anything substantial or legitimate and of that 8%, half, or 4%, of them were out of the person’s control. 
  • That means only 4% were something that they could actually do something about.  

The research therefore reveals that 96% of what we worry about is totally irrelevant. It’s not worth worrying about!  

So why don’t you evaluate your worries today. If you can do something about it go ahead and do it, but with the rest just leave it. Don’t worry.  Trust in God.

As us Aussies say, "No worries!"


Emotional Intelligence

EQ

Well known psychologist, Daniel Goleman has done a lot research on the components of success, especially in the work place. His conclusion is that Technical Skill and Intellectual Intelligence (or IQ) are very important, but that the quality of Emotional Intelligence (or EQ), is the most essential.  In fact, it’s twice as important as the other two attributes.  

‘Emotional intelligence’ is: knowing how to relate well to a wide variety of people.

How do we do that?  Well, Jesus gives us some great advice in Matthew 7:12 when he says, “Do for others what you would like them to do for you.”  

Some people call this the “Golden Rule”. Jesus is basically saying to think about how you like to be treated. Think about the qualities and attributes that attract you to others, the ‘ideal friend’. We can also think about the qualities and attributes that repel us from others. You know, the ‘friend from hell’.  

Think about how you want to be treated and then you take the initiative. You begin treating other people in that way.

Imagine a world where every one of us follows this basic principle of relationships. 


De-Cluttering my Library

BookwormConfession time - I love books! There is a certain joy in buying a new book and putting it on your shelf ... even if you haven't yet read the last 10 books you have bought. Book addicts understand this. Other people just don't get it.

As a kid, if my parents visited friends and there were no kids to play with, after dinner, I'd sit by their bookshelf and browse through their books. If they had an encylopedia set, I was elated. I loved reading and learning new things. I guess, at heart I I'm a bit of a a maven.

So I have a lot of books. Books given to me from family and friends. Books handed down from my father, Kevin Conner, or my brother-in-law, Frank Damazio - both fellow book addicts. Then there are books I have bought - new or in second hand shops all over the place. Did I mention that I have a lot of books?

The painting to the right is called "The Bookworm" and I have a beautiful version of it mounted on my library wall. One book in each hand, another one under the arm and another one between the knees. Every booklover gets it.

Well, we have recently sold our home and we are down-sizing. Yes, there are times to enlarge, to add, to expand and to make more room. We've been through plenty of those seasons. But now we are in a very different season - a time of simplifing, of letting go of a lot of stuff, and of de-cluttering. With two of our sons all grown up and married, we are moving to a house almost half the size of the one we currently live in. [See my wife, Nicole's, recent BLOG post "Honey, I Shrunk the House" for more details]

Sadly, this means there won't be room for all of my books. So I am currently working through my books, shelf by shelf and book by book ... forcing myself to ask 3 questions:

  1. "If I haven't looked at this in the last 5 years, will I look at it in the next 5 years?" [Confession: I have looked and read a heap of my books, so this question alone isn't enough]
  2. "If I didnt have this book today, would I buy it?"
  3. "If I could only have 1 bookshelf of books, would this book be on it?"

These questions are helping me make some tough decisions ... in addition to asking, "Can I get this book on Kindle and thereby take up less space by having an electronic version of it?" Sure, it's not the same as the read thing, but eBooks do save space.

It's time to give away, to bless someone else ... with a book or two that they need more than I do. 

Painful but freeing. 

See also:


Jesus: I AM the Vine

I AM 1080

John 15:1-6. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” NIV

These are some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples. He has spoken about his departure and assured them of his return (John 14). Now his focus is on his disciples remaining or keeping connected to him as they live in the world following his departure. Jesus was probably walking through a vineyard with his disciples when he gave this teaching. He often drew analogies from the culture around him and from ancient Jewish traditions, infusing them with fresh spiritual meaning. The vine and the vineyard were old and sacred images in Judaism. The vine represented Israel: God’s covenant people who were meant to bear fruit (see Psalm 80:7-9. Isaiah 5:3-5). Jesus boldly declares, “I am the true vine” (his seventh and final “I AM” statement in this Gospel). He has taken the place of Israel as God’s true planting, the one on whom God’s purposes are now resting. His Father is the gardener and we as his disciples are the branches.

A Challenge

God wants his children to live an abundantly fruitful life. That’s why he put us on this earth (see Psalm 1:3. John 15:8. Titus 3:14). Fruit represents ‘good works’ - a thought, attitude, or action of ours that God values because it glorifies him. The fruit from our life is how we bring honor to God on earth. We bear inner fruit when we allow God to nurture in us a new, Christ-like quality: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).” We bear outer fruit when we allow God to work through us to bring him glory. That includes sharing our faith but also serving others in love. Fruit-bearing flowing out of an intimate relationship with Jesus is why he chose us (John 15:16. Ephesians 2:10).

Jesus describes four different levels of fruitfulness in this teaching (see vs.2, 5): (1) “no fruit”, (2) “fruit”, (3) “more fruit”, and (4) “much fruit”. The Father wants more fruit from us so much that he actively tends to our lives so we will keep growing - from a barren to a productive branch. We were created to bear fruit, more fruit and much fruit! Of course, the fruit of our good works does not refer to things we do in order to earn God’s grace but are simply an overflow of the life of Jesus in us. Jesus calls us to do more of our life with him not just more for him. If you were accused of being a follower of Jesus, is there enough evidence to convict you? How’s your fruit?

An Application

Any vine or bush left to itself will become straggly and tangled, and grow in on itself. It will produce quite a lot of not-so-good fruit (or flowers) rather than a smaller number of splendid ones. It will, quite literally, get in its own light. So you prune it to stop it wasting its energy and being unproductive. You cut out, particularly, the parts of the plant that are growing inwards and getting tangled up. You encourage the shoots that are growing outwards, toward the light. You prune, in other words, to help the plant be its true self – to focus its energy on producing good quality fruit, rather than lots of second rate ones. That’s why any good gardener knows the value of pruning. Through pruning, growth that is dead or dying is removed, adequate sunlight is allowed to get to all the fruit-bearing branches, the size and quality of the fruit is improved, and new fruit is encouraged to develop.

Pruning, like loving discipline, is painful at the time, but it results in the potential of more fruit (vs.2). Sometimes ‘less is more’ and through removing certain things in our lives or hearts, we make room for more. Is God doing some pruning in your life right now? Is there some pruning you need to do – of certain commitments, or possessions, or lesser priorities?

An Insight

The key to fruitfulness is that we as Jesus’ disciples abide (or remain connected, attached) in him, as he is our life source. Apart from him we can really do nothing of lasting value. Connected to him, we can bear much fruit. Discipleship is not a matter of merely acknowledging who Jesus is (a set of doctrinal beliefs); it is having Jesus spiritually connected to our inner lives (a way of life characterized by love).

Abiding in Christ is a command for all disciples, not a suggestion or a request. But how do we do so practically? Throughout history, followers of Christ have connected closely with Christ in different ways – what we could call ‘abiding styles’. Here are five of them:

  1. Contemplative – people who love creation, quiet, solitude, meditation and reflection.
  2. Intellectual – people who love mentally stimulating material and studying the Bible.
  3. Serving – people who love putting action in their faith by helping others and using their gifts.
  4. Relational – people who love doing things with other people, including prayer and serving.
  5. Charismatic – people who love spontaneity, the unexpected and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Consider when you feel closest to God and most alive in Christ then lean into your primary style. Of course, it’s important to accept others who are different. Most importantly, develop an appreciation for all the styles so you don’t develop an imbalance. Each style taken to an extreme has weaknesses. Jesus balanced all five of these styles to keep connected to the Father. He is our model for abiding, which is the key to fruitfulness. When we develop the ‘Mary’ aspect of our life (a depth of intimacy and spirituality) then the ‘Martha’ aspect will be more effective (fruitfulness and productivity). If we separate these, it leads to frustration. Abiding in Christ is much like a tree producing its fruit – it is a natural outflow that occurs quite effortlessly.

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. As these are some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples, why do you think this matter of fruitfulness and abiding in Christ were so important to him?
  2. How do we practically measure the fruitfulness of our lives?
  3. How can we avoid the Christian life degenerating into a long list of things we DO for God and others but without the joy and life of Jesus flowing through us?
  4. Can you describe a time in your life where you felt you were experiencing some ‘pruning’? What was it like and what was the end result?
  5. Today there is a growing social movement towards simplicity, down-sizing, essentialism and minimalism. What can we learn from this trend in our society? What could God be saying to us through it?
  6. What is your personal abiding style? How could you lean more into it?
  7. Finish by praying for a greater intimacy with Jesus resulting in a greater fruitfulness in your life.

The Art of Coaching

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The role of a leader includes many tasks, including vision-casting, planning, directing, building teams, communication, training, problem solving and coaching people.

The primary means of leadership development in the Bible is through mentoring and coaching. Think of Jethro and Moses, Moses and Joshua, Samuel and Saul then David, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and his disciples, and Barnabas and Saul. The apostle Paul once wrote, “Jesus is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (Colossians 1:28-29).” Our goal should be the same - to help the people on our team become fully mature in Christ – reaching their God-given potential. People rarely do that without input from others – friends, team members, teachers, mentors, and coaches.

John Whitmore, in his book Coaching for Performance, defines coaching as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” In their book TransforMissional Coaching, authors Steve Ogne and Tim Roehl define coaching in the Christian context as: “helping people develop their God-given potential so that they grow personally and make a valuable contribution to the kingdom of God.” Good coaches think in terms of a person’s future potential, not just their past or current performance.

In the excellent book, The Coaching Conversation, Brian Souza uses a fable story to reveal the four types of managers: the Nice-Guy Manager, the Do-it-all-Manager, the Micro-Manager, and the Coach. Through the narrative of the story, he suggests the following three steps:

  1. Change your approach - stop acting like a manager and start acting like a coach.
  2. Create an environment that is conducive to coaching.
  3. Transform the conversation into a weekly constructive coaching conversation.

He goes on to say:

  • As a coach the more you give, the more you’ll get. The more you care, the more your team will contribute.
  • Great coaches consistently get the most out of their people because they consistently put the most into their people.
  • As a coach, the only way you can achieve your potential is to first help your team members achieve theirs.
  • Coaching is not merely something that you, as a manager, must do. A coach is someone that you, as a leader, must become.
  • When all is said and done and we’ve completed this journey we call life, what will matter most is not what we have achieved, but rather who we have become.

The Coaching Process

Through the process of coaching, we are seeking to do two primary things:

  1. Raise awareness.
  2. Build responsibility.

Creating awareness is all about helping the individual see themselves (self-awareness) and their situation (what is happening around them) accurately. People can only deal with what they are aware of. Without awareness, no true change or progress can be made. John Whitmore says that “a coach is not a problem solver, a teacher, an advisor, an instructor or even an expert; he or she is a sounding board, a facilitator, a counsellor, an awareness raiser.”

Building responsibility is the next step. Until an individual accepts and takes responsibility for themselves and their situation, no change will occur. Telling someone to be responsible for something doesn't make them feel responsible for it. People have to choose to be responsible.  

The Power of Questions

Good questions are the best tool for raising awareness and building responsibility because asking is more effective than telling. Bob Logan says, “Good coaching isn’t the art of giving good answers; it is the art of asking good questions.”

Questions are a powerful way to develop people. Even the Bible highlights the impact of questions. God himself often asked questions when in conversation with people (see Genesis 3:8-9). Jesus, although he had so much to say, often used questions when talking with people (see John 1:35-38). Precision questions go straight to the heart. Jesus used questions not because he needed an answer but in order to bring a person to a new level of understanding. Questions help build relationships, are a key to creativity and problem-solving, enhance education and learning, and are an aid to personal growth. After all, experience is not the best teacher; only reflection on experience turns experience into insight.

The GROW Model

John Whitmore has developed a simple but effective model (or mental map) for sequencing good questions. It is called The GROW model.

GOAL – “What do you want? What are you trying to achieve?”

REALITY – “What is happening? What action have you taken so far and what were the effects?”

OPTIONS – “What could you do? What are the alternatives?” Seek possibilities, not one solution.

WILL – “What will you do? When will you do it? What obstacles will there be? How can I help?”

This requires active listening (Proverbs 18:13. James 1:19) so as to gain clarity on the issues. The coaching cycle is ongoing and includes celebrating progress and ‘wins’ along the way. Encourage small steps towards a person’s goal.

Try using the GROW mental map in conversation with someone in your world today - a family member, a friend, a colleague or team member. Only use questions, listen attentively, and refrain from giving advice, just for a while. Notice the impact - on you and them.

Conclusion

Through effective coaching, we can develop the potential of the people who work around us, achieve our goals, and enjoy the journey together.

Recommended Reading


2016 Australian Christian Book of the Year: Child Arise! The Courage to Stand

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I am priviledged to be one of the judges for the annual Australian Christian Book of the Year. We are pleased to announce that this year's award goes to Child Arise! The Courage to Stand: A Spiritual Handbook for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Jane N Dowling.

Here is the summary:

Knowing that God speaks to us when we read the Bible, Jane Dowling prayerfully applies God’s Word to the experience of living with the long-term effects of sexual abuse, including abuse by clergy. Her reflections are gentle, almost tremulous. Jesus shows her the way from ruin and despair to healing and hope. This is a handbook for survivors of sexual abuse and those who seek to understand and support them.  But because Dowling engages with the Scriptures in their original context, her book has application for all Christians who are living with painful experiences. This is a courageous and historic book. For a church yearning for healing and wholeness, Jane Dowling has performed a great service.

Visit sparklit.org to see the entire final short list of titles.


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

Wise-owl-2

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 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

Navigating-transitions-1

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

Ticket
 
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.