Let’s talk about the family. There have been many popular TV families over the years – Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, The Brady Bunch, The Cosby Show, Friends, The Simpsons and now Modern Family. Some people say that television shapes the culture while others say it simply reflects the culture. A few would even say it is 5 years behind the culture. What we do know is that today’s families are changing and facing tremendous pressure both from within and without. Complex questions are emerging about such matters as blended families, same-sex attraction, as well as divorce and remarriage.
Families in Bible Times
What did families look like in biblical times? In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the sphere of action is the family not the nation. Crucial events occur in the home, not the court or the battlefield. Genesis is a succession of family narratives, ‘family’ often meaning a whole clan or household (not the typical ‘nuclear family’ of the modern world). In primitive times, people lived primarily in patriarchal groups that grew as sons brought wives and children into the clan (e.g. Noah’s ‘family’ included his wife, his sons and their wives). The eldest son (the 'firstborn') was given preferential treatment and this was also a time of arranged marriges for children once they reached 15-18 years of age.
As well as experiencing many good times together, these first families faced a wide range of problems. Cain murdered his brother Abel in a fit of jealous rage. Noah got drunk. Lot offered his virgin daughters to the aggressive men of Sodom; later, his daughters got their father drunk and were then impregnated by him. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all played favourites with their kids, causing all sorts of family problems. Their story includes squabbling spouses, sibling rivalry and children being deceitful. Later on, Reuben slept with his father’s concubine and Judah slept with his daughter-in-law who was disguised as a prostitute. And this is the ‘godly line’! It reads like a script from a modern-day soap opera.
The Old Testament presents the family as a deeply flawed institution in a fallen world, highlighting the ups and downs of human relationships. It’s a place of hope and blessing, yet at times disappointment and struggle. It sure shatters the myth of the perfect family! These families were pretty dysfunctional, yet God worked through them. The Old Testament ends with a promise of reconciliation and harmony (Mal.4:6), the opposite of the images of family discord and fragmentation that seem to have been the norm in these ancient stories.
By the time of Jesus, the typical family living in the Roman Empire was a ‘household’ family (Greek oikos), usually consisting of a husband, a wife, children and slaves (all of the latter being the ‘property’ of the man). Household codes served as models for order. The apostle Paul did not seek to overthrow existing social structures (including slavery and patriarchal households) but rather infused them with new kingdom ethics. In his own household codes (Eph.5:21 – 6:9. Col.3:18 – 4:1), after presenting mutual submission as the ideal (Eph.5:21), he commands those in society’s positions of authority (husbands, parents and slave owners) to provide loving leadership and he addresses those in society’s subordinate roles (wives, children and slaves) as persons in their own right and to be treated with dignity, something quite radical for this era in human history. Paul emphasised the interdependent and complementary nature of these roles and requirements, showing that care and compassion for one’s natural family is vital (1 Tim.5:4,8).
Like in biblical times, today’s families come in a diversity of shapes and sizes: the ‘traditional’ or ‘nuclear’ family (dad, mum and kids), single parent families, married couples without children, blended families, and extended families to name a few. There are also vast differences between ancient and modern times when it comes to social structures, as well as the opportunity for both men and women when it comes to education and choices that can be made outside of inherited ‘class’ or social status.
Common challenges facing families today include: conflict, communication breakdown, time pressures, mental health issues (including depression and anxiety), addictions (including substance abuse, gambling and pornography), the impact of social media and finances.
God reveals himself as a Father (God also has motherly qualities – Isaiah 49:14-17; 66:13. Matt.23:37) who desires each one of us to be part of his family (Deut.1:31. Eph.3:14-15). His desire is to place the lonely in families (Ps.68:6) where they can experience love and a sense of belonging. Jesus is the way to the Father (John 8:42) and provides the means for us to be ‘born again’ (John 3) or adopted into God’s family. Jesus placed this spiritual family as taking precedence even over one’s natural family (Matt.12:46-50; 10:34-37. Mark 3:21, 31-35. Luke 12:51-53). Family ties were to be respected and strengthened where possible, yet always as secondary to the family of believers (1Tim.5:1-2). Christians are ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ - the most common designation of followers of Jesus in the New Testament – and part of the family of God, God’s household. This family is not meant to be cliquey but one that is always open and ready to welcome new sons and daughters of God. It is a family characterised by equality (even slaves and masters are of equal status and value in Christ), unity and love.
THE Key to a Healthy Family
The core foundation of any healthy relationship or family is LOVE. It’s a love of a different kind – God’s kind of love. Not merely friendship love, affectionate love or romantic love but a love that is a decision to do what is best for another person, even at personal sacrifice. Jesus calls us as his followers to love other, including our family, as he has loved us (John 13:34-35), a love that will prove to the world that we are his disciples, when they see how we treat each other. The apostle Paul puts it like this: “Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” [Ephesians 5:1-2. Message Bible]
How easy it is for us to get caught up in the details of daily family life – the tasks, jobs and transactions – and forget its primary purpose: loving God and people. May random acts of kindness become a regular occurrence in all of our homes and families!
1. What was your favourite TV show as a kid growing up and why?
2. What surprises or interests you the most about families in biblical times?
3. What do you think are the 3 most common pressures families face today?
4. In what ways can the church become more of a genuine spiritual ‘family’ for people, including singles, young adults, married couples, single parents and grandparents?
5. Read Jesus’ comments in Matthew 12:46-50 and 10:34-37. Is ‘family first’ a biblical value?
6. Read the description of ‘love’ in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. How does this apply to families?
7. Spend some time praying for your family.
I am very excited about an upcoming city-wide, combined churches event here in Melbourne called Church UNITE. It will be on Sunday evening, 19th October at the Melbourne Convention Centre. Peter McHugh (Stairway Church), Dale Stephenson (Crossway Baptist), Rob Buckingham (Bayside Church), and myself (CityLife Church) are helping to co-ordinate this gathering, supported by a host of other pastors and church leaders.
You can register now!
My book Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom is now available on Kindle at amazon.com for $8.11 AUS.
If you enjoy it, thanks for leaving a recommnedation.
Living in our broken world creates the possibility of becoming trapped by various negative emotions and habits that can easily become like a prison around us. In this helpful book, Mark Conner shares practical principles for finding freedom from common problems such as anger, fear, worry, rejection, depression, addictions, and spiritual bondages. With God's help you can make a prison break- beginning today.
"To some extent we all have our personal prisons, in these hectic and stress-filled days. This is why Mark Conner's book Prison Break is so timely and helpful. Whether your personal prison is one of anger or fear, worry or some destructive habit, addictions or whatever, Mark offers help that can free you from your prison. The book is practical yet sound, both psychologically and biblically and easy to read. I am sure no reader will be disappointed."
Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., FPPR.
Senior Professor of Psychology and Dean Emeritus
Graduate School of Psychology
Fuller Theological Seminary
John Lennox is a British mathematician, philosopher of science, and Christian apologist who is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. He is well known for his debates with people such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Lawrence Krauss. He is also a best-selling author of books such as:
* God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
* Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science
* Gunning for God: A Critique of the New Atheism
John's web site is a repository of a wealth of excellent material, with many featured articles and videos.
When we hosted Ravi Zacharias last year, he told me that John, a close friend of his, was "the most intelligent Christian he knows". That's a pretty good recommendation from someone of Ravi's calibre.
John Lennox will be touring Australia in August and I highly recommend these events that he will be speaking at:
Cosmic Chemistry: Do God and Science Mix? Hosted by City Bible Forum.
Faith has Its Reasons: Science and the God Question - Saturday 9th August, 10AM - 4PM at Glen Waverley Anglican Church. Register at www.petercorneytraining.com.au
Today is 1st July and that means that the first half of 2014 is history - just like that. I don't know about you, but time seems to go faster as you get older, or maybe it's just that there is less of it ahead of you.
Moses tells us to number or consider our days so we can present to God a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). In any sports game, there is usually a half time period. It's a good time to stop, refresh, refuel and reflect on how the first half has gone. You are then in a good position to get back into the second half, ready to go and positioned to make it even better than the first half, and hopefully finish with that winning feeling.
Why not take an hour or two aside and just STOP ... Be still. Pray and consider how life is going for you right now.
Here are some reflection questions that you might find helpful before you start rushing into the second half of this year:
1. What has gone well? What can you express thanks to God for?
2. What were the challenges? How did you handle them? What did you learn? In what way were they growth opportunities?
3. How have you changed? What's different now?
4. What needs your attention right now?
5. What kind of a person do you want to become in the next few months? [This is a more important question than "What do you need to do?" in the next few months]
6. Is your current schedule working for you? Could a new schedule be like a new script that shapes your future?
7. What do you need to stop doing? Start doing? Do less of? Do more of?
8. Has life become too busy, resulting in you feeling frazzled and stressed? What are the vital few things that you need to discern from amongst the trivial many? Could less be more?
9. Who could help you right now? Maybe it's an advisor, a mentor, a coach, a spiritual guide, a counsellor, a pastor or a friend.
I pray that you will hear the gentle whisper of the Spirit speaking ... and calling ... and that you will respond. Your life may never be the same.
Ephesians 5:13-17. Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. NIV
Posted at 10:55 PM | Permalink
I love this brief video clip (in German but easily understandable in any language) about a daughter asking her father how the new iPad she bought him for his birthday is going ... enjoy :)
Last Sunday was “Pentecost Sunday” (8th June), a significant day on the Christian annual calendar, yet one that tends to receive little attention, compared to Christmas and Easter. Pentecost Sunday occurs 50 days after Easter and is a celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church of Jesus Christ. Just like your personal story is much bigger than the time between your birth and death, in that you have roots and heritage reaching further back in time and hopefully a future legacy lasting beyond your lifetime, so our story as a church reaches back to our beginnings and into the future beyond our time as each generation continues to carry out the purposes of God. It is important to remember our faith tradition not merely with a sense of nostalgia about the ‘glory days’ but rather as a foundation for the dreams and visions God desires to give us for today.
The word “Pentecostal” is not used much in our contemporary culture and due to people’s various backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, there can be many stereotypes and caricatures about Pentecostals. For instance, one recent visitor to one of our church services told me they didn't find CityLife very Pentecostal. Initially, I thought maybe they didn't sense enough of the activity of the Holy Spirit but I discovered that what they meant was that they didn't find the service “emotionally manipulative”. As you can imagine, I was glad!
The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word pentekostos, which literally means ‘fifty’. Pentecost was one of three pilgrimage festivals or feasts celebrated by the nation of Israel in the time of Moses and it was celebrated 50 days after Passover (Lev.23:16). It was also known as the ‘festival of weeks’ (in Judaism it is called ‘shavuot’ which means ‘weeks’). It was primarily a harvest festival and a time of great joy. It is first mentioned in the New Testament on the occasion of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples, which was 7 weeks after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:1-4). It became an important day for the church, marking its birth.
Modern Day Pentecostalism emerged in the early 20th century fuelled in part by a revival at Azusa Street in Los Angeles that began in 1906. It was primarily a renewal movement within Christianity with a special emphasis on personal experience of God, including the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Unlike many Evangelicals (some of whom are referred to as ‘Cessasionists’), Pentecostals believe that all of God’s work as recorded in the book of Acts is for today, including speaking in tongues (other languages), healing, and prophecy. Today there are over 500 million Pentecostals and Charismatics (evangelical denominations or believers who have embraced the work of the Spirit since the 1960s) around the world.
CityLife Church (originally Waverley Christian Fellowship) commenced in 1967 under the pioneering leadership of by Richard Holland. We are a Pentecostal church and that influences both our beliefs and practices. Ministry style and church programs or ministries adapt and change over time, but those foundations remain.
10 Characteristics of Pentecostal Churches
Here are some general characteristics of Pentecostal churches. It should be noted that some of these aspects are not limited to or the exclusive domain of Pentecostals.
1. An Emphasis on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings the church into existence and gives it life (Acts 2:1-4). The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, is really the Acts of the Holy Spirit done through the followers of Jesus in the first century. The entire Christian life (as well as church life) is meant to be done with and through the Holy Spirit. All people (men and women, young and old) can receive and minister the gifts or abilities that the Spirit gives for the benefit of others. This requires continual awareness (look) and attentiveness (listen), hence the importance of a prayerful life. Both the Spirit and the Word, as contained in the Scriptures, are vital to spiritual life.
2. A Passion for World Evangelisation. The Holy Spirit came upon those early believers to empower them to be witnesses for Jesus, not just to give them a personal experience (Acts 1:8). The Spirit enabled them to carry out the great commission (Matt.28:18-20) of taking good news of Jesus to the world, whether through personal evangelism church planting, social action or foreign mission work. Unfortunately, those first believers were slow to embrace this priority of outreach. It actually took persecution to get them out of Jerusalem and to other places (Acts 8:1-3). Eventually, they took the gospel to the then known world, with churches at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3) and Ephesus (Acts 19:26) leading the way.
3. A Heart for Compassion Ministry. In the first church, there were no needy ones among them, as people reached out in practical acts of compassion (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37). Helping the poor and needy was a high priority (Gal.2:10). Modern day Pentecostalism began among the lower socio-economic strata of society with many uneducated and marginalised people being filled with the Spirit. Over the decades, it has spread to more middle and upper class groups of people. Thankfully, there has been a shift recently, with a growing heart for the poor and needy emerging in Pentecostal churches. The Gospel is to be shared both in word and deed. Jesus himself went about “doing good” (Acts 10:38).
4. Expressive Praise and Worship. The first believers praised God with joy (Acts 2:46-47) and singing was a regular part of their church services as an expression of the life of the Spirit (Eph.5:18-20). Modern day Pentecostalism has been characterised by joyful praise and intimate worship, with voices raised, hands lifted up, and with a sense of celebration and vibrancy in the singing, which is less formal, liturgical or sombre than some church traditions. God is with us and we can experience him through the Spirit.
5. Cultural Relevance. From the very moment of the Spirit’s arrival, believers were empowered to speak the good news of Jesus in languages that the listeners understood (Acts 2:5-13). The core Gospel message doesn't change but our language, as well as the methods and means of communication we use, need to adapt to each audience. The apostle Paul even quoted local Greek poets as a means of connecting with philosophers and pagans in Athens in order to build as bridge to share the Gospel with them (Acts 17:16-34). Each new generation has different ways of communicating, including language, musical style, church facilities, and use of technology. Pentecostal churches have often been on the forefront of communicating the Gospel in culturally relevant ways.
6. Visionary Church Leadership. Although the Spirit filled all the first believers, he also used leaders such as Peter, James and Paul, along with elders, to provide leadership and direction to the churches. Pentecostal churches are often led by individuals with strong vision, as well as the ability to motivate people, rather than by bureaucratic structures. They are willing to take risks to advance the cause of Christ and tend to embrace a pioneering mode (“let’s create the future”) rather than a maintenance mode (“let’s preserve the past”). Of course, accountability and proper governance is vital. Isolated authoritarian leaders cause dysfunction, often leading to abuse and hurt and disillusioned people. Jesus calls us to a servant leadership style that empowers others and understands the wisdom that comes from many counselors. Character (fruit) is the vital foundation of Charisma (spiritual gifts).
7. Generous Giving. The feast of Pentecost included the bringing of a voluntary offering to God in proportion to the recent harvest. In the same way, the first church was characterised by generosity, something that pleases God (2Cor.9:7). Many Pentecostal churches have taught and modelled generosity. Or course, our motive is not to ‘give to get’ but one that sees blessing as a ‘by-product’ of generosity.
8. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals believe that the baptism of the Spirit is available for all followers of Christ and is an experience that can occur at or subsequent to conversion. In the narrative of the book of Acts we read that the primary evidence of this infilling was the ability to “speak in tongues” or other languages. This personal prayer gift is for the benefit of personal prayer and building oneself up (1Cor.14:1-4. Jude 20), as well as boldness to witness (Acts 1:8). This experience is not necessary for salvation, it is not a mark of spiritual maturity (1Cor.13), and is not for use in public church services when outside guests are present (1Cor.14:22-25). All Christians have the person of the Holy Spirit living within them but the baptism of the Spirit adds another powerful dimension to the believer’s life and ministry. The apostle Paul spoke in tongues frequently, showing its benefit (1Cor.14:18).
9. Prophecy. Another indicator of the Spirit’s infilling is the ability to prophesy, which is a speaking out of the heart and mind of God, as prompted by the Spirit. This was a normal part of the life of the first church (Acts 2:17; 19:1-7) and of Pentecostalism around the world today. To prophesy literally means to ‘bubble up’, indicating the movement of the Holy Spirit on our spirit, either in the form of a whisper, a prompting, an impression, a vision or picture, or a word. God still speaks today – to individuals and to churches. Prophecy today is not authoritative on the level of inspired Scripture, but must be taken seriously by both testing and responding to it accordingly (1Thess.5:19-22). Generally speaking, prophecy is for personal encouragement, strengthening and comfort (1Cor.14:1-4), not direction or rebuke.
10. Prayer for Healing and Miracles. The first church was born in an environment where God healed and did supernatural things (Acts 2:43; 3:1-10, etc). Pentecostals believe that God still heals and does miracles today. He sets people free from the work of the enemy (deliverance from demonic strongholds). God intervenes in human situations, bringing about change. Not everyone was healed in New Testament times (1Tim.5:23. 2Tim.4:20) nor is everyone healed today. This is not necessarily an indicator of a lack of faith or sin in a person’s life. We live between the ‘now’ and ‘not yet’ of the kingdom. Already (‘now’) Jesus has conquered Satan, sin, sickness and death but ‘not yet’ do we see the full enactment of that victory, which will occur at the return of Christ, when there will be no more crying, pain or death (Rev.21:4). Pentecostals need a theology of suffering to allow for those ‘if not …’ moments (Dan.3:17-18), while believing that God’s grace and comfort are always more than enough for whatever we may go through. Our job is to pray and believe; God’s job is to heal and to move by his power.
At CityLife, Pentecostalism is part of our story and it is important to remember our roots and our faith tradition. We embrace that unapologetically, while walking with humility, understanding that none of us has all the truth. We all see and know in part (1Cor.13:9-12). We love the entire church – ALL of Christ’s body, including anyone who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ (1Cor.12:3), be they Baptist, Anglicans, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists or Presbyterians. We are not in competition with each other! Thankfully, we are living in a time when ‘labels’ are less important and relationships (with Jesus and each other) are becoming more important.
King David was anointed with oil three times - as a shepherd boy, as king over Judah, and eventually as king over all Israel. Each anointing involved a further empowering of the Holy Spirit in his life. The author of Psalm 92 (possibly David) said, “I have been anointed with fresh (or fine) oil” (Ps.92:10). Sometimes we need an oil change. We need a fresh touch of the Spirit on our lives. The apostle Paul would later write to the church at Ephesus, “Be filled with the Spirit …” (Eph.5:18). The present continuous tense of the Greek phrase “be filled” literally means “be continually filled …” Position yourself to continually receive the ongoing infilling of the Holy Spirit in your life and ministry. After all, it is impossible to live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is really the life that Jesus lived back then lived now by His Spirit through me. May each of us experience a fresh Pentecost in our lives at this time!
1. When did you first hear the word “Pentecostal”? What did it mean to you?
2. What has been your experience of Pentecostal Christians or churches? Think about both positive and negative experiences, if there have been any.
3. It’s been said that if we have “the Word without the Spirit we will dry up, the Spirit without the Word we will blow up, while with the Spirit and Word we can grow up.” Reflect on the importance balance between the Spirit and the Word.
4. The natural tendency of every church is to become inward focused. How can we continue to fuel a passion for evangelism and outreach in our personal lives?
5. There is a lot of “end times” hysteria around today in some circles, with a focus on the immanent return of Christ. How can we live ever ready for Christ’s return yet with the wisdom and foresight that he may not return in our generation (and therefore being busy with the work of the kingdom, which includes creation care and social justice)?
6. Reflect on your experience with different forms of church services, including various styles of singing.
7. Consider the concept of “cultural relevance”. How can irrelevant cultural packaging hinder the reception of the Gospel by the listeners?
8. Much has been made about the “prosperity gospel” – the belief that God wants everyone to be rich and that if people would give generously God will make that a reality for everyone. How can we develop greater faith to be generous givers while not degenerating into a giving that is only motivated by personal gain?
9. What has been your experience with church leadership over the years? Reflect on the different approaches that different cultures have in the way they relate to leaders. Take time to pray for the leaders of your church, that God will watch over them and their families, as well as give them wisdom, courage and faith to lead the church forward in God’s way.
10. What has been your experience of the baptism in the Spirit?
11. What has been your experience with prophecy (either giving a prophecy or receiving one)?
12. Read 1 Corinthians 13:9-12. How should this affect our attitudes with Christians from other churches and denominations?
13. In what ways can your LifeGroup live out and express all of these aspects of Pentecostalism?
14. Which characteristic are you personally most passionate about?
15. Take time to pray for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit in your own life.
The Century of the Holy Spirt by Vinson Synan
The Beauty of Spiritual Language by Jack Hayford
Pentecostal Theology: A Theology of Encounter by Keith Warrington
Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom by Steven J. Land
Pentecostalism: A Very Short Introduction by William K. Kay
A good friend of mine baked some bread a few weekends ago and forgot to put the yeast in on the first attempt. It didn't rise, even though all the other ingredients were there. One missing ingredient can prevent everything from working well together.
In life and ministry, that ingredient is faith - full trust and confidence in God. No matter what you are facing or going throuygh right now, add some faith to it. God is with you and he is at work in ways we dont often see at the time.
Hebrew 11:6. It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
Hebrews 11:1. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. NLT
Life seems to be getting busier, faster, and more complex. Before you know it, you can feel tired, stressed, exhausted, and just plain out of breath. That’s why it’s so important to pause frequently - just to breathe. Maybe you feel “out of breath” (exhausted or gasping for breath) or even winded. Take some time to “catch your breath” (which means to pause or rest before continuing an activity or beginning a new one). Learn to “breathe freely”, experiencing relief from tension, anxiety, tension or pressure. Breathe in God’s Spirit. Be refreshed.
No one I know really takes time to stop and think about his or her breathing. Yet, each day we take about 26,000 breaths. That’s about 14,000 litres of air. We should breath from our stomach not our chest … but when we are stressed, distracted, or moving too fast we don’t breath properly. We need only around 4-6 breaths a minute but most of us take around 16-20. Experts tell us that 99% of our energy should come from our breathing BUT most of us only access 10-20% of that available energy. [See Nooma 014 Breathe for more]
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters (Gen.1:1-2). The Hebrew word for “Spirit” is ruach and it literally means breath or wind (see John 3:6-8). God is Spirit – breath, in contrast to idols who have no breath, because they are lifeless. God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into him and he became a living being – a soul or person (Gen.2:7).
Every human being is made of (1) dust (Hebrew adama from which we get the name Adam) and (2) divine breath. We are both dirt, and therefore fragile and vulnerable, and sacred breath, crowned with glory and honour (Ps.8:5). Divine dirt clods – what a paradox! You are a sacred creation of God and so is everyone and everything around you.
When God sends his Spirit, life is created. A baby takes its first breath and life begins. The breath you just took, the one you are taking now, and the one you are about to take – all come from God. The last thing we do is take our last breath. When God takes away ruach (breath) all living creatures die and return to dust. Life is breath and its absence is death. We are totally dependent on God - for breath, for life (see Num.27:15. Job 12:10; 33:4; 34:14-15. Ps.104:29-30).
In the new creation, Jesus breathes on his disciples and they receive the Holy Spirit – the breath of God (John 20:22). The church is the gathered people of God, coming together in relationship, with the Spirit of God breathing His life in and through them (Ezekiel 37:4-5). On the day of Pentecost, the church was born, as God breathed into his people the life of His Spirit (Acts 2).
Breathe IN Breathe OUT
God himself gives life and breath to everything and he satisfies every need … God is not far from anyone of us. For in Him we live and move and breathe (Acts 17:25-28). Physical breath is a picture of divine reality. Naturally, we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. What do you need to breathe OUT? Are there some things you need to leave behind? What do you need to let go of? What’s going on inside of you today? What are you: angry, anxious, concerned, bothered, or stressed about? Breathe OUT – worry, fear, discouragement …
What do you need to breathe IN? Let God in – the Spirit without limit! The Spirit of God can live within us bringing us life (Romans 8:9-11). The Spirit sanctifies us - purges, cleans out. What we need is as close as our breath. God is here right now and all the time. We are on holy ground. Breath in God’s life, joy, peace, faith …
Sometimes people pit the contemplative life against the active life. But both are important - who we are and what we do, breathing in and breathing out. Breathing in is about spirituality and character formation while breathing out is also about mission with Christ. Our being and our doing should not be separated. Robert Mulholland says that following Christ with no application to mission is like inhaling and not exhaling. Likewise, if we are constantly doing without being we run out of breath and are forever exhausted.
Spiritual formation and mission are to be connected and complimentary. Our greatest priority is the cultivation of a personal spiritual intimacy with Christ. This is the only way to maintain vitality and the endurance needed to continue successfully in work of God. Spiritual disciplines such as solitude, silence, study, prayer, including praying in the Spirit, and reading God’s Word releases a rich flow of the Spirit into our life. There are many changes that happen in life of believer and one of the most important is the shift from being self-centred to God centred. Our hope is that we can be transformed by the grace of God and in turn be instruments of change and transformation in the lives of others. As we do that, we will see our vision of 10,000 stories of transformation become a reality.
The apostle Paul speaks of us carrying a fragrance with us wherever we go (2 Cor.2:14). What is our breath like? Does our daily life draw people to Christ through an attractive aroma of grace? Or do we have such a bad breath that people are put off and turned away?
Sample Reflection Questions
1. How is the pace of your life right now? Do you feel adequately challenged, over-challenged or under-challenged? What adjustments could you make?
2. Reflect on a time when you were “out of breath”. What did it feel like? How did you deal with it?
3. When you feel tired, drained or down, what replenishing activities do you find most helpful to fill you up again?
4. What are some things you need to breathe OUT right now? Things that are weighing you down or that you need to let go of?
5. What are some things you need to breathe IN right now? What aspects of God’s Spirit could you do with a greater experience of in your personal life? Is it peace, joy, love or courage?
6. God calls us to be thermostats not thermometers. In others words, we are to influence our environment not just react to it. In what ways can we display the aroma and attractiveness of Christ in our daily lives, especially around those people who don't yet have a relationship with Him?
7. God created the world to run with a rhythm of activity and rest, work then Sabbath. How well is this rhythm outplaying in your life right now? What adjustments do you need to make?
8. Take some time to pray around any of the above reflections and some breathe Scriptures.
Our vision as a church is to see “over 10,000 stories of transformation by 2016.” 10,000 is a big number, but each number represent a person, and each person has a story, and that story really matters to God … and us.
Story is an excellent metaphor for understanding your life. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has a theme, characters, subplots, trajectory, tone and genre. It helps to see your story as a subplot in the bigger story that we call “history”, which is really about God’s story in the world. Seeing your life in that context gives it new meaning and significance.
God’s story is huge. It began before time began and it will continue when time is no more. Ultimately, the Bible is a story - a narrative of God at work in history – even though it contains many genres of literature, such as poems, songs, prophecies, laws, and visions. In many ways it tells a love story and a sad story (a world that ignores its Creator), yet with a great ending. God’s story is still unfolding …
The dictionary defines a “story” as a plot or succession of incidents, a narration of an incident or series of events. Best selling author, Donald Miller, in his book Storyline (also, check out Donald Miller's BLOG: www.storylineblog.com), defines as a story as simply this: “a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.” Think of your favourite movie or novel and you’ll see the pattern. Have you ever thought of what God wants? He desires relationship with the people he created. Yet he has to overcome conflict to achieve that – primarily us exercising our free will to choose other loves or pursuits, sometimes ignoring our Creator.
A story can be plotted as a series of successive events. Each incident can be called a ‘story turn’. It is an event that takes place in which the character will never be the same. It’s like a doorway, in which there is no going back. It’s amazing to see how each person, including God, has both positive and negative turns in their story. There is joy and pain. Life is hard at times and can be like a roller coaster of emotions.
As we take time to reflect on the story turns in our own life, sometimes we can discover a redemptive perspective to our pain. Joseph went through a lot of hard times but God was with him. At end of the story, Joseph said the hard events in his life were given to him so God could use him to “save many lives” (Gen.50:20). Negatives stay negatives but they can help prepare us for our future contribution. Not all things are good nor does God cause all things (we make choices that have consequences and other people also make choices that affect us), but he does take everything in our life and orchestrates it for an ultimate purpose (Rom.8:28). During the process, he promises to never leave us or forsake us (Heb.13:5). We all experience joy and pain but God is with us all the time. Looking back, its more obvious.
What do you want?
Today is in many ways a blank page - waiting for you to write on it. A story is about a character who wants something. Unfortunately, many people spend more time planning their next holiday than planning their life. Thankfully, God has plans for us (Jer.29:11-12) and a unique contribution for us to make (Eph.2:10). But he wants us to plan too.
Donald Miller goes on to say, “If you want to live a meaningful life, imagine yourself ten years from now, then ask yourself what you’ll wish you’d done (or become) by then. Then do those things.” It’s amazing how priorities float to the top when we consider our lives in hindsight. Think about the roles that you play and imagine the kind of person you’d like to become. Examine your desires (Ps.37:4), what problem you could help solve, what makes you angry, and what gifts you have to offer to the world. We all have soul cravings – including a craving for belonging, meaning, significance and contribution. Emptying ourselves of these desires is not what God wants, but rather a pursuit of them in right ways.
We all need something to live for, a project to give our time and energy to. When we have nothing to move towards, we lose our bearings, become directionless, and have no sense of meaning. God gave Adam the task of naming all the animals – that was a BIG project that required his best creative energies. God could have done this himself but he realized that he created us as teleological beings who need to be distracted by a noble cause. What do you want? Pray over each role in your life. Write it out. Once you decide, your story starts to move forward. Don't fear failure. Get moving.
How is Conflict Working in Your Story
As soon as you decide what you want and start moving towards it, it is inevitable that you will face challenge and potentially conflict. Movement creates friction. Yet it is conflict and challenge that moves your story forward. It’s during the times of pressure that we often change and grow the most. Don’t buy into the crippling belief that life was meant to be easy and pain free (John 16:33).
At the end of your life, when the credits roll, you probably wont be able to say you had an easy life, but by God’s grace will have lived a meaningful life (Acts 13:36. 2 Tim.4:7-8).
1. Reflect on your life so far? What ‘genre’ would you describe the dominant theme of your story?
2. What are the five most positive events in your life so far? Describe what happened and how each event affected you. In what ways have you never been the same since?
3. What are the five most painful events in your story so far? Describe what happened and how each event affected you. In what ways have you never been the same since?
You might want to write these events down on some post it notes (for example, blue for positive and pink for negative) and create a bit of a timeline of your life so far. In what ways have they shaped who you are today?
4. Reflect on the negative events of your life. Without trying to naively turn them into a positive, what good could come out of them and how might God use them to prepare you for what’s ahead?
5. Do you feel stuck in a painful event or moment in your life? Without trying to move on prematurely or just ‘get over it’, pray that God would give you grace in this moment, to process the situation, to find healing, and to find a way forward. Who knows, in just a moment, a significant new positive turn can occur.
6. Do you feel stuck at the end of a particular chapter in your life? Maybe today is the day to turn the page and move forward. Life has ‘necessary endings’. Stories finish. Let go. Take the next step. Pray for courage to enter the new chapter God has for you.
7. In what ways can we contribute to the positive events that occur in another person’s story? How can we as a LifeGroup be instrumental in joining God’s vision for our church of 10,000 stories of transformation?
Mark Sayers is a writer and speaker, who is highly sought out for his insights into faith, contemporary culture and the future of the Church in the West. Mark is the Senior Leader of Red Church, and the co-founder of Über Ministries. Check out his BLOG. He was a guest speaker at our recent INSPIRE Conference.
Mark is the author of The Trouble With Paris: Following Jesus in a World of Plastic Promises (Thomas Nelson 2008), The Vertical Self: How Biblical Faith Can Help Us Discover Who We Are In An Age of Self Obsession (Thomas Nelson 2010), The Road Trip that Changed the World: The Unlikely Theory that will Change How You View Culture, the Church, and, Most Importantly, Yourself (Moody 2012) and Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm (Moody 2014). These are all available form Word bookstore.
Mark lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Trudi, daughter Grace, and twin boys Hudson and Billy.
I am very thankful for gifted thinkers like Mark Sayers who help us engage with our changing culture in Christ-like ways.
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Last weekend, we were privileged to host Bill Hybels as one of the speakers at our INSPIRE conference, which is an event we put on each year for our church leaders and volunteers. Bill is the Senior Minister of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, USA.
Bill is an outstanding church leader, author and speaker. I met Bill back in 1994, during his first visit to Australia. Since that time I have learnt so much from him, via his teaching, writing and some personal mentoring opportunities. Nicole and I have had the honour of speaking at a conference at Willow Creek and Bill has spoken at our church a number of times.
Some of Bill's best-selling books include: Too Busy Not to Pray, Courageous Leadership, Leadership Axiom, The Power of a Whisper and Just Walk Across the Room. These are all available via Word's online Bookstore. Also, check out Bill's BLOG.
Bill is married to Lynne, who has as passion for social justice (visit her BLOG for more information). Take a moment to listen to their daughter, Shauna, recently speak about her family at the Q Conference.
I am grateful for church leaders like Bill Hybels who lead faithfully with their God-given gifts over the long haul, inspiring us to do the same.
1 Corinthains 15:58. With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort. Message Bible
* There is a lot going in.
* In the midst of it all, God is for us.
* We must stand our ground. This requires strength, courage, tenacity, and perseverance.
* We must not hold back. Don't allow doubt, insecurity, fear or discouragement to paralyse you.
* We must throw ourselves into our God-given calling. Give it all you've got. No half-hearted effort. No apathy, indifference, or lethargy allowed to settle in.
* Be confident. Full of faith, that vital ingredient.
* Nothing done for God is a waste of time or effort. It all matters. It all counts. It all makes a difference. It will be fruitful. It will have an impact.
What a great way to start the week!
A few days ago one of our family members was very sick. In fact, so sick we had to take them to hospital. It turned out they had caught a strong infection and simply needed a good dose of antibiotics to kill it off. Thankfully, they are better now.
After this, I was thinking how susceptible we are to infection and variosu viruses – not just natural ones but also to emotional and spiritual challenges such as doubt, discouragement, fear, apathy and disappointment. None of us are immune! Thankfully, we have access to the person and power of the Holy Spirit who can inject us with a strong dose of confidence, faith and courage for whatever we may be facing.
This is my prayer for you today: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9)."
This coming weekend is the CityLife Church INSPIRE Conference.
This event has been created and tailored specifically for our church leaders and volunteers. It will be a time of fresh impartation and inspiration, to encourage them in their life and ministry journey.
Speakers and topics include:
* Bill Hybels speaking on Inspired to Courageous Leadership.
* Mark Sayers speaking on Inspired to Engage with a Changing World.
* Nicole Conner sharing a devotional on Inspired to See God in Ordinary Life.
* Mark Conner speaking on Inspired to Holy Spirit Awareness.
This is a free event, but registration is required for catering purposes.
This coming Sunday is Mother's Day.
I realise that this can be a difficult day for some people. Maybe your mother passed away recently, or you don’t have a good relationship with your mum, or maybe you always wanted to become a mum and it hasn’t happened. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you.
It is, however, a good time to honour all of the mums. They are amazing people.
Have you ever thought about a mother's job? Check out this humorous video clip showing 24 people being interviewed for an impossible job paying nothing. Then find out who does this everyday.
Happy mother's day :)
Jesus gave us an enormous task, but it is a task than can be accomplished. It is an achievable goal.
For Christians, mission is not an optional extra for the fanatical few or for the specially called. It is central to who we are in Christ and why we are on planet earth. A church without mission is no longer truly a church and a Christian without mission is not a true disciple.
The question is not whether mission is for us, or whether it should be part of our ministry. The question is what is our part in mission because we are believers.
Here aree three simple steps we can each take:
1. Pray - for specific nations, for more mission workers, for existing mission workers, for peace and open doors for the good news of Jesus.
2. Go - consider going to another country on a short term team or becoming a mission worker (short or long term). Keith Green once sang, “Jesus commands us to Go. It should be the exception if we stay. It’s no wonder we’re moving so slow, then God’s children refuse to obey.”
3. Give - make a planned financial commitment to mission for the coming year, be a regular giver of offerings to missions and conisder supporting a specific worker or project. [Visit our web site for a list of CityLife mission partners]
It is time to accelerate in our passion and focus on world evangelisation, both at home and abroad. Now is the time. Let’s awake and arise. Let’s break free from apathy, lukewarmness and self-centredness. Let’s reach out with hearts of love to a world in need of Christ Jesus.
Mission is the activity of God himself. It has its source not in the church but in the very nature of God. Mission is not just an activity or a department of the church. It is an attribute or a character quality of God. God is a missionary God.
[The word “mission” is not used in the Bible. It comes from the word “to send”, which in the Greek language is “missio”]
1. God the Father sent the Son into the world. Jesus was the first missionary.
John 3:16-17. … God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
2. The Son sent the Spirit.
John 16:7. “… It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor (Comforter – the Holy Spirit) will not come to you, but if I go away, I will send him to you.”
3. Together, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit send the church into the world to do the work of mission, spreading the message of good news.
Matthew 10:16. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.
John 20:21. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.
4. The Holy Spirit also selects and sends individuals to specific tasks within God’s mission. We are “saved” and “called” (2 Timothy 1:9).
Matthew 9:37-38. Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
When we get involved in mission, we participate in the sending of God. Our mission has no life of it’s own. We simply partner in mission activity, an initiative that comes from God alone.
“It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfil in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.” [Moltmann]
Mission is to be seen as a movement of God to the world; the church is to be viewed as an instrument for that mission. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love. Mission has its origin in the heart of God. This is the deepest source of mission. There is mission because God loves people.
Specific examples of God’s mission activity (the book of Acts is really the missionary “acts of the Holy Spirit”, often through people):
1. Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40). God sends Philip to a place where he becomes instrumental in bringing understanding to an influential man who is already spiritual hungry.
2. Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-19). Jesus himself appears to Paul to save him and to call him to the work of mission (specific target: Gentiles).
3. Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48). Here is an good man who has not heard of Jesus Christ. God appears to him in a dream and tells him to send for Peter. The very next day, God gives Peter a vision preparing him to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his household.
4. Lydia (Acts 16:11-15). This businesswoman believed in God and followed the teachings of Scripture. God now causes Paul to cross her path (praying on the Sabbath outside the city at a place of prayer) and she believes the gospel message. As a result many people come to Christ and a significant church is born.
We are here because of mission (what’s your story?) and we exist for mission. There is church because there is mission, not visa versa.
Missio Dei – we get to partner with God’s mission in the world.
God is already at work with mission. We can choose to be involved or not. When we do choose to be involved, we are not starting something new. We are simply joining in with what God is already doing.
Worship is ultimate, not mission. Mission has a short life span – it won’t exist in heaven. Worship alone last forever. However, now the focus and priority is mission because time is short.
Let’s make heaven’s priority our first priority.
William Carey was one of the main instruments in God’s hand for the restoration of mission into the mainstream of Protestant Christianity through his writing, emphasis on prayer for world evangelisation and promotion of practical structures for mission. He was not the first to preach on missions, but he was the one used by God to lift the lid of the church preventing it overflowing to the world. He was preceded by great preachers and theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, and also a few significant missionaries like David Brainerd.
The month of May 1792 was a pivotal time for church and world history. An impoverished pastor, named William Carey, in rural England was about to impact history. Carey preached a passionate and well-reasoned sermon to fellow ministers meeting in Nottingham, England. His vision was for the evangelisation of the whole world.
Isaiah 53 shows us the Suffering Servant giving his life for our salvation. Most people stop at the end of chapter 53 and fail to read on. Remember that the chapters and verses were put in as a helpful addition but were not part of the original inspiration. We should be grateful for them, but at times they obscure the continuity God intended.
Isaiah 54 moves from the salvation of the Suffering Saviour to the mission of seeing an abundant and joyful harvest. The barren woman (symbolic of the church – God’s people) rejoices at the overwhelming fruitfulness God gives to her. The church is to enlarge its borders and spread out to influence the nations and cities of the world.
The message had a profound effect on those who heard it, but they had neither the faith nor the courage to do anything about it. The meeting broke up with no decision. The immensity of the task seemed overwhelming.
Carey turned to his friend, Andrew Fuller, who was also a pastor, gripped his arm and cried out, “Is there nothing again going to be done?” This sudden outburst broke through and Fuller persuaded the meeting to reconsider their lack of response. That turned the day around. A resolution was passed that “a plan be prepared at the next Minister’s meeting for forming a Baptist Society for propagating the gospel among the heathen.”
Four months later that meeting took place and 12 men committed themselves as the first members of the new missionary society. They contributed the, then, large sum of just 13 pounds – collected in a small snuffbox. So was born the modern missionary movement, which despite its many weaknesses, was to lead to an astonishing and unprecedented expansion and growth of the church over the following 200 years. Over this period the largely isolated, introspective Protestant church in northwest Europe was transformed into a global multi-cultural family of churches in which those of European origin were to be a distinct minority.
Why was William Cary so influential and so effective?
1. His years of pastoral ministry and church planting in rural England.
2. His perception of mission as the heart of God and the message of Scripture.
He passionately believed that the Great Commission was just as valid for modern Christians as for the apostles to whom Christ addressed it. The prevailing attitude for the previous centuries had been that the Great Commission was exclusively for the apostles to whom the words were originally addresses.
There was plenty of room for discouragement. In one minister’s meeting when he raised the issue, his old pastor, John Ryland, retorted: “Young man, sit down, When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid (help) or mine.”
3. His study and understanding of the modern world.
He lived in a time when Europe was discovering the existence of the wider world. Explorers were returning with detailed maps of new worlds and descriptions of peoples and cultures. The published accounts of Captain Cook’s discoveries were a significant contribution to Carey’s thinking.
The trading companies were sending their representatives to every corner of the world for financial gain. The industrial revolution was gathering momentum. Amazingly, this poor rural pastor acquired the reports, books and information to carefully craft a coloured wall map and a personally hand-sewn leather globe reflecting the latest discoveries of his time.
He did the first real statistical global survey ever undertaken and published it in 1792, in his 87 page book Enquiry. It was a masterpiece of factual accuracy, balanced assessments and global comprehensiveness. Patrick Johnstone’s influential book, Operation World, was birthed from Carey’s example.
4. His ability to communicate the vision by word and print.
His book the enquire became the most convincing missionary appeal ever written, and a landmark in which deserves a place alongside Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses in its subsequent influence on church history.
5. His proposal of a mechanism for mission work to be initiated and sustained.
He saw the need for practical structures to assist the accomplishment of the task. He created a strategy and a structure for mission work. He actually modelled his mission agency on the big international trading companies that were carving out powerful trading empires across the oceans. He motivated the church to action and provided a simple, but effective framework to channel church planting ministry.
6. His example in going as a missionary himself (to India).
Despite many obstacles with finance, opposition, disease, setbacks, he plodded on with unswerving dedication to become one of the greatest missionary Bible translators and church planters of all time.
7. His faith in God.
He allowed no discouragement from those around him to deflect him and no obstacle to hinder him. He lived the words he preached in his famous sermon, “Expect great things (from God) and attempt great things (for God)”. He was a visionary, researcher, theologian, linguist, writer, preacher and an effective communicator all rolled into one. He claimed to be no genius, just a plodder – but what a plodder! What appeared to Carey’s contemporaries as an impossible dream is becoming an attainable reality.
[Gleaned from The Church is Bigger Than You Think by Patrick Johnstone]
D espite the clarity of Jesus' commission to his followers, we have seen a “marginalisation of mission” over the last 2,000 years.
1. Mission has been belittled in the church.
Many Christians have inherited mindset in church that has almost excluded mission altogether or has pushed it to the sideline of what church is all about. For years, mission has had little importance to the average Christian. Our own needs are so great that we easily neglect the mission mandate, leaving it to the few “mission-heads” who feel the call. Mission’s reputation? Boring slide shows from the jungles of Africa. Unfortunately, for too long mission has not been seen as a priority for the church or for every Christian.
2. Mission has been overlooked in the Scripture(s).
Our understanding of Scripture is often viewed through spectacles that filter out mission. We focus so easily on the blessing God as for us (salvation) and miss our mandate to be a blessing to others (mission). Most people, when asked why does the church exist, answer, “To meet my needs”.
God’s promise to Abraham – “… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen.12:3).” In the previous chapter, we have the account of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages. Ethnicity and cultural diversity became the dominant characteristic of the human race. The very next incident is the calling of Abraham and the very purpose of his called was a promised blessing of every variety of those human cultures. This covenant promise is repeated to Isaac and Jacob and finds fulfilment in the book of Revelation where we see God’s redeemed people – from every race, tribe, people and language gathered around the throne of the Lamb (Revelation 5:9; 7:9-10).
Galatians 3:8. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."
Paul interprets this by saying that God was preaching the gospel to Abraham so that through him it would reach all the peoples in the world. This thread of revelation about the gospel and God’s covenant with Abraham runs through the entire Bible (a huge narrative of mission).
We have tended to focus on salvation to the exclusion of mission. We have been saved because of mission and now we have the awesome responsibility to win others as part of our mission. The doctrine of salvation (soteriology) must not be separated for the doctrine of missions (missiology). Salvation and mission are not to be divorced from each other. What Jesus has done for us must move forward to an embracing of what Jesus wants to do through us.
3. Missions has been sidelined in church history.
Notice the slowness of the disciples to catch the vision for world evangelisation. God’s love for the Gentiles is constantly stated in the Bible, yet the people of Israel failed to see their role as a blessing to the world. This is why Jesus appeared so radical – he reached out to the despised Samaritans, Greeks, traitorous tax-collectors and the hated Romans. Even just before Jesus’ ascension, the disciples wanted to know about when God would restore the kingdom to Israel.
After Pentecost, the disciples were so caught up in the amazing revival and enormous church growth that they failed to move to the wider implementation of the Great Commission. It took a number of years and much persecution to finally get the church to actually move outside of Jerusalem with the intent to bringing others to Christ. In fact, it was through the martyrdom of Stephen and the preaching of Phillip, both deacons, that they finally spread outside Jerusalem. Even then, the apostles stayed in Jerusalem and the ordinary believers went out.
It took the church at Antioch, rather than the Jerusalem church, to finally become a launching pad for world evangelisation. Then the apostles began to go to distant lands and peoples with the gospel. The NT church eventually obeyed the Lord Jesus.
Unfortunately, after the end of the first century, mission almost disappeared from the church for 1700 years. There was little interest in world evangelisation during this long period of time. Mission has been sidelined from the central place it has in God’s heart. The focus was on doctrine, church structures and personal spirituality.
The mainline Reformers and those that followed them assumed that the key Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) had been obeyed and achieved by the apostolic church and that all that remained was to evangelise locally. WHY? This was because of wrong priorities, coldness of heart, blindness, a distorted worldview. There has been missionary effort throughout the history of the church but usually through a FEW, and not through the mainstream of the church. Historians, when writing about church history, had little focus on the importance of missionary advance.
Something significant happened a little over 200 years ago that dramatically affected the history of the church. There has been an incredible escalation in world evangelisation, both local and global. Research has led to mobilisation, goal-setting and staggering growth in numbers of Christians and churches around the world. The good news of Jesus has spread through radio and television ministry, Bible translation, prayer ministries and church planting. After many years of barrenness and retreat, the church started to obey Jesus' commission – at least, in parts.
Read part 3 to find out.
[Thoughts gleaned from The Church is Bigger Than You Think by Patrick Johnstone]
Matthew 24:14. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. NIV
Acts 1:8. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. NIV
This is an incredible global mission given to 11 people!
Jesus didn’t emphasis one task over the other. He commissioned his followers to do all of them simultaneously. This was not a range of alternatives, but rather an overall concern. It was a wide-ranging comprehensive task – including all kinds of ministries (church planting, evangelism, community outreach, teaching, training and missions) in all parts of the world.
Whatever happened to mission?
Read part 2 to find out.
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” Jeremiah 29:11-14.
Or nice distraction?
Hard to tell
Difficult to know
Did it choose me?
Or did I choose it?
Is my heart leading?
Or simply following the lead?
Am I writing the script?
Or just reading what’s already there?
Am I in control?
Or just fulfilling my role?
Creator or creature?
Director or actor?
Leader or follower?
Yes or no?
Into the unknown
Follow the storyline
See the narrative
A new chapter
Turn the page
What do you see?
Easter is here again and with it a holiday weekend, chocolate eggs and enough shopping sales to tempt any credit-card carrying buyer. What’s it really all about? All around the world, around two billion Christians will take time this weekend to reflect on and give thanks for the work that Jesus Christ accomplished through his death, burial and resurrection. That’s the real meaning of Easter. Followers of Christ believe that Jesus is ALIVE!
The Living Jesus
In his excellent book The Living Jesus, New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson notes that whether a person is dead or alive really matters – not only to the person but also to other people relating to that person. If someone is dead, you can still learn about them and their influence may continue to live on but their life is complete. There are no new actions being done or new words being spoken, only echoes from the past. We can talk about who they “were” but no longer who they “are”. However, when someone is alive, the situation is completely different. New data is coming in. We can have a conversation with them and as a result our knowledge of them grows and changes.
The most important question concerning Jesus is this: “Do you think he is dead or alive?”
If Jesus is dead, then there are a number of ways we can relate to his life and accomplishments. We can study the “historical Jesus” and learn about him but we cannot learn from him anymore. If Jesus is alive, however, everything changes. We are not just relating to a memory but to a living person who we can continue to learn from.
There is no middle ground between dead and alive. If Jesus is dead, his story is completed. If he is alive, then his story continues. To be a Christian means to assert that Jesus is alive. Christian faith begins with the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:14). To pray to Jesus is to address a real, living person who is capable of answering us and manifesting his presence. To declare “Jesus is Lord” is not only a statement of belief in a certain reality but a declaration of how we live our lives in relation to the living Jesus (Romans 10:9).
Evidence for the Resurrection
Critics of Christianity try to explain away the resurrection of Jesus as mere myth. Some say Jesus never really died, suggested he merely fainted then later revived in the tomb (the swoon theory). This is highly unlikely, as nobody survived death by crucifixion and the Roman soldiers declared Jesus dead. Even if he did, imagine the condition Jesus would have been in – one that would have attracted pity from his disciples not faith to launch a worldwide movement.
Evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is found in the empty tomb (Jesus’ enemies would have loved to have produced a body if they could) and the numerous post-resurrection appearances to his disciples (to over 500 people who were still alive at the time of their testimony – see 1 Corinthians 15:1-3). Sir Lionel Luckhoo, the most successful attorney of all time, said this after investigating the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ: "I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt."
The best explanation of the rapidly growing Christian movement is the resurrection of Jesus. How else could a small group of marginal people grow with such power and impact as to eventually overcome the might of the Roman Empire without something supernatural bringing about transformation to their personal lives? A living Jesus is the most sensible explanation.
Experiencing Jesus Today
Where can Jesus be known and experienced today? There are a number of ways:
One of Jesus’ last promises was that he would be “with us” until the end when he returns (Matthew 28:20). Jesus is Emmanuel = “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). We don’t lack his presence. What we need is a greater awareness of his presence. Right here, right now, whether we feel like it or not, Jesus is present. He is alive – the Living One – who was and is and is to come!
This Good Friday, we are pleased to be hosting the Sons of Korah at CityLife Church as part of our Easter weekend celebrations (9.00 and 11.00 am at our Knox campus).
Sons of Korah will be leading us in reflection through Lamentations and the Psalms. They will also be inviting us to share communion together. Sons of Korah are an Australian project band focused on the biblical Psalms. The band believes the Psalms are of central importance in that they portray a simple and authentic biblical spirituality - traditionally they have performed a central role in the Judeo-Christian heritage and this role had been performed through songs. Sons of Korah aim to give a fresh expression to this traditional endeavour. The band presents their music as a tool to be used; it is not simply music for music’s sake but music designed to enable one to meditate on the scriptures and connect with God in a fresh way.
Band members include: Matthew Jacoby, Spike Avery, Rod Wilson, Bruce Walker, Rod Gear and Ann-Maree Keefe. Their manager is Stuart Duncan.
Christmas is barely over and now it’s time to talk about Easter. No wonder little children get confused. Did you hear about the little boy who said to his mother, “Jesus has just been born and now you’re telling me He’s died!"
Over this Easter weekend, millions of Christians will reflect on what Jesus Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection over 2,000 years ago. These are believed to be 3 days that changed the world.
Good Friday – a day reflecting on the cruel death Jesus went through.
Resurrection Sunday – a day of joy and hope because Jesus is alive.
Saturday – a day between the suffering and the joy … waiting.
Different Christian traditions and individual Christians tend to lean towards one of these days. Yet, ALL three of these days are part of the Christian story … and of the journey that is our lives.
Today let’s reflect on the death of Jesus and look at the important question: “Why did Jesus die?” The death of Jesus Christ (“Christ crucified”) is part of the eternal purposes of God. It is central to our faith. No cross - no Christianity. We will never exhaust the many ways of articulating its meaning for our salvation.
The Power and Limits of a Metaphor
In answering a question or describing something or someone, we often use metaphors (or images or example). We say, “It’s like …” or “He is like …” I have been married to Nicole now for 28 years this coming June. What is she like? How would I describe her? I would say she is fun (never a dull moment in our family), an animal lover (any animal), and a very authentic person (she can be refreshingly or disarmingly honest!). Each of these illustrations is true, but none of them are adequate and even all of them together don’t tell the full story of who Nicole really is. There is so much more. Also, each of them can be pushed too far and become a distortion. She is fun but can also be serious. She is authentic, but more so when she is in an environment where she feels safe.
In a similar way, there are many models and metaphors for answering the important question, "Why did Jesus die?" Some scholars list as many as 10 different images and metaphors – all sharing a way in which humans beings can experience the saving power of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. No interpretation of the atonement is the only authentic one because no one metaphor can exhaust the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion. Even the New Testament presents multiple images to explain its meaning. As we are going to see, there was a lot going on the day Jesus died on that cross. It was much more than a physical death. Things of eternal consequence were taking place. There is a depth and richness to the meaning of Jesus’ death.
Let’s look at a number of ways Christians throughout the centuries answered this question.
1. Sacrifice. Jesus described his own pending death as a "sacrifice" (Mark 14:22-25). We have all sinned and disobeyed God's law. The penalty of sin is death and as a holy God, He must uphold justice. Yet God is also loving and so sends His Son to pay our debt. Jesus took our place as our substitute. His death was the final sacrifice for sin and now God offers us forgiveness, righteousness, and reconciliation as a free gift (see Rom.5:6-10; 8:32. Eph.5:2).
2. Ransom. Jesus also described the giving of his life as a "ransom" (Mark 10:45). Through sin, Adam and Eve turned the dominion of this world over to Satan and his forces of darkness. Jesus' death was the price paid to redeem the world from the enemy's power, from captivity to sin, and from the kingdom of darkness. Jesus is the victor over sin, death and the devil (see also Col.2:14-15. Heb.2:14-15. 1 John 3:8). His kingdom is now being established on earth. [C.S. Lewis built his Chronicles of Narnia story around this concept with Aslan's death being a ransom given in order to defeat the wicked witch and her spell over Narnia]
3. Example. Jesus' called his followers to "take up your cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34-35). His death was also an example of self-sacrificing love, showing us how to live. Jesus did not respond to violence with violence but chose not to retaliate. It was a non-violent protest against evil. His way of living is an inspiration to us and an example for us to follow (see Phil.2:3-11).
These are three of the many available "atonement theories" (atonement being a 12th century Middle English word meaning to bring at one that which was separated). Pushing the Example metaphor (sometimes called the Moral Influence theory) too far fails to deal seriously with sin and can lead to salvation through self-effort. Pushing the Ransom metaphor (sometimes called the Christus Victor theory) too far can result in glorifying Satan and giving him too much power, as one who God needs to appease. Pushing the Sacrifice metaphor (often called the Penal Substitution Theory) too far can result in a barbaric view of God as a cosmic child abuser - an angry Father being appeased by a loving Son. The truth is that God is both holy and loving, and the Son was God in human form willing offering his life for us.
An adjective or a metaphor is not the thing. It is just an image, a window or a lens to help us look at the thing. It takes us there but it is not there. No atonement theory can ever exhaust the depths and richness of what God was doing the day Jesus died.
Most importantly, how will we respond? Many people saw Jesus die that day - the disciples, the crowds, the religious leaders and the Roman officials. One unnamed man, a Roman centurion, was right there. Mark tells us this: "When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, This man truly was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39)
As a centurion, he would have seen many people die, having possibly put to death dozens, maybe hundreds, of people himself. These officials were known to be hard and brutal. He had seen others die - maybe cursing or screaming, or pouring out venom. Then he saw Jesus die. Something was different here. This was no ordinary man. He became the first person after the death of Jesus to declare, "This man (not Caesar!) truly was the Son of God!" Remarkable!
How will you respond? As you see Jesus as a sacrifice for sin, may you respond by declaring Him your Saviour. As you see Jesus as a ransom and victor over all, may you respond by declaring Him as your Lord. As you see Jesus as our example, may He become the Teacher who you follow. Jesus' death is God reaching out to us. May you reach back to him in faith and trust today.
To read more about various atonement theories, check out:
* The Nature of Atonement: Four Views. Edited by James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy
* A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight
* Stricken by God? Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ. Edited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin
A few encouraging thoughts from Psalm 37:
Last weekend I was in Singapore. 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 the best 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.
13. Communications. While away, my primary communication back home is via email and Skype. I plan ahead and find free Wi-Fi spots.
I have been journaling for many years now. I find it a great tool to help me unpack what I am think and how I am thinking. It's a place for me to process the events and circumstances of my life. It's a way for me to open my heart to God and listen for his voice of guidance.
I used to use a paper journal, then a few years ago I switched to a computer word processing document. That enabled me to have my journal wherever I am, shared across devices, as well as search functionality. Earlier this year, my son Ashley made me aware of a really cool app designed especially for journaling. It's called Day One. Visit the Day One web site for full details or watch an online video review. [Unfortunately, it is only available for the Mac at this stage, but a Windows version is on the way. Windows users can benefit from a number of alternatives]
Why I like Day One:
1. I can have separate entries throughout the day - for general diary stuff, for spiritual prayer times, for reflection, and for recording insights. Dividing these up makes them easier to find later, and separates them into neater categories.
2. The ability to put pictures into an entry is cool too, as it gives visual reminders to clues to what is happening in my life.
3. Tags are very helpful too - for tracking down related entries.
4. Location works well, as it reminds me where I am when I write, including the temperature of the day.
5. Focused view enables me to put everything else out of my mind, avoiding distraction.
6. Having a live copy on my mobile devices is fantastic too (synced via Dropbox), enabling me to read what has taken place, add in new events or thoughts, and insert photos.
7. Automatic time and date insertion is helpful.
8. The formatting is basic but workable.
I also like the concept of a DAY:
* Each day is a new beginning - “day one” of the rest of my life.
* On each day, “one” thing is needful and that is connecting with God, then reflecting on that experience so that I change and grow.
* The “day” was created by God as a segment of life. I can learn lessons from the creation week and how God lived out a rhythm of work and rest.
St. Ignatius (creator of a set of spiritual exericses for the spiritual life of a disciple of Jesus) spent part of his time in prayer and part of his time in writing. His spiritual journal helped him discern the different spirits stirring in his prayer, reflections, spiritual conversations, and daily life. So began the prayer-reflection-action prayer cycle, which is the way of “contemplatives in action.”
Nothing is immediate and change is a slow process, much like a flower opening up, moving towards the light. In due season, we become who we truly are. Over time, our spiritual journal becomes clear in speaking the voice of the Holy Spirit.
* My spiritual journal is a keeper of consolation (experiences with the Spirit, leading to inner peace) and truth.
* It is a “source spring” for gratitude.
* It gives me time to absorb my spiritual prayer experience.
* It tells me what I have discovered.
* It enables me to accumulate wisdom.
See your journal as a “listening book”. It is a book you listen to after giving it your reflections. It is much like a good friend. Write and tell it what you feel, think and want to say. Then after some time (an hour, a day, or a week), return to it and read what you have written. “Listen” to your Listening Book as it reveals new meanings, understanding and fresh feelings. The original prayer experience in a spiritual exercise virtually always has much more in it that we might first realise. Most graces burst over time. So listen with great care as you re-read the words. Even the Holy Spirit will speak to you through your Listening Book. [Example: the disciples reflecting on the road to Emmaus]
After finishing your spiritual exercises, sit or walk around for a few minutes and reflect on your prayer time. Then write down what has passed through your soul.
Uses for a Listening Book:
1. Reflecting after a spiritual exercise or other prayer.
2. Reflecting after a spiritual conversation.
3. Reflecting after an Awareness Examen.
4. Reflecting during an important life event.
5. Helping me to teach others.
Day One is a terrific journal App.
[This is from the chapter called Ignatian Guide to Spiritual Journaling in the book The First Spiritual Exercises by Michael Hansen, p.349]
Some quotes and thoughts worth thinking about:
Some quotes and thoughts worth thinking about:
Here is a good reflection for the end of each day ...
Give thanks for the graces, benefits and good things of your day.
Ask the Holy Spirit for help to discern your day with openness.
Review your day, hour by hour, to see how God is working in your life.
Respond to what you felt or learnt in the review of your day.
Resolve with hope and grace to amend your life tomorrow.
It was a privilege to host Major Brendan Nottle from the Salvation Army for our recent Community Care weekend at CityLife Church. Brendan was given the prestigious Melbournian of the Year award last year for his work in our city. He has led a variety of initiatives with a special focus on the homeless and the underprivileged. Every week, Brendan can be found in the city giving crucial support to those in need, including meals, clothing and counselling. Brendan is also the voluntary chaplain for the Collingwood Football Club.
To learn more about the work of Brendan and the Melbourne Salvos Project 614, visit their web site. Interestingly, my father, Kevin Conner, came to faith in Christ at the Salvation Army centre where Brendan works - 69 Bourke St Melbourne - when he was a teenager.
The Salvation Army are well respected and do excellent work in our local communities as an expression of the love of Christ. Consider helping out with their upcoming Red Shield Appeal.
When in the USA recently, one of our church staff members visited two large, well-known churches. The facilities and church services were first class, but at both churches ... no one spoke to him. Sadly, this is all to commonplace today. Have we become high-tech and low-touch?
Here is a great article by Will Mancini called Smiling is Not Enough: Top 10 Mistakes of Church Greeting Teams.
The team at Auxano enjoys playing the role of “secret worshipper” when we take a church through our visioning process called the Vision Pathway. We call it a guest perspective evaluation. As I prepare to debrief a church again tomorrow, I want to share some general insights on welcoming ministry and hospitality for guests. Here are the top ten mistakes I see when volunteers are helping me as a first time guest:
#1 Volunteers have not thought in advance about my next step as a guest so they don’t know how to guide the conversation with me.
#2 Volunteers are talking with friends and don’t notice me.
#3 Volunteers are doing task work and are not available or responsive the moment I show up.
#4 Volunteers generally hesitate when I initiate with a question.
#5 Volunteers don’t know where the most pertinent information is located.
#6 Volunteers tell me what to do with no information or tools or other people to help me.
#7 Volunteers generally look preoccupied, distracted or unsure of themselves in their non-verbals even when being friendly.
#8 Volunteers are unaware of the basic “how to” questions for checking-in children of every age.
#9 Volunteers don’t introduce me to others at the church.
#10 Volunteers gave me written information that is not important, pertinent or strategic (sending me on a b-line to the trash can).
If you want more resources on welcoming ministry and church guest services, check out VisionRoom.com and follow Bob Adams who works as Auxano’s Vision Room curator and guest services maven. Here is a list of resources on his blog.
Last night, my family and I attended a preview of the new movie Noah starring Russell Crowe [trailer]. Without doubt it is a well-made movie, with amazing affects and some star actors. However, the treatment of the storyline was disappointing from my perspective and I came away feeling like the movie was a combination of themes and ideas from Lord of the Rings and Transformers ... with a big double rainbow finish.
No doubt it will generate a lot of discussion and that's a good thing. Reviews so far indicate that those looking for a fully accurate biblical story are upset while others are rating it highly as a movie experience in its own right. It is interesting how Bible stories and themes are becoming popular in Hollywood at the moment. Charisma News recently declared 2014 "the year of the Bible."
Almost a year ago, Matthew Warren, the son of well-known American pastors Rick and Kay Warren commited suicide. It was a sad day for everyone and of course, the Warrens being public figures, everyone had an opinion about the situation. Today, Kay Warren made the following post on her Facebook page and I think it is well worth reading, hearing and taking to heart. Wise words ...
From Kay Warren
As the one-year anniversary of Matthew's death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to "move on." The soft, compassionate cocoon that has enveloped us for the last 11 1/2 months had lulled me into believing others would be patient with us on our grief journey, and while I’m sure many will read this and quickly say “Take all the time you need,” I’m increasingly aware that the cocoon may be in the process of collapsing. It’s understandable when you take a step back. I mean, life goes on. The thousands who supported us in the aftermath of Matthew’s suicide wept and mourned with us, prayed passionately for us, and sent an unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts. The support was utterly amazing. But for most, life never stopped – their world didn’t grind to a horrific, catastrophic halt on April 5, 2013. In fact, their lives have kept moving steadily forward with tasks, routines, work, kids, leisure, plans, dreams, goals etc. LIFE GOES ON. And some of them are ready for us to go on too. They want the old Rick and Kay back. They secretly wonder when things will get back to normal for us – when we’ll be ourselves, when the tragedy of April 5, 2013 will cease to be the grid that we pass everything across. And I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again. There is a new “normal.” April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time….maybe forever.
Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving “well” (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive –so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered. “At least you can have another child” one mother was told shortly after her child’s death. “You’re doing better, right?” I was asked recently. “When are you coming back to the stage at Saddleback? We need you” someone cluelessly said to me recently. “People can be so rude and insensitive; they make the most thoughtless comments,” one grieving father said. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was standard in our culture for people to officially be in mourning for a full year. They wore black. They didn’t go to parties. They didn’t smile a whole lot. And everybody accepted their period of mourning; no one ridiculed a mother in black or asked her stupid questions about why she was STILL so sad. Obviously, this is no longer accepted practice; mourners are encouraged to quickly move on, turn the corner, get back to work, think of the positive, be grateful for what is left, have another baby, and other unkind, unfeeling, obtuse and downright cruel comments. What does this say about us - other than we’re terribly uncomfortable with death, with grief, with mourning, with loss – or we’re so self-absorbed that we easily forget the profound suffering the loss of a child creates in the shattered parents and remaining children.
Unless you’ve stood by the grave of your child or cradled the urn that holds their ashes, you’re better off keeping your words to some very simple phrases: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or “I’m praying for you and your family.” Do your best to avoid the meaningless, catch-all phrase “How are you doing?” This question is almost impossible to answer. If you’re a stranger, it’s none of your business. If you’re a casual acquaintance, it’s excruciating to try to answer honestly, and you leave the sufferer unsure whether to lie to you (I’m ok) to end the conversation or if they should try to haltingly tell you that their right arm was cut off and they don’t know how to go on without it. If you’re a close friend, try telling them instead, “You don’t have to say anything at all; I’m with you in this.”
None of us wants to be like Job’s friends – the pseudo comforters who drove him mad with their questions, their wrong conclusions and their assumptions about his grief. But too often we end up a 21st century Bildad, Eliphaz or Zophar – we fill the uncomfortable silence with words that wound rather than heal. I’m sad to realize that even now – in the middle of my own shattering loss – I can be callous with the grief of another and rush through the conversation without really listening, blithely spouting the platitudes I hate when offered to me. We’re not good grievers, and when I judge you, I judge myself as well.
Here’s my plea: Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Prov. 17:17 LB). The truest friends and “helpers” are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re ok with messy and slow and few answers … and they never say “Move on.”
Click here to read a further interview with Kay Warren about her experience.
Daniel Goleman's latest book is Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. For more than two decades, psychologist and journalist Goleman has been scouting the leading edge of the human sciences for what's new, important and surprising. In this book, he delves into the science of attention in all its varieties, presenting a comprehensive discussion on this mental asset that matters enormously as to how we navigate life.
Attention works much like a muscle: use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows. In an era of unstoppable distractions, Goleman argues that now more than ever we must learn to sharpen focus if we are to contend with, let alone thrive, in a complex world.
Here are a few of his insights:
1. Attention is like a muscle. It gets stronger with practice.
2. There are three areas of needed focus: inner focus, focus on others, and outer focus on our world.
3. Your focus is your reality.
4. Distractions are both sensory and emotional (the most draining kind).
5. The brain's default is a wandering mind. Yet even here, creative juices can flow.
6. The most powerful distractor is the chatter of our own mind.
7. Mindfulness quiets our inner voices by presenting us with a focus. It trains us in attention and helps focus the drifting mind.
8. The antidote to mental fatigue is rest. Time out in nature can be particularly helpful as can activities where our enjoyment is immersive.
9. The more you care about someone, the more you pay attention to them and the more attention you give them the more you care about them.
10. Limit strenuous practice of anything to 4 hours maximum per day.
11. Move from a firefight of the day mentality to thoughtful reflection.
12. Organisation attention is vital. Effective leaders focus it when and where it matters. Leaders need to capture and direct collective attention.
13. The ripple effect: what matters to leaders guides other people's attention, not just their own.
Some related Scriptures for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ:
Proverbs 4:25-27. Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. NLT
Romans 12:1-2. And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice — the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. NLT
Revelation 3:6. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. NLT
1 Samuel 3:10. The Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening. NLT
A recent article from the Barna Group:
March 18, 2014 — He was the most talked-about person of 2013 and winner of TIME’s “Person of the Year” award. Google Translate coders have set his name to translate as “a better world.” Yet Pope Francis insists that he is “a normal person,” and has no desire to be “a superman or a star.”
Some religion columnists and commentators attribute the public’s esteem to his humble insistence that he is ordinary. In fact, humility may just be the pontiff’s paradoxical trademark. The Washington Postsummed it up in one headline: “Like Pope Francis? You’ll Love Jesus.” The Post is not alone in pointing out that the pope’s actions, words and demeanor are often reminiscent of the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels. Humility may be exactly the kind of “ordinary” Pope Francis hopes will become the norm among all of those who claim to follow Christ.
It’s widely accepted that Catholics love the Holy Father, but what about people of other traditions? Some have called Francis a pope for Protestants or for Millennials, but what do these groups actually think of him? And if his influence is so far-reaching, what has been the impact of the so-called “Pope Effect,” one year into his papacy?
A new study conducted in late February 2014 by Barna Group examines the impact of the new leader of the Catholic Church on the U.S. population, including the nearly half of Americans who identify as Protestants.
The World’s Most Well-Known Religious Leader
Just last March white smoke billowed above St. Peter’s Square and then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis I, head of the Roman Catholic Church and leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. In a single year, Pope Francis has become the most well-known religious leader in ministry today.
Of all U.S. adults surveyed, 62% say they are somewhat or very familiar with the pontiff. Not surprisingly, Catholics take the lead at 99%. Among practicing Protestants, 58% say they have a working familiarity with the pope.
Second to Pope Francis is Billy Graham, the famed evangelist who has been in public ministry for 65 years. Sixty percent of adults say they are familiar with Rev. Graham. The third-most well-known religious leader is the Dalai Lama; just under half of all adults (49%) say are somewhat or very familiar with him.
Popularity, Power and Public Critique
Familiarity is, of course, not the same as favorability—but Pope Francis receives positive marks among a majority of U.S. adults (54%). About one-quarter (26%) say their opinion of the pontiff is neutral, less than one in 10 (7%) view him unfavorably and 14% say they don’t know enough to have an opinion. More than half of all adults (54%) say Pope Francis is an improvement on his predecessor (among practicing Catholics, it’s a two-thirds majority). When asked to identify how well certain words describe the current pope, nearly nine out of 10 Americans say he is very or somewhat honest (87%), compassionate (88%) and intelligent (86%).
Practicing Catholics take the lead in giving him high marks: an overwhelming 98% have a favorable view of the Holy Father. In contrast, just 45% of practicing Protestants express a very or somewhat favorable opinion, and among non-mainline Protestants even fewer have a favorable view (37%).
On a generational scale, positive views of the pope increase among older adults. While only 41% of Millennials see him in a positive light, favorability is higher among Busters, also called Gen-Xers (51%), and Boomers (63%). The generation most favorable toward the pontiff is the cohort to which Pope Francis belongs: the Elders, two-thirds of whom view him favorably (66%).
But what about dissenters? The largest demographic to express negative views is practicing non-mainline Protestants, one-quarter (26%) of whom feel somewhat or very unfavorable toward the pope. Specific critiques of Pope Francis range from descriptions of him as out of touch (22%) to the more serious allegation that he is corrupt (17%). While he has sometimes been cast as the pope for faith-jaded Millennials, young adults are notably skeptical about the pontiff’s integrity: 37% say he is somewhat or very corrupt, more than twice the national average.
Adults are evenly split on whether Pope Francis—often billed by the media as progressive compared to former pontiffs—is too liberal (27%) or too conservative (27%) on social issues. Four in 10 adults (39%) believe the pope is too powerful.
These critiques uncover some notable denominational and generational differences. For example, just 8% of practicing Catholics say the pope is either somewhat or very corrupt, while 22% of practicing Protestants say so. The leading groups to disapprove of the pope as too liberal include non-mainline Protestants (51%) and, perhaps surprisingly, Millennials (36%). On the opposite end of the spectrum, those most at odds with Pope Francis as being too conservative on social issues are also non-mainline Protestants (30%) and Millennials (38%).
Do you ever worry? A better question is probably, “What do you worry about?” Worry can come from many sources - our health, finances, relationships, the future, etc. There are many things to worry about that are real and relevant to our lives. To “worry” means to fret, to fear, to be afraid, to be anxious or to be overly concerned. Worry is simply ‘negative meditation’ or ‘negative imagination’. One worry feeds another so much that it becomes impossible to think of anything other than the risks and threats that could lie ahead. The more we worry, the worse we feel; and the worse we feel, the more we think in a worried and anxious way. We lose our joy worrying about things that may never happen, or that turn out not to be as bad as we had imagined, or things that were never that important to begin with. Worry rarely helps.
Once again, as we turn to God’s Word as recorded in the Bible, we have lots of good advice and encouragement for finding freedom from worry. Jesus tells us not to worry nine times in his sermon on the mountain (Matt.6:25-34). He doesn’t want our minds to be preoccupied with the cares and concerns of life. The “worries of this life” (Matt.13:22) can become like thorns which choke and strangle the life out of God’s word, causing us to be unfruitful.
How to STOP Worrying
Specify your worries. The first question you should ask yourself is, “What am I worrying about?” Specifically define your worries clearly in writing. Make a list. Writing them down gets them out of your head. Be clear and specific. Admitting and defining your problem is the beginning of the answer. Confess your worries and confront them. Don’t deny their existence or run away from them. If you do you’ll never conquer or overcome them. Accurate diagnosis is 50% of the cure. When fears and worries remain nameless, it becomes almost impossible to deal with them. They tend to grow to unrealistic proportions. Much of our anxiety is usually not specific, but more a sense of unknown and uncertain possibilities that may lie ahead.
A study was done on the things people worry about. Here are the results:
40% of the worries people had never happened or will never happen.
30% of the worries were things in the past for which nothing could be done.
12% were worries about health and worry actually worsens your health.
10% were petty or minor worries.
8% of the worries were about anything substantial or legitimate. Of that 8%, half, or 4%, of all worries, were out of their control. The other 4% concern something a person could do something about.
Therefore, research tells us that 96% of what we worry about is irrelevant. It’s not worth worrying about!
Don’t worry about the unimportant. Don’t fill up your life with worry about trivial things. Ask yourself, “How important is this thing I’m worrying about”? “Will this matter in five years time?” Put your worry in a long-term perspective. “How bad or dreadful, really, is this thing I’m worrying about?” Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. “How much is this worry worth?” Don’t spend more worry on it than its worth. You need your energy for more important things.
Don’t worry about the unlikely. Don’t waste your energy on problems that don’t really exist. Most worry is not only bad for you. It wastes time and energy. Many people lives are filled with tragedies that never happened.
Take action on your worries. The next question to ask is yourself is, “Is there anything I can do about it?” If “yes”, work out what you could do, or how to find out what to do. Make a list. Turn worries into actions. Do something about your worries and fears.
There are two types of things not worth worrying about: those that you can do something about and those that you can’t. Turn your worries into problems; then solve them. The antidote to worry is purposeful action. You can’t worry about something if you are working to take care of it. Worry is useful if it makes you sit up and take notice OR if it motivates you action. All other worry is pointless.
Take some action to address the situation causing your worry. Any further worry is unproductive, so drop it.
Offer up a prayer to God. Paul tells us … “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7. NIV) The Message Bible translates these verses this way: “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”
Place your trust in God. “Is there anything you can do about it?” If “no”, then stop worrying and place your trust in the Lord (Prov.3:5-6). Co-operate with the inevitable and things beyond your control. Yes, there will be dark days, storms of life and unanswered questions. However, responding to life’s situations is your choice. No one can do it for you. It is an issue of trust.
Learn to live with uncertainty. Uncertainty is difficult to handle when the situation is uncontrollable or you can’t predict what will happen. There will always be things beyond our control; however, God is in control. Your life is not controlled by fate, accident or chance. Even the people and circumstances around you are under the domain and sovereignty of God. Nothing happens to you without God knowing and permitting it (see Rom.8:28). Let this motivate you to put your trust completely in God.
Why shouldn’t we worry? It’s bad for us and does us no good - unless it leads to action. It takes away our joy. What a worry worry is! The only thing we should worry about is worry itself - like the only thing we should fear is fear itself. But most of all, worry tends to get us focused on our own needs, rather than the needs of others. We become so preoccupied with our own concerns and problems that we are of no use to anyone else. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells us what to do instead of worrying – “Seek first the kingdom of God”. Get busy advancing God’s kingdom. God has called us to make a difference in the world - to reach out to others in need; to serve and help; and to share the “good news” about Jesus.
1. Reflect back on your life and consider various things that you have spent considerable time worrying about. What happened? Was the worry worth it? How did things turn out?
2. Read Matthew 6:25-34 where Jesus taught on worry. If Jesus were speaking this today, what would be some of the common worries he might have mentioned?
3. Think about how taking positive action helps conquer worry. Consider how prayer helps conquer worry.
4. Reflect on the concept of ‘trust’ in God. How does this help conquer worry? Read Proverbs 3:5-6. What is the promise? What are the three conditions to the promise?
Finish by praying specifically focused on things that you are currently concerned about.
Day of rest
Work now done
Life is blessed
Thank the Son
No need for more
Just this moment
Time to pause
Yesterday is gone
Tomorrow hasn't come
Today is life
The Great I AM
In the air
Here and now
Can you hear?
Can you see?
Do you know?
Come with me
Still your mind
In about a week's time (17th March), Irish people all around the world will celebrate St. Patrick's day, which has become both a religious and cultural holiday in Ireland. St. Patrick is also highly esteemed highly by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran Churches.
Only two letters survive about Patrick's life and mission, although there is a host of other material containing various traditions about him. He was captured by a group of pirates as a 16 year old and taken to Ireland as a slave. He lived there for 6 years before escaping and returning home to Great Britain. During his captivity he had a conversion experience and became a follower of Christ. Eventually, he returned to Ireland as a missionary - by his own choice.
St. Patrick took the Gospel from Britain to the pagan tribes of Ireland (approx 457-492 AD). This was the time of the druids. It is believed that he was instrumental in seeing over 200 churches planted, over 100,000 people becoming followers of Christ, and 1000s of people being baptised.
St. Patrick was a missionary who connected the Gospel to local culture for the purpose of mission. Many refer to this as the “Celtic Way of Evangelism". It was steeped in prayer, humble living, connection with the local community of people, and finding God at work, even in the pagan culture. Patrick baptised many of the pagan symbols with spiritual and Christian meaning, including the shamrock (a lucky charm which he used to speak of the Trinity) and the highly symbolic Celtic cross which he created.
We have much to learn from St. Patrick as we seek to engage in God's mission in our world today.
John has over 30 years of theological education and active ministry. He wrote his doctorate on ‘Gnosticism’ and is interested in creative spirituality, contemporary culture and meeting with spiritual seekers. John is the author of many books with translations into 60 languages, including The McDonaldization of the Church. Check out his web site at: www.johndrane.com
Olive was born in Glasgow, Scotland. She has a clowning ministry birthed out of great personal tragedy and is the author of Clowns, Story-Tellers and Disciples, Faith in a Changing Culture and Creative Arts and the Bible. Check out her web site at: www.olivedrane.com
We chatted together about being 'on mission' in the 21st century, drawing lessons from Jesus' example of incarnational mission (the Word taking on human form, becoming one of us and moving into the neighborhood), Paul's ministry in Athens (where he connected with the local culture full of philosophers and poets in order to create a platform for sharing good news) and St. Patrick's evangelisation of Ireland back in the 5th century. We also talked about the importance of engaging with our culture today by just hanging around with people and listening to their stories. As we do, opportunities will emerge and we will be 'invited in' to talk further. The gospel is 'good news' for everyone but has direct relevance to each individual based on their own personal needs. One approach doesn't fit everyone.
Olive shared some practical ideas for connecting a greater awareness of God to the simple daily routines in our lives. Check out her book Spirituality to Go: Rituals and Reflections for Everyday Living.
A delightful couple, full of the love of Jesus and passion for equipping the church to be good news to our world.
There were once four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Now Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.