Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 1)

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

Spiritual Growth

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

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

God Works "Inside Out"

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

Myths about Spiritual Maturity

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

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

Part 2.


A Church United

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

A Worldview Shift

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Reflection Discussion Questions

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

 


The Power of Encouragement

PowerofEncouragement1

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

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

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

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

Encouragement is powerful!

 


No Worries

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

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

Here are the results:

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

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

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

As us Aussies say, "No worries!"


Emotional Intelligence

EQ

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

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

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

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

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

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


De-Cluttering my Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painful but freeing. 

See also:


Jesus: I AM the Vine

I AM 1080

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

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

A Challenge

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

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

An Application

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

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

An Insight

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

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

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

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

Sample Reflection Questions

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

The Art of Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

He goes on to say:

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

The Coaching Process

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

  1. Raise awareness.
  2. Build responsibility.

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

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

The Power of Questions

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

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

The GROW Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Recommended Reading


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

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

Here is the summary:

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

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


Baggage

Baggage

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

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

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

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

Baggage ... think about it.


Optimism

Optimism-breeds-optimism

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

Pessimists:

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

Optimists:

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

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

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

Optimism – think about it.


Jesus: I AM the Way

I AM 1080

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

Trusting God in Troubled Times (vs.1)

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

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

An Eternal Home (vs.2-4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection Questions

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

Your Story

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

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

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

 What kind of story is your life?

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

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

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

Your Story – think about it.


Your Home Base

Sea-of-galilee-2-magdala

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

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

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

What's your home base?

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


How Politics Works

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

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

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

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

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

That's politics for you!

 


The Art of Loving Confrontation

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

Being Lovingly Assertive

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

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

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

A Few Thoughts About Confrontation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

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

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


Conflict Resolution

Wise-owl-2

Have you had a conflict lately?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conflict … Think about it.


Think Win/Win

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

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

It helps to avoid alternative approaches such as:

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

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

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

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

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

Which option is best?

The most effective option depends on the situation:-

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

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

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


Navigating Transitions

Navigating-transitions-1

At a recent conference, I shared a message about "Navigating Transitions". 

Here is a summary of the main insights I shared:

1. Trust God for the Future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Prepare for Change. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Keep Serving Faithfully Side by Side.

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

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

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

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

5. Pray for this Important Time.

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

We can transition well. There are good times ahead!


Top Tips for Travellers

Travel-tips-for-perfect-holidays

Thinking of travelling any time soon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy flying!


Money Talks (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

Reflection Questions

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

Money Talks (Part 2)

MoneyEstablish and Live by a Budget

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

INCOME - How to Acquire Money

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

A Plan for Financial Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Part 3]


Money Talks (Part 1)

MoneyJesus and Money

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

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

Your Personal Money Makeover

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

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

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

A Financial Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Part 2]


The 2016 Australian Christian Book of the Year

BOY

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

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

[More details about the books here]

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

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

For more information contact:

Michael Collie
National Director
SparkLit
(Formerly SPCKA)

1300 137 725 
admin@sparklit.org


Taming the Email Monster (Part 4)

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

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

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

2. Set Up a Simple Folder Filing System.

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

3. Use a Process for Handling Email.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Taming the Email Monster (Part 3)

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

1. Don't Over-Communicate by Email. 

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

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

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

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

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

2. Make Good Use of Subject Lines.

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

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

3. Keep Email Messages Clear and Brief.

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

4. Be Polite and Check Your Tone.

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

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

5. Proofread. 

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

Next: Managing Email Effectively.


Taming the Email Monster (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: How do we tame the email monster??


Taming the Email Monster (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: The Challenges of Email.

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


Confessions: A 3 Month License Suspension

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

Our 30th Wedding Anniversary

FullSizeRender 2

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

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

Now, I can't wait for the sequel.

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


Living a Life of Gratitude

Living-a-life-of-gratitude

Prayer and Praise

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

Ten Lepers Healed

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

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

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

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

Lessons for Today

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

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

Reflection Questions

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