Special Events

Easter Reflections

E

The signs of Easter are all around us - cooler weather, school holidays, an upcoming long weekend, hot cross buns and extra church services to cater to people's faith which comes in all shapes and sizes. For many people, it is also a time to reflect on some important events that took place over 2,000 years ago - the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No doubt, this is the foundation of the Christian faith. If Christ did not die and rise again, then our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).

The Gospels all tell us WHAT happened during this Passion Week. Tragically, Jesus was betrayed, denied, falsely accused and eventually killed by the cruel death of crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. Thankfully, three days later he rose from the dead and was seen by numerous witnesses. We are then told that Jesus ascended into heaven from which he would one day return.

This was all done to fulfil what the prophets of long ago foretold. But what was going on with Jesus on that cross? What was God up to? WHY did Jesus die? Disciples of Jesus, critics of Christianity, and biblical scholars have been reflecting on, discussing and debating the answers to these vital questions for centuries now. More recently, the conversations have increased and some of the typical trite answers are being questioned as being inadequate. 

One of my favourite thinkers and writers is N.T. Wright. As one of the world's leading Bible scholars, he has written numerous books about Jesus, the apostle Paul and the New Testament period. His most recent book is called The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus' Crucifixion. He argues that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough in transforming our understanding of its meaning. Wright argues that Jesus’ death on the cross was not only to forgivd us of our sins; it was actually the beginning of a revolution commissioning the Christian faithful to a new vocation — a royal priesthood responsible for restoring and reconciling all of God’s creation. Wright argues that Jesus’ crucifixion must be understood within the much larger story of God’s purposes to bring heaven and earth together. The Day the Revolution Began offers a grand picture of Jesus’ sacrifice and its full significance for the Christian faith, inspiring believers with a renewed sense of mission, purpose, and hope, and reminding them of the crucial role the Christian faith must play in protecting and shaping the future of the world. 

Another thought-provoking recent publication is The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by pastor and author Gregory A. Boyd. Boyd proposes a revolutionary way to read the Bible in this epic but accessible study. A dramatic tension confronts every Christian believer and interpreter of Scripture: on the one hand, we encounter Old Testament stories of God commanding horrendous violence. On the other hand, we read the unequivocally nonviolent teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Reconciling these two has challenged Christians and theologians for two millennia. Throughout Christian history, various answers have been proposed, ranging from the long rejected explanation that these contrasting depictions are of two entirely different gods to recent social, cultural, and literary theories that attempt to dispel the conflict. The Crucifixion of the Warrior God takes up this dramatic tension and the range of proposed answers in an ambitious constructive investigation. Over two volumes, Gregory A. Boyd argues that we must take seriously the full range of Scripture as inspired, including its violent depictions of God. At the same time, he affirms the absolute centrality of the crucified and risen Christ as the supreme revelation of God. Developing a theological interpretation of Scripture that he labels a "cruciform hermeneutic", Boyd demonstrates how the Bible's violent images of God are reframed and their violence subverted when interpreted through the lens of the cross and resurrection. Indeed, when read in this way, Boyd argues that these violent depictions bear witness to the same self-sacrificial nature of God that was ultimately revealed on the cross. 

Two books well worth reading, as we continue to seek to mine the depth of the significance of what took place that first Easter.  

For my own personal reflections on some of the various answers to why Jesus died, see my previous BLOG post Why Did Jesus Die? based on a message I gave on Good Friday a few years back. 

One thing we know is that Easter is a revelation of the love of God for all humanity.

The apostle John put it so eloquently:

John 3:16. For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. NLT

Why not take a few moments to reflect on the lyrics of this hymn of praise: Oh, Love of God. My favourite version of this song is by Kelly Willard and it is available to listen for free on You Tube.

I pray many blessings on you and your family this Easter.  


Are You Ready for the New Year?

NY

Well, Christmas 2016 is done and dusted. Now it’s time to prepare to enter a new year. During transitional seasons such as this, it’s always good to stop and do three things: Reflect, Review and Re-calibrate. 

Firstly, reflect on the year that is about to finish. What happened? What went as expected? What surprises came your way? What are you thankful for? What pain did you experience? What will you be glad to put behind you?

Secondly, review. What did you learn? We sometimes believe that we learn from experience but this is not necessarily true. It is easy to repeat the same patterns year after year. It is only when we reflect on and review our experiences that we have the potential to turn them into insight and hopefully into lasting life change.

Finally, recalibrate. What lessons from this year will you take into next year? What will you do differently next year? What will you stop doing? What will you start doing? What adjustments do you need to make? What is ‘true north’ for you? Success is not always about going faster but rather about making sure we are heading in the right direction with our lives.

I encourage you to set aside some time to do these three vital tasks. You’ll be glad you did.

Here’s to a terrific new year, moving into all the good things God has in store for you!

P.S. To help you in this process, be sure to check out some of my earlier New Year's BLOG posts:


Merry Christmas (2016)

Dog

Merry Christmas!

Last weekend, I participated in my final Christmas Carols production at the church where I have served for over 30 years. It was a fun time together - singing carols, listening to our amazing singers, musicians and creative teams inspire us, watching the bright-eyed children, and sharing about Jesus as THE gift we all need at Christmas. 

I do pray that you have an enjoyable Christmas and holiday season. It's been a joy to share with you via this BLOG through the year and I look forward to what is yet to come as we continue on this journey called life. 

P.S. Over the years,  I've written a variety of posts about Christmas. Here are a few for your enjoyment:


What Would Jesus Say to Santa Claus?

It's hard to believe we are just 10 sleeps away from Christmas! 

I really enjoy the Christmas season. It's a time to enjoy family and friends, way too much delicious food, some time off and a reminder of God's greatest gift to our world - Jesus Christ. Of course, most followers of Jesus know that Jesus probably wasn't born on 25th December. No shepherd worth their salt would have their sheep out in the fields in the northern hemisphere at that time of year! And we know that Christmas has a lot of trappings that had nothing to do with Jesus' arrival over 2,000 years ago.

In reality, the early Christians borrowed a pagan festival from the Roman Empire and added new meaning to it. I guess in some ways we could say that today the pagans are returning the favour, as much of the Western World seems intent on removing anything 'Christian' from Christmas, with nativity scenes and some Christmas carols being banned. 

 Over the years, I've written many posts about Christmas. One of the most popular was from a message I gave back in 2008 entitled "What would Jesus say to Santa Claus?" I thought I'd re-post it this year for your enjoyment.

Merry Christmas!

Santa

What Would Jesus Say to Santa Claus?

Have you noticed that Santa Claus has gradually been taking centre stage at Christmas of late and that Jesus has been forced to take more of a back seat? Who is this Santa guy and where did he come from?

Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday in Western world. It was Pope Gregory that established 25th December as the supposed birth of Christ. "Christmas" literally means "mass of Christ". Christians after the time of Constantine converted a number of pagan festivals, adding Christian elements to them. To the December winter solace and various harvest festivities, they added a nativity crib and the singing of Christmas carols. Eventually, the Santa Claus image emerged - with sled, reindeer, and a sack of toys. It was an American invention that first appeared in a 1868 drawing. However, the Father Christmas legend was based somewhat on a fourth century bishop by the name of Saint Nicholas.

So anyway ... what would Jesus say to Santa Claus? Here's what I think he might say ...

1. "Thanks for encouraging the spirit of giving." Yes, I think Jesus would have something positive to say to Santa Claus. We live in a world of increasing selfishness. Christmas is a time when we think more about others, which is a good thing. The world becomes a better place when we adopt more of a giving attitude in life, as well as one of gratitude, affirmation, and encouragement.

2. "True fulfilment is not found in things." Santa’s focus at this time of year is based on a belief that more things will make people happier. But people need more than mere things. Things may be nice but ultimately they never fully satisfy. What we really need is the love, peace, and joy that only God can provide through a relationship with him and with other people. Let's "love people and use things" - not the other way around.

3. "Good works aren't enough." Santa's philosophy in life is one of being rewarded for what you do - for being nice rather than naughty. The truth is that none of us are ever good enough. All our efforts fall short. That's why Jesus came - to live and then to die for our short-comings ... and then to offer us eternal life ... as a free git, not as a reward for our good deeds. Christmas is not about what we have done but about what God has done for us ... in Christ.

4. "You're not the reason for the season." Christmas is about Christ. Jesus came to earth as the Saviour of world. He is the eternal Son of God who arrived on earth 2,000 years ago. Santa Claus is a recent addition, an add on. This celebration isn’t about him. Jesus Christ is the most influential person in history. We mark time by his very arrival. Jesus is the "hinge of history". Let's keep the "Christ" in Christmas. Remember, HE is the real reason for season!

5. [Spoiler ALERT!] "You're not real, but I am." Santa Claus is a figment of people’s imagination, a mythical hero. Sorry kids, but Santa isn’t real (parents, ease it to them slowly!). He's merely a character - like Mickey Mouse or Buzz Light Year. Jesus is real. You can’t see him but he is alive. He is not a myth or a legend or an imaginary person. He is not only real, but he’ll be back. However, his second coming won't be like his first coming. He will come in power and glory and every eye will see him.

Can you see that the Gospel of Jesus is quite different than gospel of Santa Claus? Where is the focus of our faith today? In Santa Claus or Jesus Christ? Jesus is knocking at door of each person's heart. Do we have room for Jesus? I believe that he is the true and living God, the Prince of Peace, the Saviour of the world, offering us forgiveness and real life. Let's turn to him and place our faith in him today. Let's follow him and live for him.

Christians: don't picket Santa Claus! Don't become an old scrooge or a humbug Christian. Just because Santa is an anagram for Satan doesn't mean that he is the devil incarnate! Jesus Christ is the true meaning of Christmas. Let's bring him back to centre stage!

P.S. For background on the concept of "What Would Jesus Say ..." see this previous post.


Update on Mark and Nicole Conner

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

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

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

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

Jesus and His Mother

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

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

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

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

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

See also: Mother's Day 2016


Happy Mother's Day (2016)

Happy-Mothers-Day-Flowers

[Watch this message]

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

Our Mothers

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

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

The Art of Mothering

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

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

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

God as Mother?

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

Reflection Questions

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

See also: Jesus and His Mother.


Easter Sunday

Easter-sunday

Can you believe it – it’s Easter Sunday! I know - it seems like we just finished celebrating Christmas. I heard one little boy once say, “Jesus was just born, are you telling me he’s died already?”

In many ways Easter is the second half of God’s Christmas gift.

Jesus came into the world as a baby who grew up to show us how to live. We learn so much from his teachings and we are inspired by the amazing things he did. But the pinnacle of his life was his death and resurrection on that first Easter over 2,000 years ago.

On the cross, Jesus took all of our sin, sickness, pain and suffering. Most importantly, death didn't hold him down. He rose again on the third day - with many witnesses seeing him alive.

I believe he is alive by His Spirit today – still transforming human lives.

May you experience His life in your life today – a life full of love, joy and peace.

Happy Easter!

[See also Jesus is Alive!]

John 10:10. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. MB


Good Friday Reflection

Good-friday

Today is Good Friday, a day where people all around the world remember and reflect on the death of Jesus Christ that took place over 2,000 years ago.

Jesus’ death wasn’t an accident nor was he a martyr. His death was an atoning death by which he started to put the world back together again. On the cross, Jesus took all of our sin, sickness, pain and suffering. He died in our place … so that we may truly live.

The good news is that God is not a distant God. Good Friday shows us a God who suffers with and for us.

Whatever you may be going through today or whatever challenges you may be facing, know that God understands and he cares.

My prayer is that you will know his presence and his power in your life today.

[See also Why Did Jesus Die?]


Announcement about Mark Conner's Future

Mark Conner (sunglasses)This weekend, I made the following announcement to my church family - CityLife Church. Obviously, it was a surprise to many, while not to others. There is a degree of sadness with any change like this but I am also encouraged by the amount of support I have received. [Watch on You Tube]

I have given the matter of our church’s future, as well my own future, much prayer and reflection over the last eight months. As a result, I believe that it is time to start thinking about a successor – who will be the next Senior Minister of CityLife Church.

I have been on church staff for 31 years now, 21 years as the Senior Minister, and I believe that the time has come when CityLife would benefit from new leadership with energy and fresh vision for its next chapter.

As a result of this, I and the CityLife Board of Elders are now prayerfully beginning to consider who could be the next Senior Minister – whether that person be from inside or outside the church. I am committed to working with the Elders (as the Senior Minister is one of the Elders) to ensure that the best person is chosen to lead CityLife into its next season. Once that happens, I will give my full focus and energies to contributing to a really good transition to that person, just like in a relay race. I am confident that once a suitable successor is selected, we will be able to navigate a very successful transition together. I have been up 'close and personal' to two leadership transitions in CityLife and I’ve been on the receiving end of the last one. I believe we know what it takes to do this well.

[I should note at this stage that a new Senior Minister is first selected and nominated by a two-thirds majority of the Board of Elders and then confirmed by a two-thirds majority of church partners (members) at a subsequent Annual or Special General Meeting. This might be a good time to become a partner, if you aren’t one already, so you have the opportunity to be involved in this important decision about our church’s future leadership!]

Transitions are always vulnerable times. Please pray. Pray for me and the Elders, as well as for this important time of change coming up. CityLife is Jesus' church. I didn't start it. I have never seen myself as an 'owner' of the church but rather as merely a 'steward'. CityLife was already 28 years old when I became its leader and I've done my best to lead it over the last 21 years. It's now time to get ready for a new season.

Change is not always easy. There will be some grief and some loss. But endings make way for new beginnings. Yes, things will be different but our mission remains the same. Let’s stay close together at this time.

I am sure, for many of you, this may come as a surprise and you may have a lot of questions. Let me anticipate a few of them:

  1. “When will all this happen?” We don't have any fixed dates as of yet. All those details will unfold once a successor is decided upon. Right now, I am going to be continue to lead the church as the Senior Minister and I’ll be giving it my very best. I and the Elders will be keeping you up-to-date with the progress of this transition. Today’s announcement is simply to let you know that we are now talking about succession planning.
  2. “What does Nicole think about this?” Nicole told me that if I wanted to lead for another 10 years, I would have her full support. This has been my decision and I think it’s time to get ready for change. I am very thankful for the support of Nicole and my entire family.
  3. “Will my son Josiah be my successor?” Josiah has just turned 27 years of age and he is doing a great job leading the youth ministry, along with our staff and volunteer team. He has told me that a role like Senior Minister is not something he would even consider at this time in his life nor is he ready for. So please don't ask him, “Are you the One?”
  4. “What about the building projects we are currently undertaking?” The Story Building Projects are not my projects or about me as Senior Minister. They are for the direct benefit of our Knox and Casey congregations. So these projects will continue as we seek to create environments that will serve our mission for many years to come. Like most of you, I will be making a pledge next weekend. For Knox, our plan is to complete the new community centre this year. Leading up to the completion of this first stage, you will hear more information about the remaining stages.
  5. “Is Mark burnt out?” I don't think I am. However, during these last few years I have felt more tired mentally and emotionally than at other times, despite my sabbatical in 2012. I started leading at CityLife Church at the age of 18 as a volunteer and came on staff 5 years later, so I have been leading ministries with constantly increasing responsibility for 36 straight years now. At age 54, I am at a time in life when I'd like a smaller world not a bigger one, a slower pace not a faster one, and a simpler life not a more complex one. Could I lead for another 5 years? Yes, but I don't think I have the spark and the energy that I think this job requires and deserves going forward.
  6. “What does my dad, Kevin Conner, think about this?” Feel free to ask him. My dad is 89 years of age now, and when I met with him and Rene a few weeks back to inform them of my decision, my dad responded by saying, “I don't know how you do what you do. I couldn't do it.” So I am thankful for their understanding and support. [Our founding pastor, Richard Holland passed away back in 2008. When he was around he used to say, “I was good, Kevin was better but Mark is the best!” I have never claimed to be the best but I have tried to do my best. Richard led the church for 20 years, my dad for 8 years, and by the end of this year I will have completed 22 years, so Richard would at least be pleased that I was in this Senior Minister role longer than he was!]
  7. “What's next for me?” I am not leaving to go to another job. I haven’t been ‘head-hunted’ from somewhere else. It is simply a time for me to consider finishing in my role as Senior Minister and see what the future holds. After I finish, I'll take some extended time off then see what opens up (I’m not ‘retiring’ and I do need to work). I believe I have much to offer the wider church from my years of church leadership experience and so I will prayerfully explore a variety of options in which I can add value to other churches and leaders. Nicole and I are excited about doing some new things together in the next season of our life and ministry.
  8. “What is really going on?” There is no ‘back story’ to all of this. I have decided that it’s time to think about my successor. It's a simple as that – nothing more, nothing less.
  9. “How do I feel about all of this?” It’s all a bit surreal at the moment. I am sure there will be some ‘lows’ ahead, as I face the grief of letting go of a role that has been so a part of me for many years, as well as some ‘highs’, as I experience the relief of no longer having to carry this level of responsibility.

God has led CityLife for almost 50 years now and we have navigated transitions like this well before. I believe great days are ahead for the church and we can trust God to lead us through this next transition into an even more fruitful future.

This is not ‘goodbye’ or farewell. There will be time for that later. I am simply being open about a process that is beginning right now, so that you are fully aware and can pray and journey with us at this important time in the history of our church.

Thank you for your prayer and support during this season of my life and ministry. I really appreciate it and I love you very much.


All Things NEW!

NEW

God is a God of new things. He has made us new creations, given us new hearts, a new spirit, a new covenant. We live in a new day; we have a new name; we have a new commandment; we’ve been given new garments; His mercies are new every morning; we drink of the new wine; we’re headed for a new Jerusalem and eventu­ally a new heavens and 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 have a great start to the new year, embracing all the new things and new stories God has in store for us together.

All things NEW - that's our theme this month at CityLife.


Getting Ready for the New Year

New-years-resolutions

In a few days time, we'll be into a New Year - 2016. The year 2015 will be history - water under the bridge. At transition times like this between years, it's beneficial to pause, take some time aside and think about your life. Someone once said, "The unexamined life is not worth living" and Moses prayed to God , "Teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12)."

Over the years, I have written a variety of BLOG posts designed to assist you in this process. Check out a few of these links below. I'm sure you'll find some helpful insights or questions for your own life.

Here's to an enjoyable and fruitful New Year!


What to do with Christmas?

Christmas-Garland
Can you believe it's almost Christmas! 

Usually around this time of the year, you'll hear some questions or comments from some well-meaning Christians such as:

  • "Jesus was not born in December."
  • "The Bible never tells us to celebrate the birth of Jesus."
  • "The Christmas tree is a pagan tradition."

True, the early Christians did not celebrate the birth of Jesus and Jesus never asked them to. They focused on his death and resurrection, as well as his promised return. Christmas Day as it is celebrated today did not begin until the fourth century. Interestingly enough, Jesus was most likely born in October not December. Shepherds don't have their sheep out in the December snow in the northern hemisphere! 

Many of today’s Christmas traditions (including Santa Claus and Christmas trees) have nothing to do with the message of Christ as portrayed in the Gospels. Nevertheless, it is a great time for Christians and the church to make the most of the opportunity to focus on the coming of Jesus Christ to earth as a baby born in Bethlehem. 

At CityLife Church, we find that unchurched family members, neigbours and friends will often visit our Christmas services even more than at other times of the year. So we love to take advantgae of this season to get the good news about Jesus out there loud and clear. Just because 'Santa' is an anagram for 'Satan' doesnt mean we should boycot Christmas!

No other person has influenced the world like Jesus Christ. Let’s worship him together and make him known this Christmas season.

See also:


The Best Christmas Gifts are FREE

Gifts

Christmas is right around the corner and many people are starting to think about what gifts to buy for family and friends. The truth is that as you get older you start to realise that you don't really need more 'stuff'! In fact, more 'things' don't bring more happiness. 

Some of the best gifts in life are FREE. Here are a few of those you might consider giving this Christmas:

1. Gratitude.

Why not give the gift of appreciation? Just say 'thank you' to someone in your world. The story is told in the Gospels about Jesus healing 10 lepers but only one taking the time to come back to Jesus and express his gratitude. I am sure the other 9 were thankful, they just didn't take the time to express it. We too, take so much for granted. Where would you be today without …? Who has helped you along the way this year? Let them know. Give the gift of gratitude.

2. Encouragement.

Encouragement is like "oxygen for the soul” - we all need a heap of it just to breathe. No child wants to feel like the only way to get mum or dad's attention is to do something wrong. No employee wants to only hear from their boss when they've made a mistake. No politician only wants to hear from their constituents when they have a criticism to make. No pastor only wants to hear from their congregation when they have a complaint. We all thrive on encouragement! Why not give the gift of encouragement to someone this year at Christmas. Mark Twain once said, "I can live for two months on a good compliment."

3. Forgiveness.

We all say or do things we regret. That's why we need forgiveness. Other people hurt us too - through offences, annoyances and mistakes. Our natural desire is to get even or to take revenge. However, that anger not only damages other people, it also damages us too. Nelson Mandela once said, "Holding on to bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill our enemies!" Who can you forgive this Christmas? Don't lose your joy over something someone else has done to you. 

So ... who can you thank, who can you encourage and who can you forgive ... this Christmas?

These gifts are FREE but they may turn out to be the best gift you give the people around you this Christmas.

See also Jesus, the Perfect Christmas Gift.


Jesus - the Perfect Christmas Gift

Christmas-2015-6ta1qp7t

It’s Christmas time again. I wonder what you enjoy most about this season? Maybe it’s the Christmas carols, the holidays, or the shopping. I know for the kids, it’s the presents. That’s what I looked forward to when I was young - maybe a new Mechano set or an extension to my Motorific slot car course. Today kids are into Star Wars paraphernalia, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the most covered gift of the season - the hoverboard. Pretty cool … and pretty pricey. 

You know, God took time to think about the kind of gift we needed. As Max Lucado once said,

“If our greatest need had been technology, he would have sent us a scientist.

If our greatest need was information he would have sent us an educator.

If our greatest need was money he would have sent an economist.

But because our greatest need was forgiveness, he sent us as Saviour."

My prayer is that you will open up that amazing gift this year.

Jesus is the Perfect Christmas Gift for Everyone.


Remembrance Day 2015

 Re

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. 

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

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

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

Here is a brief history from the Australian Government website:

History of Remembrance Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NAIDOC Week

Naidoc

NAIDOC Week is a celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s one of the most important events in the Indigenous calendar, and you might be surprised to hear that it all began with a letter to the churches of Australia.

The letter was sent by William Cooper, a legendary Aboriginal Christian leader and rights activist. In it he asked the church to observe what he was calling ‘Aboriginal Sunday’ - an annual day of prayerful awareness of Aboriginal people and their God-given place and future in this land.

From 1940 to 1954, ‘Aboriginal Sunday’ was observed by churches throughout Australia. It was initially held on the Sunday before Australia Day and was referred to as a 'National Day of Mourning' in recognition of the suffering and dispossession of Indigenous people since colonisation. In 1955, the date was changed to July and has since evolved into the week of celebration known as NAIDOC Week (named after the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee).

Australian churches continue to have a role to play in honouring William Cooper’s request and all of the Aboriginal men and women who have struggled for the survival and dignity of their people. During NAIDOC Week, you might like to consider a way to honour Aboriginal people or bring its significance to the attention of your own friends and faith congregation.

Why not take a few moments this week and pray for Indigenous Australians - for them to know the healing, hope and reconciliation that Jesus came to bring to all humanity. In addition, why not take the Australians Together journey, as we seek to bring indigenous and non-indigenous Australians together for an even better future. 

[Thanks to Stewart Bogle, Executive Director of Concilia, for the above text. ]


The Asylum Seeker Debate

Aap_1639_5Nov_Boat_800x600

The asylum seeker issue continues to hit the news here in Australia and beyond. 

 On June 29 at 7:30 there is a free debate in the city of Melbourne.

Business Faith Law and Morality: The Asylum Seeker Debate.

What is Your opinion?

The asylum seeker issue needs resolving. We encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to listen to expert opinion and have your considerations and suggestions discussed.

What is the role of Faith and a United Faith Community in the Asylum Seeker debate?

Are Asylum Seekers an Economic opportunity or threat?

Does Business have a role to play in the Asylum Seeker debate?

Do we have a Moral obligation to assist Asylum Seekers?

Is Australia’s policy to discourage some Asylum Seekers Legal?

Experts, to lead us in discussion:

  • Julian Burnside AO QC. Julian is a high profile barrister committed to human rights who has been nominated a National Living Treasure.
  • Jarrod McKenna. Jarrod, who was a practicing Pastor, and his family live with 17 newly settled asylum seekers at the First Home Project. He established Love Makes A Way and is currently on secondment from World Vision to Common Grace.
  • Ivor Ries worked as a journalist overseas and here writing the esteemed Chanticleer for the AFR. He moved on to accept executive roles in business.
  • Rev Prof Andrew Dutney is president of the Uniting Church is widely published, and regularly broadcast, in both religious and mainstream ethics.
  • Pamela Curr: Is one of Who who’s Australian women and works at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. She regularly contributes to The Drum, Crikey and other journals.
  • Ruth Bungay - is a multi-disciplined business consultant and economist. With a background in finance and venture capital, Ruth has helped and analysed many companies across many industry sectors.

Contact bflm.eventbrite.com.au to reserve your FREE ticket and read more information. $9 flat rate car parking is available.


Mothers - Love Them While You Can!

1 Oma with Conners

 

To all the mums out there, Happy Mother's Day!

We wouldn't be here without you. What amazing people you are. My mother passed away over 25 years ago now and I still miss her.

Nicole's mother, affectionately known as 'Oma' passed away 7 years ago and we still really miss her. Mothers are very special people!

The photo to above is an old one of my dad and mum (in the red top), and Nicole's dad and mum (light blue top)]

Here are the lyrics to a song I heard many years ago called Love Them While You Can by Chris Christian (available from the iTunes store).

[Vs.1] They tied our shoes, took us to school, patched our worn-out jeans

They soothed our tears and calmed our fears, and listened to our dreams

Somewhere along their golden years, their hair has lost its sheen

The notes to hymn one hundred ten crackle when they sing

And now they are alone, no children's voices fill their empty homes

[Chorus] We must love them while we can, we must love them while we can

For time just seems to hurry by, and the days slip into years

And the moments that we have will disappear

So love them while we can

[Vs.2] The folks that taught us our first words, still have much to say

The silver secrets of the world, lie beneath those crowns of grey

As they approach the end, we change our role from children to best friend

[Bridge] We always thought they'd be around Until the end of time

Until day we wake and find ...

[Chorus] We must love them while we can, we must love them while we can

For time just seems to hurry by, and the days slip into years

And the moments that we have will disappear

So love them while we can


Jack Simpson and His Donkey (an ANZAC Hero)

SimpsonThe ANZACs have a great hero called John 'Jack' Simpson Kirkpatrick who enlisted and was chosen as a field ambulance stretcher-bearer in Perth on 23 August 1914. On 25 April 1915, long with the rest of the Australian and New Zealand contingent he landed at the wrong beach on a piece of wild, impossible and savage terrain now known as ANZAC Cove. Attack and counter attack began.

During the morning hours of 26 April, along with his fellows, Jack was carrying casualties back to the beach over his shoulder. It was then that he saw the donkey, and having worked as a donkey-lad as a young boy, he knew exactly what to do.

From then on he became part of the scene at Gallipoli walking along next to his donkey, forever singing and whistling as he held on to his wounded passengers, seemingly completely fatalistic and scornful of the extreme danger. He led a charmed life from 25 April 1915 until a machine gun bullet hit him in his back on the 19 May 1915. In those 24 days he managed to rescue over 300 men down the notorious Monash Valley. His heroic feat was accomplished under constant and ferocious attack from the artillery, field guns and sniper fire. Here is what people said about him:

Captain C.Longmore, in 1933, remembered how the soldiers, “watched him spellbound from the trenches … it was one of the most inspiring sights of those early Gallipoli days.”

Colonel John Monash wrote, “Private Simpson and his little beast earned the admiration of everyone at the upper end of the valley. They worked all day and night throughout the whole period since the landing, and the help rendered to the wounded was invaluable. Simpson knew no fear and moved unconcernedly amid shrapnel and rifle fire, steadily carrying out his self imposed task day by day, and he frequently earned the applause of the personnel for his many fearless rescues of wounded men from areas subject to rife and shrapnel fire.”

John Simpson gave his life for the wounded. He was the picture of courage and we are reminded of Jesus’ saying, “Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends.”


ANZAC Day - 100 Year Anniversary

Ac_logo

Tomorrow, in Australia and New Zealand, we commemorate the centenary of ANZAC Day. 'ANZAC' stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

On the 25th of April 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the Allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula. The ANZACs landed on Gallipoli and met fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. Their plan to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months.

At the end of 1915, the allied forces were evacuated. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. Over 8,000 Australian soldiers and over 3,000 New Zealand soldiers were killed. What is often forgotten is that over 58,000 Turks were killed in that battle.

There are mixed emotions about ANZAC day commemorations. Some people feel it glorifies war. Our last ANZAC, Alec Campbell, pleaded on his deathbed: ''For God's sake, don't glorify Gallipoli - it was a terrible fiasco, a total failure and best forgotten''. Others say it is a fitting tribute to remember those who gave their lives and ultimate sacrifice. If you ever want to read heated differences of opinion just go to any article on ANZAC day and read the comments.

Here are some samples: 

  1. “My grandfather fought in WWII. He marched for his mates and family not the flag. Many veterans refrain from celebrations due to trauma. They are not glorifying war; they are honoring and remembering the dead. Most people you talk to celebrate it for the dead, not for nationalistic sentiment.”
  2. “My children and I stood at the dawn service this year, like previous years and think of the people we know who went to war and were damaged, or who never returned. We think of the suffering and the fear and the futility of many wars. It is a somber time for us and for the thousands around us who are all quiet and reflective. My children are of an age their ancestors were when they went to war and we remember the cost to so many families. After the service we spend time together celebrating life. They see it as their responsibility to live life well. There is no glorification of war.”
  3. “ANZAC Day is the remembrance of the futility of war (to me). Nations leaders send their young capable people to die for a badge of remembrance; how dumb is that. It is a stark reminder that humans are basically stupid and the attack on Gallipoli demonstrated that at a huge cost of lives. These days we use drones and computers while busily polluting the air we need to breathe and the water we need to drink. And we pride our intelligence.”
  4. “War is a barbarous and terrible thing, to be avoided by all possible means. It's one thing to honor the bravery and self-sacrifice of those who acted in defense of our country. It is another matter altogether to present war participation as a noble enterprise in itself or as some questionable 'proof' of our manhood and national identity. We need a national commitment to stay out of wars, especially the enthusiastically chosen kind such as Iraq.”

These few samples illustrate the strong emotions and opinions that a nation of diversity feels on this day. However, there is perhaps one thing that everyone agrees on, regardless of their differences of ideology when it comes to war, and that is the spirit exhibited by the young soldiers who went to war.

This is now known as the ANZAC spirit or legend. It represents the character qualities that Australians have seen their forces show in war. These qualities collectively make up the ANZAC spirit and include endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, and mateship. Courage in the face of great adversity – and it is this attribute we will celebrate this weekend at CityLife as we launch our annual World Impact Week. 

Jesus calls us as his followers to show great courage in his cause - the Great Commission. It takes boldness and the conquering of fear to share good news and take it to the very corners of our globe. 


He's Risen! (Easter Sunday Reflections)

He-Is-Risen-Tomb-Easter-Wallpaper-Background

Matthew tells us the story like this:

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. Dont be afraid! he said. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isnt here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you. [Matthew 28:1-7. NLT]
 
The Christian story is founded on an empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the tomb was not empty, then the Christian movement would have been snuffed out just by someone going and getting the body of Jesus.

There are four main theories to explain how the tomb became empty.

1. Firstly, maybe the Jewish or Roman authorities stole Jesus’ body, and the disciples mistakenly assumed he had been raised, inventing stories of appearances afterwards. The reason that this is so clearly wrong is that the authorities were trying to stop the Christian movement from growing, and if they had stolen his body they would simply have produced it.

2. Secondly, maybe Jesus did not really die, but fell into some sort of unconscious state, then revived in the tomb, and moved the stone himself. This is even more ridiculous, if you know anything about Roman crucifixion. Soldiers executed hundreds of people a year, they knew exactly what they were doing, and one could survive it, far less roll away a two-ton stone and then take out two guards.

3. Thirdly, maybe the disciples stole the body and then imagined or pretended they had seen him alive afterwards. But consider the high improbability of multiple near-identical hallucinations that would have been needed and the fact that many of the witnesses were tortured and killed for their proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection, which you would be unlikely to undergo if you had made it up.

4. This only leaves option four – that God really did raise Jesus from the dead.

From the earliest days until now, the resurrection has been central to Christian belief and practice. In fact, it is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and its strongest evidence (1 Cor.15:14).

Let's worship the risen Christ today - Jesus, Lord of all and soon coming King.

P.S. For some excellent detailed evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I recommend these two books:

The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright

The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Mlk

A few weeks ago, on January 15th, Americans celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Day in commemoration of his birthday.

Dr. King was the chief spokesman for non-violent activism in the civil rights movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. The campaign for a federal holiday in King's honour began soon after his assassination in 1968. President Ronald Regan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some American states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.

Keep any eye out for the highly anticipated movie Selma, which chronicles Martin Luther King's campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. View the trailer.

Dr. King was first of all a pastor not a political activist. Pastor Rick Warren recently posted his 10 favourite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King. They are worth repeating here:

1. “The purpose of life is not to be happy, nor to achieve pleasure nor avoid pain, but to do the will of God, come what may.”

2. “I just want to do God’s will.”

3. “When I took up the cross I recognized it’s meaning. The cross is something that you bear, and ultimately, that you die on.”

4. “The early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

5. “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

6. “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”

7. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

8. “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”

9. “The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well being as well.”

10. “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

[Source]


Australia's Defining Traits

AustraliaDay

As a nation, there are traits that have defined Australia for decades, but as the times shift and trends emerge McCrindle Research takes a look at the extent to which these are still relevant in defining us today. 

1. The Lucky Country

Statistics show that Australia is doing better than ever when it comes to health, education, economic opportunities, and even political participation. 

The economy is on a steady increase, even despite a recent global economic crisis. Cash flow is increasing with the net disposable income for everyday Australians now $10,000 more than it was a decade ago. 

We value independence but in a community-minded way. As Aussies we recognise that individual achievement rarely occurs without a helping hand from others. After all we call this the lucky country—we don’t take the credit for it all ourselves. Despite our differences we know that when adversity strikes, whether in the form of personal tragedy, natural disasters or international conflict, there’ll usually be a fellow Aussie there to help out. It’s the tradition of the digger, the character of mateship, and it’s still the essence of the Australian community

Fast Facts

  • Compared to the unemployment rate of the US, UK and France, Australia’s unemployment rate is lowest at just 5.8
  • The EU, G20, OECD and USA have all experienced a recession during the last 7 years, whereby Australia has not
  • Over the last 10 years Australia’s life expectancy has increased by 2 years
  • Over the last 40 years our life expectancy has increased by 10 years

2. Big Australia

Australia’s population exceeded 23 million on 23 April 2013. Having doubled since 1966, this rise is fuelled by an increase in birth rate, life expectancy and migration. These factors have allowed Australia to grow at a rate of 1.7% per year, above the world average of 1.0%. Not only is Australia the fastest growing OECD nation, but its population is increasing faster than Indonesia, India, and Malaysia.

Fast Facts

  • Australia’s population is growing by 1.7% annually
  • Australia currently has a population of 23 million people, with an increase of 397,200 people
  • Natural increase accounts for 40% of growth, adding 154,500 people to the population
  • Net overseas migration accounts for 60% of the population increase, increasing Australia’s population by 228,000 people
  • Australia’s population density is 2.99 people per km2
  • Vertical communities - with record population growth comes increase densification, where we now live up and not out
  • Traditional detached homes vs housing approvals. More new homes in greater Sydney are medium density than detached homes

3. The Clever Country

The Top 5 industries 30 years ago were all industrial (mining, utilities, manufacturing, construction, and transport) whereas today there has been a shift to professional industries (Top 5 are mining, technical, IT, financial, and utilities). 

While once derogatorily referred to as the world’s quarry, it turns out that we are the clever country after all with more people than ever employed in science and technical roles. The Australian workforce has undergone significant structural change and we’ve moved from an industrial base to a knowledge base.

Fast Facts

  • The average years of schooling Australian’s engage in is 12 years
  • The number of patents granted by Australia annually is 17,877
  • 1 in 5 Baby Boomers, 1 in 4 generation X’s, 1 in 3 generation Y’s have a university degree and 1 in 2 generation Z’s will have a university degree

4. The Land of the Middle Class

Australia is the land of the fair go, where people are taken at face value and class and values based on where people are from or where they were educated don’t rate highly in interactions. Lifestyles are busy and our lives are complex but our culture is down-to-earth, and mainstream recreations are simple. Regardless of income or social status, there are rich pleasures offered in Australia, and these are all the more appreciated in times of rising living costs. 

It is a collaborative rather than individualistic culture and this teamwork, a mix of mateship and altruism, creates a context where neighbourhoods and communities are defined by diversity and connecting rather than class and hierarchies

Fast Facts

  • Australia’s median household income is $47,736. This is 2.6 times Spain’s average household income and 47 times the income of more than 30 other countries with household income below $1,100 (Spain’s is $18,531, Greece $15,823)
  • The average capital city house price in Australia is $2.5 million

5. The Small Business Nation

Australia has always been an entrepreneurial nation, with small business the backbone of the economy and the labour force. The Australian spirit of independence, a DIY attitude and the courage to give things a go are strongly demonstrated in these latest business statistics. The tough economic times and the terrain in which small business operates is having an impact, however, with only half (51%) of new business starts surviving 4 years in operation. For many Australians, the entrepreneurial dream is still alive but as demonstrated by the survival rates of new businesses, without better support, only a minority will achieve success.

Fast Facts

  • There are 2.1 million businesses in Australia
  • Just 39% are employing businesses
  • 69% of employing businesses are micro and have 1-4 employees, 6.2% are small (5-19 employees), 24.3% are medium (20-199 employees) while just 0.5% of businesses are large and employ over 200 employees
  • 50% of new businesses cease operation within 3.5 years of establishment
  • 1 in 10 cease operation every year

6. Land of the Long Weekend

Australians enjoy between 11 and 12 public holidays in addition to the 4 weeks annual leave for employees, which is more public holidays than many countries, and twice the annual leave of the average worker in the US. However Australians also work amongst the longest hours when compared to other developed nations and some of the most years of schooling. The “no worries” attitude is strong but it is more “no worries- we’ll sort it out” rather than “no worries- she’ll be right”. The “can-do” culture balances the “long weekend” mindset to shape a people who enjoy time off and know how to holiday- but work hard to earn the break.

Fast Facts

  • Australians enjoy 11 to 12 public holidays a year
  • Full time workers receive 4 weeks annual leave
  • On average, Australians work 38 hours per week, (41.0 for males and 35.8 for females)

7. The Tryanny of Distance

While Australia is warmly referred to as the land down under, the isolation and distance that the term once communicated is not the case today. While Australia is geographically a long way from the UK, it’s historical and population links with the “old country” remain strong. More importantly, it is closely located to the new epicentre of economic growth in Asia. Australia is a regional hub for many multinational organisations with operations in Asia, and is in its own right a globally connected, business influencer, cultural exporter and regional leader. The cultural cringe has given way to sophistication, cultural diversity and global influence.

Fast Facts

  • Australia’s region of Asia is home to 60% of the global population and the fastest growing nations on earth
  • China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines are all in the top 7 birth countries of Australians born overseas
  • In a 12 month time period Australia chaired the UN Security Council, hosted the G20 and will host the Cricket World Cup

For more on the facts and figures of Australia, be sure to check out the Australia Street Video Animation and Infographic (see below).

Australia-Street-McCrindle

[Source]


Should We Move Australia Day?

Australia_day-thongs1

On Monday, the 26 of January, we celebrate 'Australia Day' - the official national day of Australia. I love Australia. I have travelled to around 30 countries in my short time on earth and I love different cultures and places ... but there is no place like home. 

Amidst the fireworks and BBQs we remember the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales in 1788. That was when Governor Arthur Phillip raised the flag of Great Britain at that site. We can celebrate and be grateful for this beautiful nation we live in and at the same time understand how some people may not feel like celebrating on this particular day. For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it isn’t a day of celebration. Instead, this day reminds them of how their way of life was invaded and changed forever. For others, it is Survival Day, and a celebration of the survival of people and culture, and the continuous contribution Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make to Australia. This weekend, before 26 January, in the spirit of love and reconciliation, let us recognise these differences and reflect on how we can create a day all Australians can celebrate. 

My good friend, Rob Buckingham, has written a thought-provoking BLOG post called Let's Move Australia Day. Check it out. If you agree, why not sign the petition to the Australian government.

Let us pray for our nation, for unity and reconciliation, and for a future that is established in understanding and compassion. Let's also continue to pray for God to pour out His Spirit upon our nation ... that we might be a light to all the nations of the earth.

[See also: Australia's Defining Traits]


Christ's Christmas Gift - Peace

Peace

Today is Christmas and people all around the world will be giving and receiving gifts of all kinds.

Jesus offers us a gift today - something incredibly valuable that he alone can give.

John 14:27. I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. NLT

I pray that you will experience that deep and genuine peace in your heart and life today, no matter what circumstance you might find yourself in.


Essence: What is Most Important?

Essence-1080

It is important in every aspect of life to understand what is essential/central and what is peripheral/unessential. Only by knowing what is essential can you truly make sense of life and live it to the full. As we begin a New Year, we step into the future. As we do so, we want to ask an ancient and foundational question: "What is most important?"

As Christians following Jesus, we need to get back to the essence of our faith. In doing so, we can surround these essential parts of our faith with all other aspects of life. While we are making New Year’s resolutions we want to make an internal revolution. We make resolutions according to what we value and consider important.

During January at CityLife Church, we will be looking at the essence of our faith and asking how we can get back to the basics better in 2015. Often we don’t need a new idea or plan; we just need to stay faithful at the original idea and plan found in Jesus. Journey with us as we discover the essence of life, faith and community. 

Essence (definition): the basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing or its significant individual feature or features.

1 Corinthians 13:13. Three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love. NLT

1 John 5:11. This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son. So, whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life. MB

Matthew 22:37-40. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments. NLT


Dealing with Grief at Christmas Time

UnknownChristmas is a joyful time for most people. But for some it can be a difficult time, especially for those who have lost a loved one. Christmas reminds them of what or who is gone. The pain of that grief can be quite unbearable.

I had my first major encounter with grief when I lost my mother suddenly back in 1990. I had to navigate through all the ordinary stages of grief and it wasn't easy. The first Christmas after this was a painful time. Mum wasn't there any more and she wasn't coming back.

Let's be sensitive this year to those around us who may be in pain or grief. They may not be experiencing the joy and sense of celebration that we are. Reach out to them in love and compassion.

Prominent American church pastor, Rick Warren, and his wife Kay, experienced the unexpected death of their son Matthew not long ago. Kay recently wrote as article "Stop Sending Cheery Christmas Cards". Well worth reading and well worth heeding.

 

 


Christmas JOY

Angels

Luke was a doctor who lived in the first century. Like most doctors, Luke valued facts and obtaining accurate information. That's why he spent so much time interviewing people and talking to eye-witnesses when he prepared to write his Gospel record of the life of Jesus Christ. Let's read some of the Christmas story as he recalls it for us ...

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased." Luke 2:8-14. NLT

Here are these shepherds out in the fields minding their own business when suddenly an unidentified dazzling object appears in front of them. It's an angel and the shepherds are terrified! The angel's opening words are, "Don't be afraid". I'm sure the shepherds were thinking, "You've just scared the living daylights out of us and you'll telling us not to be afraid!"

Anyway, once everything had calmed down, the angel delivered his message: "I bring you good news of great joy for all people ..." The Christmas message is just that - good news of great joy for all people. 

JOY is a major theme of the Christmas story and that's something we all need. I've never met a person whose aim in life was to be sad, depressed and grumpy. Ask the average person on the street what they want out of life and most of them will say something like, "I want to be happy!" We all long for joy.

Interestingly, we look for JOY in many different places:

  • Some of us look for joy in stuff - in things. There is an entire advertising industry designed to make us dissatisfied with what we have now and to make us believe that if we buy what they are selling we will know true joy. Kids are getting pretty exicted about opening those Christmas presents next week. That will bring great joy! But most parents know that in a week or so, many of those same toys will be lying around and the joy will have diminished, at least a little.
  • Some of us look for joy in pleasure - fun. Maybe it's going to a movie, visiting a sports game, or that big Christmas meal. Oh, the great joy of that delicious roast turkey and pavlova. But in an hour or so, for many that great joy will have turned into great pain as we suffer the consequences of eating just a little to much!
  • Some of us look for joy in achievement - acquiring that job, getting that promotion, or winning that game. But within a year or so, the joy of those achievements often fade.

Joy is quite elusive. It's hard to find and even when we do, it's hard to hold on to. 

Interestingly, all of these sources of joy are external. They require some coniditon or circumstance outside of us in order for us to be happy. But Christmas brings us a JOY that is not based on certain circumstances. It is found in a person - Jesus, the Saviour and Lord of the world. Paradoxically, when we receive Him we can know joy even in the midst of challenge, adversity or pain. 

So this Christmas, I pray that you will make room in your life to receive joy - the joy that is in Jesus. 

I also pray that you will choose joy and then keeping choosing joy every day of your life. Joy can so easily be stolen away - by irritations, worries, anger, or the offences of other people. Always ask, "Is this worth losing my joy over?" More often than not, it isn't.

Be grateful, be hopeful, be worshipful and be joyful. Then spread that joy to others ... this Christmas.

Quotes about JOY

"Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God." Teilhard de Chardin

"Joy is a byproduct of life with God. Joy is not found by seeking it as an end in itself. It must be given by God. Joy comes with God's presence.” Tremper Longman III

"Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day." Henri Nouwen

"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Abraham Lincoln


Halloween - Trick or Treat?

CostumesFeature

I remember attending my first Halloween party as a kid (not long after our family moved to the USA back in the 1970s), with its eerily lit pumpkins, freaky dress-up costumes and the scary dark room we were all dared to navigate ourselves through, kind of like a pseudo-haunted house. It was a lot of fun. And it was hosted by our local church!

My, how times have changed. Christians today either continue to celebrate it as an innocent annual party or boycott it as evil and even demonic. Why the debate?

Halloween (literally "hallowed or holy evening") originated as a pagan festival that followers of Christ 'Christianised' (as an occasion to remember the saints, martyrs and all departed believers) that has become more pagan in our own times.

For two very different opinions about Halloween, read:

1. "Six Reasons Why We Should Celebrate Halloween" by Dr.Ciaran O-Keefe and

2. "Six Reasons Why I Believe Halloween is Far From Harmless" by Canon J John.

No doubt we need to talk about it as followers of Christ. I encourage you to read the article links above  (and below) and discuss Halloween with your family and friends. 

What will you do tonight? Kids will be dropping by your home with their "Trick or Treat" greetings. You could pull the shutters down and shoo them away with a bit of a relational Wall OR maybe you could become the best lolly house in your street and offer local community people a warm Welcome? Think of the bigger picture - Halloween will come and go but our neighbours will still be there tomorrow. Remember, our call is not only to stand for truth but to show grace and love to people. That's good news. 

Other Links:


Indigenous Awareness Trip (October 2013)

IMG_1627In October 2013, my wife and I participated with a number of other church pastors in an Indigenous Awareness Trip, sponsored by the Concilia organisation. 

We began by flying from Melbourne to Alice Springs. It was my first visit to this iconic Australian town. It was not as big as I thought it would be - only 28,000 people. It was 41 degrees when we arrived - a very warm welcome. We began by visiting a number of the 20 Aboriginal camps around the town. Aboriginal people make up about 20% of the local population. We also visited some of the work of Mission Australia. Needless to say, it was quite confronting to see the challenges being faced by Indigenous people in this area. 

The next day, we took a 3 hour chartered flight north to a little town called Kalkarindji. Population - 450 people. Temperature - 43 degrees! We visited a Baptist church there led by Bill and Pauline. God has been at work in this small community. They had baptised 250 people a few months earlier.

After this, we spent some time in a number of other Aboriginal Christian churches and training centres in Brisbane, Logan City and Tweed Heads. 

The entire trip was an educational and moving experience. I realised how ignorant I was and how little I knew about my own country's history. Many stereotypes had been shattered. The needs are huge ... and they are right on our doorstep. It's hard work. These are very hot and isolated communities. The cultural differences are huge. There needs to be a lot of listening and learning.

The United Nations estimates that there are around 300 million indigenous people around the world today. They have a disturbingly similar experience of being swept aside by immigrant majorities, primarily through Western colonisation. Their close relationship to the land has been misunderstood, they have experienced the gradual dispossession of their land (through trickery, broken treaties, and violence), their culture has been decimated resulting in general despair and an ongoing struggle for identity in the midst of an overwhelming immigrant culture. As a result, Indigenous people are often the most socially disadvantaged (when it comes to unemployment, alcoholism, violence and abuse) and marginalised people in their own country. All of this is true in regards to Indigenous Australians.

Should this matter to us? Should we be concerned?

I believe it should!

When speaking to the religious leaders of his day (the Pharisees), Jesus commended them for their pedantic tithing (they even gave a tenth of their spices!) but challenged them not to neglect the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy, faith-fulness (Matthew 23:23). This was nothing new. Jesus was affirming the age-old prophetic tradition that called God's people to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8).

For Jesus, the 'good news of the kingdom' was not merely about individual salvation (going to heaven when you die) but about the coming of God's rule right here right now. It was and is about God setting things 'right'. His followers, the church, are to be the visible demonstration of God's Kingdom on earth. That means we are to be instruments of justice and mercy. Justice trumps spice!

Moving beyond good intentions requires us to practice justice. This begins with awareness - having our eyes and ears open to the cries of our world. Being 'salt and light' in our world requires a proactive stance. The opposite of good is not always evil; often it is indifference. Jesus saw the multitudes then acted on the compassion he felt. The next step is to allow what we see to influence the choices we make. Knowledge doesn't change the world; action does. It's a call to pray, give, get involved, and lobby. Social action (providing help for those who have fallen off the cliff)  and social justice (challenging structures and systems by building fences at the top of the cliff) are both important. 

Over the last few years at CityLife Church, we have lifted our focus on justice through addressing current issues such as human trafficking, poverty, and consumerism. This year, we are looking at issues facing indigenous Australians. 

Please check out Australians Together.

Let's embrace a deep respect for all people made in the image of God. 

Let's value building relationships over solutions by well-meaning white people

Let's increase our awareness and understanding.

Let's be compassionate.

[Picture: cooking up some kangaroo tail for dinner in Alice Springs]